BIM is a booming term in the Civil Engineering industry. Being the acronym of Building Information Modeling, some civil engineers find more appropriate to call it Better Information Management. The greatness of BIM is that there are many ways to describe its meaning, and it is also very easy to fall into misconceptions. Once the controversy started, what is actually BIM?
BIM is a process, a methodology of collaborative working to create and manage information in a project throughout its life cycle; from design, construction, maintenance and possible demolition/reconstruction. In a near future, this new system will become the modus operandi of any civil engineering project as it is well established that it generates huge benefits both financially and on risk control.
To understand BIM, it is interesting to imagine it as the combination of four basic pillars working in unison. The key terms to remember are: Technology, People, Processes and Standards.
Technology is a set of tools that enable us to apply the BIM methodology. In the same way that it would be unthinkable to go to the moon by foot, it is also impossible to maintain the control of a multidisciplinary model with people working thousands of km away without a powerful software that allows interoperability, amongst other requirements.
One of the key outcomes of the process is the digital model, the virtual description of each component of the infrastructure. With BIM you build twice, one digitally and one physically. The software will allow us to nourish the model as the design progresses, adding cost and time variables, as well as other important attributes.
We also take advantage of the technological progress so that all the interested parties of the project keep / share / deliver information and communicate in a Common Data Environment – this being the only source, a controlled place where there is no hesitation over, for instance, "what is the latest version?”
The software can help in communication, but it is the people who make it work.
It is of vital importance to admit that a common approach is needed between the parties. Projects are only effective when all the stakeholders involved agree and embrace the cultural change and the use of technology. 80% of success lies in people and processes and 20% in technology, which acts as a binding agent.
It is true that the adoption of new work systems carries with it an initial investment. Projects with BIM methodology require professionals trained specifically. This investment, whether in internal training or in the hiring of specialized companies in BIM, is seen to be profitable afterwards with a minimization of errors and repetitions of work, so that productivity is optimized.
Communication and group effort is the basis of BIM workflows. The goals are clearly defined from the beginning and the parties involved act in a transparent manner throughout the entire process. Regular meetings are held where everyone works collaboratively to define the best solution to problems that arise along the milestones of the project.
BIM processes are the most efficient methods to date so that technology and people can act in symbiosis, creating a project of incalculable value. Although it may sound redundant, I repeat "to date" since these processes are constantly evolving. BIM is a young activity in constant improvement.
The standardization process starts from pre-contractual phases until the end of the exploitation phase.
There are processes giving proven results, which set up consistent methodologies of work for design, delivery and exchange of information. Organizational guidelines are established at all levels and the "input" and "output" milestones are controlled.
In order for BIM to confer the benefits that it is capable of providing, we need regulations and support at the governmental level so that all the teams and external parties work under the same standards.
In Estonia, the BIM adoption in the AEC sector grew rapidly in the past decade. Private construction and consulting companies developed their own internal standards and skills to boost their productivity. However, it has been recognized that this way of approaching BIM did not bring advantages since a fragmented market was formed, full of inconsistencies.
As a solution, these private companies came together to create a common BIM standard that was later supported and led by the government. The analysis of this case has demonstrated, internationally, that it is necessary to provide a clear vision; a long-term commitment and a mandate from public administrations.
The public sector is the body in charge of providing leadership and launching regulations. In this way decisions and procedures will be determined in favour of the entire industry, for the common benefit, including support for small and medium companies.