Much of the engineering design and construction community has been
introduced in some manner to Building Information Modeling—the process of
generating and managing computerized multi-dimensional models linked to
databases containing design specifications, schedules, and other documents
related to a construction project.
Virtual building, virtual design and construction, and integrated practice
are synonymous terms for this emerging technology that is trending toward being
the next-generation tool for project delivery. Regardless of terminology preference,
BIM’s mission is not to replace traditional or modern forms of project
delivery; rather, the process aims to dramatically increase productivity and
efficiency in the construction industry.
Although the academic origins of BIM can be traced back to the late 1970s,
it took more than decade for information modeling to achieve wider acceptance
in the building industry. BIM gained further ground in 2004 following the
release of a report entitled Cost Analysis of Inadequate Interoperability in
the U.S. Capital Facilities Industry. Published by the National Institute
of Standards and Technology, the report concluded that nearly $16 billion is
lost annually by the U.S.
construction industry due to inadequate interoperability, including the highly
fragmented structure of the industry itself, continued paper-based business
practices, lack of standardization, and inconsistent technology use among
project team members.
Today, adopted in principle by more than 20 construction industry
organizations, BIM overcomes many of the barriers cited in the NIST report.
Proponents tout it as a process that offers improved visualization, better
coordination of construction documents, and greater productivity due to easy
retrieval of information. Because BIM embeds and links vital data such as
suppliers of specific materials, location of details, and quantities required
for estimation and procurement, it also increases speed of delivery and reduces
By its own nature, BIM represents a new approach in architectural and
engineering design. Digital representations of the actual components used to
construct a building can be created, and the quantities and shared properties
of materials can be extracted easily. Scopes of work can be isolated and
defined, and the systems, assemblies, and work sequences can be shown in a
relative scale within the entire project or just a group of facilities.
“BIM provides all parties involved on a project with shared, up-to-date
project data,” the Associated General Contractors points out, “subsequently
allowing for a richer design process, increased budget control through
predictions about the project’s construction process, and fewer surprises with
respect to potential design and scheduling conflicts among trades—long before
ground is even broken.”
AGC’s perspective is shared with Terry Cook, president of the Construction
Owners Association of America. “The challenge in the design and construction
process isn’t to expand our horizons but to fix the seams,” he says. “BIM is an
important conduit for information to flow from concept through design,
construction, operations, and back to concept for the next project.”
The structural steel industry has also demonstrated the viability of BIM in
today’s marketplace, according to the American Institute of Steel Construction.
“The accomplishment of vertical integration has motivated other specialty
contractors to begin the process of replicating these successes in their
vertical project supply chain,” AISC notes.
In an industry that can sometimes be slow to embrace change, what is the
future role of BIM in building documentation and project delivery?
The SmartMarket Report on Building Information Modeling: Transforming
Design and Construction to Achieve Greater Industry Productivity, published
by McGraw-Hill Construction in December 2008, found that BIM use on
construction projects is growing rapidly. In fact, 62% of users surveyed
indicated they would be using BIM on more than 30% of their projects in 2009.
The research findings also showed that 82% of those using BIM believe it is
having a very positive impact on their organizations’ productivity.
As part of its market summary, McGraw-Hill says BIM is being broadly
accepted by the construction industry, with more than 50% of each survey segment—architects,
engineers, contractors, and owners—utilizing the technology tools at moderate
levels or higher. Architects are the heaviest users of BIM; contractors are the
lightest users, although they expect to see the greatest rise in BIM use in the
future. Engineers see their BIM use increasing but not as much as that of other
project team members; owners expect to see moderate increases.
“This powerful trend points to an unstoppable wave of adoption and creative
implementation that will redefine project delivery and affect every company in
the construction industry,” the McGraw-Hill report contends.
[ return to top ]