What is BIM software & why is it good for AEC

Posted by Kate Barlow on 18th March 2019

The short answer to the question “what is BIM software” is that BIM stands for Building Information Model and Modelling process itself. The full definition provided by the National BIM Standard (NBIMS) Project Committee of the BuidingSMARTalliance states, “A Building Information Model (BIM) is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. As such it serves as a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle from inception onward. The BIM is a shared digital representation founded on open standards for interoperability.” In practical terms, we benefit from BIM because it allows us to build information-rich virtual models, containing precise geometry. The AEC sector uses these models to support all stages of the construction process, from conceptual design to building maintenance.

Why is BIM good for AEC?

Although BIM is mandatory in many regions around the world, many people are concerned about the costs of implementing it. However, the research shows that the benefits far outweigh the costs. The top 19 benefits of BIM mentioned in research according to Kristen Barlish, Kenneth Sullivan (Arizona State University, US) are:

  1. Schedule

Because information is attached to building elements in BIM, we can streamline procurement and the scheduling of building processes. We are able to provide all the necessary quantities for construction management.

2. Sequencing coordination

There is automatic sequencing in BIM that allows us to completely prefabricate plumbing elements and fire prevention systems. These are easy to design, fabricate and install with BIM and we can also streamline the construction management.

3. Rework

If parts of a project have to change during design process, modern BIM software offers huge advantages. It automatically and conveniently adjusts adjacent building elements so, if one is moved, it corrects the geometry and preserves the meaningful relationships between building elements. For example, if a steel beam is moved to accommodate a bigger opening, BIM software will automatically extend the secondary beams. It will also adjust their sections to accommodate the change, whilst still preserving the connections to the moved beam.

4. Visualisation

Visualisation is very important for decision-making and is one of the main expenses at the design stage in architectural projects. Because BIM is geometrically precise, it provides a perfect base for 2D render, interactive 3D visuals and even VR and AR visualisation. Using Tridify, you can convert BIM models in the cloud and then publish them to WebGL or in the Unity game engine. In Unity, you can build an interactive visualisation and still retain all the relevant building data.
The visualisation stage can be crucial to the funding and further development of a project. We see that the media often gives a lot of attention to visualisation of projects as it is one of the most approachable formats to form an opinion on development. When you add interactive 3D visualisations, people get an even better understanding of your projects.

5. Productivity 

BIM software contains powerful design tools that allow you to edit several elements at the same time using smart algorithmic search and group edit. This saves a great deal of time and significantly increases productivity. You can use virtual models in architectural design to create, check and discuss numerous designs and you can generate parametric design concepts automatically. BIM software can import and use local building standards and place standard items (steel connections, fire safety equipment, etc) automatically. This saves you from manually designing beam sections and joints, as they can be pre-loaded and they will already meet regulatory standards.

6. Project cost

Companies that adopt BIM software shrink the time required for the process of design, generating visualisations, optimising scheduling and procurement and supporting efficient construction management. This means that BIM software cuts the project costs by reducing project timelines and streamlining the information flow during the project.

7. Communication

BIM offers widely implemented cloud-based automatic updates to help streamlining revisions and collaboration. The key thing here is that no one is wasting their time working on an outdated version of the project. Designers and engineers gather and work together on one model that is up-to-date at all times.

8. Design/engineering

The design stage is highly automated when you use BIM software. You can adopt intelligent plugins and design aids to complete tedious tasks (e.g. HVAC and plumbing design). A single BIM can contain projects of great scale and complexity (such as airports), which ensures precision throughout the whole project.

9. Physical conflicts 

Geometrically precise building representations allow you to detect spatial conflicts between engineering systems at the design stage; long before any problems occur on a construction site. You can parametrically resolve all those common conflicts, between ventilation ducts and building structural elements for example. BIM software generates optimal duct geometry and adjusts structural elements if the design requires an additional opening and all systems receive precisely allocated space in the maintenance shafts. When you use BIM correctly, you can make sure all the systems will be accessible once built and ensure all the valves and panels that will be needed for future maintenance are conveniently placed. With BIM you can be confident that your building will be easy to work with.

10. Labour

You will save a great deal of human resource with BIM as information is exchanged automatically between internal and external team members. You can store your BIM models in the cloud and they can be accessed by all collaborators. Another benefit is that BIM software automatically creates and updates all the project documentation.

11. RFIs

BIM software with cloud-based exchange allows you to efficiently create, coordinate, and manage all documentation in a single library. You can initiate requests, manage reviews and approvals, and sync critical information to mobile devices for offline access.

12. Safety 

The software includes intelligent time-cost analysis which allows you to see detailed and instant estimations following the most recent updates to a building project. You can then support your decision-making with relevant risk estimations. BIM can act a base for an intelligent building and the data will feed into the scheduled maintenance of engineering and fire safety systems by providing real-time information on the building’s condition.

13. Change orders

Change orders can tip a project from profit to loss so it is crucial that you manage them effectively. This is another area where BIM can help you. The software offers a framework for you to establish a consistent, detailed, and logical methodology to classify and justify costs as recoverable direct costs, overhead/markup, and consequential costs.

14. Maintenance applications 

You can easily locate engineering systems and units if a precise building model exists and you can log and schedule their maintenance in one place. Building owners benefit from having access to as-built BIM as it provides them with up to date information, and maintenance schedules.

15. Prefabrication

There is a growing interest in prefabrication to reduce project costs. With digital models for architecture and construction, you can take advantage of on-site digital fabrication of building elements which reduces your transport costs. BIM allows you to design separate prefabricated elements, which can be assembled in a shorter period of time compared with cast-in-place structures.

16. Quality

You can improve the quality of building itself by adopting BIM and digital fabrication. This is because BIM allows structural elements to be cut precisely at the factory and diminish the need for on-site manufacturing and it minimises human error in assembly.

17. Simulation 

Modern structural design projects are so complex it is often impossible to calculate them without BIM software! Using simulation for structural design has reshaped modern architecture and it is standard to use procedural and algorithmic design which draws on BIM capabilities to optimise structural element sections. It is possible to simulate wind, vibration, earthquake impact or snow loads using BIM software plugins. In fact is becoming obligatory for any project to simulate energy efficiency, heating and ventilation with these plugins.

18. As-builts

Everyone looks on as-built models as a convenient source of information for building operations and maintenance, but for renovation and heritage preservation they are essential. Using BIM for heritage allows you to preserve information when it might be impossible to preserve the building itself. For example: Palmyra’s architecture is preserved only in digital format, with original destroyed – here BIM gives historians an opportunity for future reconstruction. BIM can use laser-scanned point cloud models to support renovation with extensive data attached to every building element.

19. Pilot cost

BIM can be used to generate multitude of architectural prototypes using parametric design and even neural networks. Keeping designs digital allows to 3D print scale models to support design discussions.

What now for BIM?

You can clearly see a wide range of benefits to using BIM. At Tridify, our interest is on helping streamline the workflow between taking the BIM to XR fast but, with a deep heritage in AEC, we appreciate that the value chain extends far beyond. When clients have a clear idea of what their project will look like and everyone is able to collaborate effectively, projects can be delivered to agreed timescales and agreed costs.

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