Do you really understand the true meaning and implications of BIM?

By Lood Welgemoed, Boogertman + Partners


We are confronted by the term building information modelling (BIM) on all fronts in construction and architectural literature, as if we need yet another acronym.

Committed to be a leader in the field, our company has invested heavily in software, hardware and training to ensure that we stay ahead. I can’t help wondering though whether we all really understand the true meaning and implications of BIM.

The basics
The most widely accepted and concise definition of BIM, according to Wikipedia, is the following: “Building information modelling (BIM) is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. A BIM is a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its lifecycle, defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition.”

This definition to me captures the essence of BIM, being that it is a tool for decision-making, therefore something that can and will change frequently.

It also talks about being five-dimensional, which is the physical three dimensions, with the fourth being time and the fifth being described as cost. We are currently really only working in the first three dimensions and the industry needs to wake up to the fact that true BIM will only happen once all five are satisfied. Beyond the scope of the construction project, the potential of the BIM for facilities management purposes also remains unexplored.

Taking stock
Over the last two or three years, our group has completed a number of projects where coordinated three-dimensional models have been used in design and construction. I was personally involved in the new green headquarters building for the Department of Environmental Affairs. On this project a fully coordinated three-dimensional model was used for construction with input from the entire consulting team.

What became very evident from this experience was that there should be a very definite buy-in from all parties involved, including the client and contractor. The limitation of a three-dimensional model is that the contractual information issued for construction is still two-dimensional. Perhaps we will one day arrive at a point where the contractor and subcontractors can be issued with a model and then produce 3D shop drawing models for approval in return.

The future
Whilst industry progress has been most impressive, the true value of BIM is rarely, if ever, extracted from the building models produced. Firstly, we have yet to find an QS who can and will use the building model to prepare cost estimates and bills of quantities linked with the information contained in the model. Clearly the benefit of this would be that the cost implication of any change could immediately be assessed and the earlier their involvement, the greater the value.

Secondly, the time component of true BIM is largely ignored, although we have seen some use of construction programmes linked with BIM. We believe that it is the project manager or construction manager’s role to identify time savings and building efficiencies using the BIM model, again from as early as possible.

The potential cost and time savings, if they can be unlocked, would not only benefit all parties, but would also make for a greener, less wasteful project.

Boogertman + Partners
Tel: 012 429 7300