BIM (Building Information Modeling), is becoming increasingly popular, particularly where public procurement contracts are concerned. So what is it exactly? What are the benefits for companies? Gwenael Bachelot, a specialist in the matter from Autodesk, answered these and more questions.
Gwenael Bachelot is in charge of AEC (Architecture, Engineering and Construction) presales for Southern Europe at Autodesk, an American multinational software group specialising in architecture, engineering and construction – including, among other things, BIM.
Further reading on emedia: Smart building and BMS: a little glossary
What is BIM?
BIM isn’t a software program, but a process that relies on software. Switching to BIM means completely reviewing the way you design but also, and perhaps more importantly, your working methods.
Designing with BIM often involves 3D design, as opposed to 2D, and involves incorporating lots of information to all of the elements you’re designing. For example, designing a window involves energy performance parameters, whether it’s single or double glazing, specific soundproofing or insulation. The same applies to walls and doors. These objects thus have an additional “intelligence” because, once all these elements have been incorporated, we can have an idea of the building’s overall performance.
Another example is a door, which is, obviously, in a wall. With BIM, we know that this door is in the wall and if we want to move it, we can’t put it into the middle of a room, it will slide along the wall. This kind of intelligence will guide the designer and enable them to analyse what we’re doing in much greater depth.
how virtual building can avoid building delays
When applying a BIM approach, we try as much as possible to avoid recreating the same information. In a normal construction process, on average we enter the same piece of information 17 times. A lot of time is wasted and you run the risk of not designing exactly the same way, which means the quality of information deteriorates.
With BIM design, you can come across all sorts of designs. In building, there are lots of people working on the same project and they don’t always have access to what the other people have done, so everyone’s working in parallel. In a standard process, when you bring all these designs together to get an idea of what you’re working towards, you come across inconsistencies… But you don’t spot all of them by the time you get to the building site, which obviously poses a problem. There could, for example, be an air conditioning duct that has to go through a load-bearing wall. If you only realise this once building has begun, when the load-bearing wall has already been built, you have to go back to the design department to find out how to address the issue and what changes need to be made.
Working in BIM mode means you can identify errors before the building work starts. Some of our clients say it means they can build virtually before building proper, which saves time and avoids delays in the schedule.
What solutions do you offer companies who want to adopt BIM?
BIM involves using various software programs. There are countless ones, but we can mention just a few. The first one is Revit, an Autodesk product for designing buildings: the structure and architecture, but also aspects such as air conditioning, electricity and plumbing. Infraworks 360, meanwhile, is used for elements outside the building: roads, bridges, land, etc. There are other solutions like Navisworks , which enable you to combine data from different software programs into a single digital model in order to detect any interferences or inconsistencies and thus see where problems could arise.
OptimiseD construction AND BUILDING MANAGEMENT
BIM offers a number of advantages at the conceptual design phase, but what about afterwards?
After the conceptual design phase, there’s the construction phase. The BIM process allows you to plan and build more effectively and with fewer unexpected events. We’re focusing more and more on building quickly and with minimal impact on the environment: we want to minimise dust, noise, lorries waiting around, unexpected deliveries. We’re aiming more or less for a just-in-time approach, on the building site. We often see, for example, building sites where the windows on the first floor are installed before the upper floors have been built. We try to optimise construction and that can only be possible with a BIM approach, which enables you to know exactly what needs to be done and at what stage.
Then there’s the whole building management aspect: when building is complete, we can provide the person in charge of maintenance with a smart 3D model. That way, when they need to renovate or repair something, they have all the information they need on the existing elements that they can link to maintenance management solutions.
Has BIM been adopted in industry?
Not all industries have implemented it yet, but the main construction players have been using it for several years now. When you make the transition to BIM, you realise all benefits there are and you never look back. Probably the biggest advantage is the ability to predict and reduce the number of unforeseen events, which is obviously valuable for keeping to schedules.
switching to bim means reviewing all the company’s processes
There are still a lot of obstacles that need to be overcome. Switching to BIM means getting new software programs and training staff in how to use them. This is no small matter because the company has to be prepared to invest in this training. But the most important thing is probably to revise all the company’s internal procedures. People who’ve been used to a certain way of working for years have to think about all the workflows; you have to rethink the limits of work and of each person’ responsibilities. It’s hard, and involves a whole change management process, right up to top management-level.
“Switching to BIM requires a real change management approach, that’s specific to each company. And this needs to be supported at C-level.”
We have methods to help draw our clients’ attention to these challenges and show them how they can use our software in their procedures. For example, we hold meetings where we try and get all the company managers involved so they can identify the problems that will arise when they switch to BIM and implement solutions to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible.
a bim boom?
Over the past few years there’s been a marked increase in BIM. The precursors have shown that there are advantages to it: it’s no longer a question of “Should we switch to BIM?” but “How?” We know it’s possible, and there are a number of countries where there are legal obligations to use digital modelling, for example in the UK.
Another thing we’ve noticed is that whilst large companies are the first ones to adopt BIM, a lot of SMBs are also making the transition, and very successfully. As the major construction firms already work with BIM processes, that has a knock-on effect on their sub-contractors who also have to switch to BIM if they want to go on working with them.
How well-informed are the various players in the ecosystem?
Everyone has realised that something was happening in the industry. Of course there are always the pioneers and then the ones who take a bit longer to make the transition. And not everyone has the same definition of BIM. Some people think using software like Revit is applying BIM. That’s not quite true: just using a different software package doesn’t mean you switch to BIM overnight.
But whilst our software users are fairly well informed, the clients aren’t so much. Our customers’ end-clients don’t see the benefits, the fact that there are fewer errors, that it’s easier to use or that you can do more things with it. So we need to inform them.
Also, when you talk about BIM, everyone thinks about the inside of the building, and yet the outside can also benefit from the approach. For infrastructures, roads or bridges, for example, it’s really advantageous to work with BIM, and that’s a change we’re seeing now: the building sector may be the pioneers, but infrastructures are now starting to make the transition.
Also on our blog: Foundation, digital engineering for building