BIM workflows are evolving


April 20, 2015 │

Building Information Modelling (BIM) began as an academic construct, a way to describe what might be possible beyond stacks of 2D drawings submitted by an architecture firm, approved by a structural engineer, delivered to a construction company. The idea of a single data model, containing every fact needed to create the building (or bridge, power plant, etc), jointly created by all stakeholders, seemed like a technologist’s nirvana. The better part of a generation later, the BIM approach to construction is gaining headway, but still represents only a small portion of all AEC documentation. According to most professional organisations, barely half of all construction projects finish on time, and on or under budget.

For many years AEC software vendors pushed 3D CAD software as BIM software. Autodesk was the most successful at this, to the point where Revit (Autodesk’s 3D AEC suite) and BIM were interchangeable terms to many. But as more designers tried to swap 3D for 2D in AEC workflows, the more widespread became the realisation that it takes much more than an extra dimension to reform construction workflow. “The idea of BIM now supersedes any piece of software,” notes Phil Bernstein, FAIA, vice-president for building industry strategy and relations at Autodesk. Today the challenges for AEC are not about how to document the design and construction, but how to manage the interactions. “Project management is creating discipline over the value inherent in the exchange of data,” he says.

Cloud technology becomes important in construction project management, Bernstein says, because it “fundamentally changes the rules of access”. Anne Busson, AEC industry marketing director for Bentley Systems, says it has noticed that education is required to show the value of BIM.

“There are corporate culture challenges. Everyone understands the need to move to BIM, but as an industry we need education on the benefits of the new processes.”

She cites UK rail construction venture Crossrail as a leader in this regard. “Crossrail have taken a big step and come forward as a leader; they want everyone to see the bigger picture.”

Across the board AEC software vendors now realise the workflow that supports building information modelling must change. The processes that became standard before the arrival of computers cannot support a fully digital, fully 3D, fully collaborative construction project. Focus is shifting from supporting 3D design/engineering and project management as completely separate disciplines, to bringing true digital collaboration into the process. We recently talked to a cross-section of vendors about the challenges facing the industry, and what they are doing to improve BIM workflow.

Collaboration and neutrality

Project collaboration is the cornerstone of any effective BIM project, says Rob Philpot, senior vice-president and co-founder of Aconex, a vendor of online project management software. Yet only recently have potential clients come to regard BIM as more than 3D models.

“Two years ago all conversations started with ‘what is BIM’ and we had to explain it was about managing all the data,” he says. “Autodesk was very good at marketing Revit as BIM. I had a slide deck that had three slides explaining BIM. Now we almost never need to have that conversation. Everybody gets BIM is more than the model. Now they ask how to manage all the data and the model.”

Aconex is not alone in noticing a change in attitude and interest. All the vendors we spoke to agree there are two fundamental challenges going forward:

Design documentation is still hard to access for most project stakeholders;

All other project data (forms, reports, transmittals, etc.) are still disconnected from the design data.

One big change improving collaboration is the rise of cloud technology to host and manage construction information.

Mr Philpot says cloud technology can bring the advantage of neutrality into the workflow.

“Dozens of companies on a project, all with their own internal systems, can now use the same cloud environment. They can get rid of the inefficiency and mistrust that comes from holding things inside their firewall.”

Benefits in using cloud-based project management for BIM include:

Secure storage and seamless distribution of large files, to support project-wide collaboration and communication on models;

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