Understanding Building Information Modelling (BIM)
Imagine if your designs … could talk.
Imagine if roads could tell you where to put them. Or if sewage systems could show you the best course for their intricate network of pipes to follow.
Imagine if every structure you created could tell you when it was damaged or in need of maintenance. Or even if the people using it are happy to do so.
Does it sound like something futuristic?
It’s closer than you may think.
Building Information Modelling (BIM) is an intelligent 3D modelling process. Using BIM software, architects, engineers, and construction professionals can create virtual models of what they plan to build in real life.
Autodesk’s handy ‘Introduction to BIM’ video shows clearly just how potent this approach is, and what it means for every industry it serves.
Wikipedia expands on BIM like this:
‘Building information modeling (BIM) is a process involving the generation and management of digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of places.
Building information models (BIMs) are files (often but not always in proprietary formats and containing proprietary data) which can be extracted, exchanged or networked to support decision-making regarding a building or other built asset. Current BIM software is used by individuals, businesses and government agencies who plan, design, construct, operate and maintain diverse physical infrastructures, such as water, refuse, electricity, gas, communication utilities, roads, bridges, ports, tunnels, etc.’
Building information modelling is done using software tools that provide virtual representations of whatever it is that’s being built. And, as you can see from the Wikipedia article quoted above, that could be anything at all.
See the Future
The beauty of BIM is that it gives creators a chance to understand what they plan to build – and easily spot any potential problems with their creations – before a single foundation has been dug or a brick has been laid.
With BIM it is now also possible to reduce the number of steps in the design process. Before BIM, engineers and the different contractors on a project would be tasked with envisioning and designing roads and services that are both functional and comply to standards. They’d then pass the design over to an engineer, who can rework it based on available materials, tools, terrain and other constraints. After that, a construction team would have to realise the engineer’s design.
Results were mixed.
Decisions need to be made in the moment, based on unexpected variables.
Without the real-world insight into conditions onsite, engineers ould end up designing something amazing, which could never be executed the way they’d hoped. Without the designer’s vision or passion, the final construction could bear little resemblance to what its creator had in mind.
Building Information Modelling solves the disconnect by allowing each person in the value chain to see the finished vision in 3D by virtually driving along the proposed road, or exploring the proposed site – both at ground level, or even from above, through a virtual fly-over. You can get a sense of whether the sight distance and blind rises of a road have been adequately considered; if a climbing lane is suitable; or if a view that needs to be preserved has indeed been left unspoiled.
Because BIM makes it possible to see a real-world roll out of a conceived idea, developers can implement best practices and standards into their designs, and measure the impact of these changes. All without incurring the cost of a massive rebuild, or fines related to not-to-code construction.
SMEC Strategy and Business Development director Neil Evans explains, ‘The beauty of BIM is that we can get rid of the walls between design, engineering, and construction. We have to get the governments to understand and contracts to include shared risk all through the project. We’re trying to educate people, because that’s where we’re going to really unlock the value of BIM.’
Not everyone is aware, yet, of the existence of BIM, or the incredible power it gives every role player in a team to create structures that really work.
‘While many consultants are adopting BIM, there are still those who prefer using older programs (or using Excel spreadsheets to analyse reinforced steel loads when there are easier ways to do it),’ says BIM Specialist Feroza Mobara.
In short, BIM allows the buildings we build; the highways and byways we create; the water supplies and sewage routes and every other aspect of well-thought-out civil engineering to tell us whether or not they will work – before they’re even built.
It’s like being able to read the minds of inanimate objects… and use what we read to make them even better.
It’s like being able to see the future – to know what will work and what won’t, rather than making an educated guess.
It is the future. And it’s here now.