A slow start
While construction technology itself has made incredible advances since the industrial revolution, the management and planning side of the equation has notoriously lagged behind. But that’s changed in recent years, in large part due to the growing adoption of Building Information Modeling (BIM) standards.
BIM is the process of creating and managing information for a built asset. It integrates data from a range of sources to produce a digital representation of that asset across its lifecycle, from planning and design to construction and operations.
Despite its name, BIM doesn’t just support buildings – it’s also leveraged for a wide range of other large infrastructure projects, in realms as diverse as the energy sector, military projects and utilities scenarios. Anywhere something complex is being planned, built or maintained, BIM principles have a role to play.
Chris Brighouse, Director of Product Management, Energy & Engineering, says that adopting BIM standards and processes is crucial to everything from reducing waste during construction to maintaining and managing buildings over their lifetimes.
“Cutting waste has been a key driver for BIM adoption in the construction industry, where up to 40% of the cost goes to lost time and materials,” Brighouse says.
Much of that waste relates to unnecessary delays that stem from the number of contractors and subcontractors involved – each attending to a small piece of the overall puzzle.
“Because projects themselves have become more complex, the interdependencies between all the different players and activities become more complex too. Prior to BIM, there wasn’t an overarching system to manage all of that,” Brighouse explains.
Lost hours and wasted materials add up quickly, attracting negative attention in the private world, and even more so in the public domain where taxpayer money is at stake. Following the evolution of various BIM-related technologies, explains Brighouse, “it was the UK government-driven mandate in 2016 to reduce construction project costs that started to drive the standards and wider adoption of BIM, which has gradually spread worldwide.”
“Big government projects would inevitably be three or four times their original estimate and take twice as long to complete,” Brighouse says. But as U.K. BIM standards took shape, projects that adhered to them were found to deliver an average cost-savings of 20% – and, they could be completed on time.
Those standards have been refined over time, adopted worldwide by both public and private entities – and have led to cost-effective deliveries on significant projects in the Middle East, Singapore, Australia and the U.S. (where the Navy played an important role in pushing for BIM adoption).
Colin Hewertson, Senior Product Manager, Energy & Engineering, says that the data available via BIM solutions can enable the visualization of an entire project – which can prevent accidents, reduce delays, and flag dependency issues before they turn into real problems.
“But there are multiple benefits that weren’t originally envisaged,” Hewertson adds.
BIM data is often used to create digital twins – virtual representations of physical assets.
Digital twins can be used to plan sales and marketing efforts, develop emergency response plans for buildings, and power AI tools to manage and improve environmental systems.
Hewertson and Brighouse agree that digital twins are essential to any project’s operation phases. In fact, now that BIM has broad uptake in both the planning and construction processes, that’s precisely the area that deserves increased attention because of the many benefits it can deliver.
“With a digital twin in an operational environment, you’re able to see how people use the building. This can be visualizing movement, such as elevator and stair usage, all of which can help identify bottlenecks. That’s especially important to help promote physical distancing and emergency evacuation procedures,” Hewertson says.
In fact, BIM-driven digital twins can be powerful tools for first responders too.
“Let’s say the fire department needs to go into a building to rescue residents. If all they have is a flat, 2D schematic, they’re not able to easily work out where to go and how to get there. With a digital twin, they can plan out where residents are in relation to stairs and elevators, locate hydrants, and orient themselves before they actually enter the building,” Hewertson explains.
As digital twins become increasingly important to safety once the project is in its operational phase, validating data is paramount.
“One of the things we’re doing at OpenText is helping to validate the models so you can get full value from them. This includes connecting everything through our Extended ECM ecosystem with enterprise documents and processes,” Brighouse says.
Integrating BIM standards and processes is a significant change for an industry that is often slower to adapt, but Brighouse says that when stakeholders understand the benefits, that resistance is quickly overcome.