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What is BIM? Why the future of construction is digital

With Building Information Modelling technology offering significant reductions in project costs and delivery times, Enterprise Ireland, the national export agency, is supporting its adoption.

The construction industry has never been slow to embrace new technologies. Sophisticated computer-aided design systems have long been a feature of Irish architectural and engineering practices, while many building components are now precision-made in computer-aided manufacturing facilities.

The latest wave of virtual and augmented reality technologies is enabling clients to take virtual “walks” through buildings, long before a shovel has touched soil.

At the same time, contractors have invested heavily in advanced systems to manage all aspects of projects – from resource planning through cost control and beyond.

However, the various pieces of software and systems employed on projects do not necessarily communicate or connect with one another in a coherent fashion. Each element of the project – design, construction, supplies – may be operating efficiently, but the project may be suboptimal in key respects such as cost and schedule.

What exactly is BIM?

That is where Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology comes in. Put simply, BIM is a digital representation of all aspects and characteristics of a building, both physical and functional. It is a shared pool of knowledge which all stakeholders can utilise from the moment design of the building commences right through the life-cycle – from construction through completion, ongoing maintenance and management, eventually to the point where it is demolished.

It is wrongly assumed in some quarters that BIM is essentially a digital 3D model of a building but it is far more than that. It includes the original specifications for every block and board, fixture and fitting employed in the building, and goes further by including data on time, cost and operation – sometimes referred to as the fourth, fifth and sixth dimensions of a building.

Advantages of BIM

This makes BIM an enormously powerful decision support and conflict avoidance tool. At a very basic level, cost or time overruns in even quite minor areas of the project are notified before they can become problems, thus allowing swift remedial action to be taken.

The key aspect of BIM is the fact that it is a shared resource. Everyone who has to interact with a building at any stage has access to it. The subcontractors who arrive on site months after construction has begun have access to fully updated information about the project and their role in delivering it. Indeed, they can utilise the model long before they go on-site to clear up any potential problems or difficulties before they arise.

The same applies to the facilities manager who takes charge of the building following completion. Even the most complex maintenance and repair tasks are made far simpler as a result of having all data relating to building services and their location to hand in a single resource.

Also of key importance is the fact that the BIM is the property of all stakeholders. This means that everyone on the project team is responsible for updating it. Information is therefore up to date and spans all aspect of the project thereby greatly reducing the margin for error and the costs associated with making good discrepancies.

In this context, it is little wonder that Ireland’s National BIM Council (NBC) has estimated that the reduction of wasteful practices in construction as a result of BIM will result in costs being brought down by as much as 20%. The council also asserts that construction exports could be increased by 20% through enhanced productivity and knowledge leadership, which will enable Irish firms to drive and support the advancement of digital construction across overseas markets. The NBC also believes that project delivery time schedules will be reduced by 20%.

There will also be a societal gain. The information gathered through BIM will mean that every construction project will contribute valuable digital data to smart communities, smart cities and smart economy, which in turn will position Ireland at the forefront of the digital transformation across Europe and globally.

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