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How BIM Transformed Building Construction

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Imagine being able to see a building project’s every detail—the pipes, the wires, the beams—and how they’ll come together in 3D before actually beginning work. Or consider the benefits of virtually reorienting a building during the design and pre-construction stage to maximize sunlight and improve energy efficiency.

That and more is being done today using Building Information Modeling, or BIM. BIM has been reshaping the global construction industry for a decade with new technologies to analyze workflow and simulate building conditions.

BIM is a 3D model-based collaborative process that collects information and requirements from architects, engineers, electricians, plumbers, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) contractors and general contractors to show how buildings will look and perform before they are built.

“BIM has changed the way the industry collaborates and shares information,” says Jim Lynch, vice president of the BIM Product Group for the Architectural, Engineering and Construction (AEC) Division of Autodesk in Manchester, which produces 3D design and engineering software. “When BIM was born, it primarily focused on the needs of the architect and design community ... What BIM really represents for the industry today is a change in the way projects get built, teams collaborate and multiple companies come together to share information.”

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It is also becoming an industry standard. The U.S. General Services Administration, which constructs, manages and preserves government buildings, has mandated BIM be used by architects for all federal building construction since 2007.

The Art of Design
Buildings have many elements, and numerous experts are part of the design team. At its best, BIM lets all of those people see the building before it is built and share ideas.

“Buildings are a one-off; they are done once, on a unique site, with a team of people who may not have worked together before,” says Ian Howell, CEO of Newforma, a software development company in Manchester focused on the AEC market. “There might be 27 companies around the table who don’t know each other, so the need to share all that information and be on the same page to make sure things are resolved during the design is key.”

The software makes the whole process, from design to construction, more transparent, says Preston Hunter, vice president of Eckman Construction in Bedford. “It’s not to say that coordination wasn’t being done before BIM came along, but it was more in 2D so you’d have to look at a couple of different sheets to see what would be the conflict,” Hunter says. Now all of those elements (beams, floor systems, ductwork, fire sprinklers) are in one 3D document.

That allows for early detection of conflicts as the software identifies areas that don’t align. “Then we [as a general contractor] can quarterback between the different subcontractors. For instance, when it detects a pipe having to go where a beam is, we can have the plumber lower the pipe or have the [structural steel contractor] construct a six-inch opening in a structural beam,” says Hunter.

Ryan Noyes, manager of the modeling and visualization team at VHB, a civil engineering firm with offices in Bedford, says while BIM takes more time up front, it makes scheduling easier. “Without some sort of intelligent modeling workflow, we used to have to rely on somebody going back and making a change in three different places,” he says.“With our BIM workflow, when we label or put an object into the model it comes from the intelligence embedded in the project. We’re evaluating whether it’s the right choice instead of having to remember, ‘Did I change it over here too?’ ”

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