What is BIM? An Introduction to Building Information Modelling

Ever since a paper on the topic was published in 2011, Building Information Modelling (BIM) has been incrementally gaining ground, both in terms of adoption and awareness, by organisations seeking to develop more effective and efficient means of operating. Though progress has been somewhat slow, those businesses who have embraced the approach in the correct manner have fully seen its benefits.

Over the course of this article, we’ll go in-depth with regards to Building Information Modelling, including what exactly the process entails, the definition of BIM levels, its most salient advantages, and also how different countries are leveraging the approach to fully benefit from it.

What is BIM?

Its burgeoning popularity aside, what exactly does a Building Information Modelling approach entail? For starters, it is not 3D design. That’s a common (not to mention, reductive) misconception that glosses over a lot of what BIM is actually about. Though many theories and beliefs abound, put simply, BIM is a process wherein the information of a construction project – the before, during, and after – is created and managed across the project lifecycle. Perhaps an even more straightforward definition would be: it involves building something digitally before actually building it.

The resulting Building Information Model is a digital description of every aspect of the built asset. This allows those involved with the construction of the building to reference key information that was assembled and updated at particular project milestones. This goes a long way to allowing both the team and the client to communicate more effectively as well as to help those involved to more thoroughly understand the project’s requirements as they move through its lifecycle. In order to be successful, the correct implementation of BIM requires coordination of people, processes and technology in order to deliver specific outcomes and cost savings – everyone involved must work together, underpinning BIM’s multidisciplinary nature.

Building projects are massively complicated processes. By understanding the project in a more extensive manner, including the needs of others, the less risk is involved in the long run. This reduced risk theoretically means an increase in profitability, making it an intelligent choice for pragmatic organisations.

Below an explicative video made by The B1M:

What are BIM Levels?

In addition to its somewhat indistinct definitions – BIM means different things to different people – there are also incremental compliance levels related to Building Information Modelling to be aware of. These government-recognised levels detail the ‘milestones’ of the process, and as with the definition of BIM itself, the exact meaning of each level is up for debate, but the general concept is largely accepted as:

Level 0 BIM

At this level, no 3D element or collaboration between people is employed. As a result, 2D drafting is used via Computer Aided Design (CAD), with data being conveyed by traditional paper drawings, and information exchanged via paperwork. This level was largely done before 2011, with the majority of industries mostly shunning the outdated approach.

Level 1 BIM

Here, it’s implied that the data from which the project will be built has reached some form of structure, and CAD makes the move from 2D to 3D for concept work, though 2D work remains for statutory approval documentation and product information. However, the amount of collaboration is still fairly slim.

Level 2 BIM

When a construction project is at this level, then all teams involved are working collaboratively and a process of BIM is being complied with. Though a single source of data is still lacking, crucially, the data being collected about a built asset is now shared. When the data is brought together it creates the federated BIM model which will guide the project going forward.

Level 3 BIM

Where is BIM heading to next? The third level has yet to be defined, but the government has set out several key measures which touch on increased openness within the process.

In their plan, they have called for new international ‘Open Data’ standards which allow for easy sharing of data across the entire market, the establishment of a new contractual framework for projects to ensure consistency, and encourage an open, collaborative working environment.

What are some of the benefits of BIM?

There are many benefits to BIM that businesses of all sizes and from all industries could enjoy.
  • Collaboration and coordination

    BIM’s cloud functionality means the approach is tailormade for collaboration. Since all stages of a project’s lifecycle are available through the cloud, it’s possible to view projects onsite or offsite, on any connected device. And because there’s a full version of a how a project has evolved – from inception to the present – there’s no need to worry about files disappearing or corrupting, ensuring more streamlined communication and collaboration between everyone.

  • Better visualisation

    The problem with 2D design is that it doesn’t fully illustrate the necessary scope and details of a project. The 3D modelling of BIM means every aspect of a project sits in one complete design, where the more fine-tuned details can easily be accessed, allowing users to visualise things in a real-world situation.

  • More cost effective

    We touched on it before, but the risk-averse nature of BIM means it’s naturally more cost-effective than other approaches. In other cases, a project might be at construction phase only for it to run into an issue, resulting in costly amendments. With BIM, clash detections can be automated, so errors can be spotted before the building phase starts.

  • Improved productivity

    Following on from the above, the concise manner with which everything is planned pays dividends when it comes to productivity. When you make a change to one aspect of a model, the change is added to a corresponding 3D model, which is in turn then added to the construction plan. This speeds up the production process and client approval times, while cutting down on labour costs as a result

  • Streamlined communication

    Sometimes there’s a gulf with designers, engineers and architects when communicating with clients who may be unfamiliar with some of the more technical terms that get brought up. To them, a carefully planned-out blueprint might not seem particularly important or helpful. BIM helps with communication by showing proposed work in an interactive model, breaking down things into a more digestible way that’s more easily understood.

Which countries have adopted BIM?

How are countries across the globe faring with their adoption of BIM? The UK made it obligatory for all government projects to be compliant. It’s something of a BIM leader now, but was otherwise fairly slow to pick up the process, especially when compared to a country like South Korea, which has been using BIM for over a decade.

Likewise, the US government mandated BIM adoption in 2003, with several US states, universities and private organisations following suit in the years following. The Scandinavian nations were even quicker to implement BIM, starting in 2002 and increasing at one of the quickest rates in the world. In Germany, the Digital Building Platform was set up to develop a national BIM strategy, but Germany’s federal system might make an official mandate tough to pass, despite 90% of project owners demanding BIM.

Singapore has mandated BIM for projects greater than 5000 sq. metres since 2015, while five years earlier the Building & Construction Authority started giving out grants through the BIM fund, covering the costs of training, consultancy, hardware and collaboration software. France has used BIM models for building operations across 135 sites consisting mostly of high schools since 2004, while the regional council strictly uses BIM processes for construction, maintenance and building operations.

Meanwhile, China has been slow to adopt the process, with resistance towards new management processes playing a key factor. Though in-roads have been made, BIM is still not mandatory here.

Discover more about BIM, here