BIM – or Building Information Modelling – has been one of the most significant technological advances in our industry in the past twenty years. While many associate BIM with the ability to build and view designs in 3D, when used to its full potential the possibilities for BIM are extraordinary. From enhancing the construction process through virtual reality to embedding data for building lifecycle management, there many possible applications for BIM from design, through to construction and beyond.

The question is, how much BIM do projects actually need?

The old adage, just because you can doesn’t mean you should has never been more appropriate than when considering BIM. While the idea of throwing on VR goggles to take a virtual walk through your building might sound cool, the reality is that some projects are still better served with a 2D deliverable. As companies become acutely aware of the increased costs of utilising BIM, it’s important to understand the end-goal of a project before deciding which elements of BIM should be incorporated.

The evolution of BIM

The way Hames Sharley have used BIM in our projects has changed significantly over the years. We were early adopters of the technology and back in 2011, when BIM’s capabilities were still being tested we utilised it in the design of the Griffith Health Centre G40 in the Gold Coast. In association with Cox Rayner, Hames Sharley designed the 30,000sqm state-of-the-art medical and dentistry training facilities, using BIM with the goal of providing seamless project collaboration.

Over the course of the project, multiple consultants were able to coordinate with each other using Revit software, each inputting into their own 3D model. Hames Sharley was responsible for the internal fit-out of the centre, where we implemented another software platform, Codebook, that linked with Revit to track our items. At the time this felt revolutionary, even though our only project deliverables were 2D drawings.

Fast forward seven years to our current project in Western Australia – the state-of-the-art Karrinyup Shopping Centre – and the way we’re using BIM is a very different story. Now, the whole design team – including architects, structural engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, hydraulic engineers, fire engineers and more – are all seamlessly collaborating through Revit. The ability for multiple disciplines to interlink their work to and reference spatially correct design models provides significant benefits for the client, increasing efficiencies and ultimately reducing long term costs.

Clash detection, (using Autodesk Navisworks) is a key part of the collaboration process. Using this technology, we’re able to aggregate data into a single 3D model, overlaying designs from multiple disciplines. Doing this allows us to identify design issues that previously wouldn’t have been picked up until the project was on site; where a duct might be too big to fit between ceiling and beam head, for example. Identifying these issues in the design phase means we can edit the plans before construction takes place, lowering the chance of on-site errors.

Beyond the design phase

Moving beyond the design phase, BIM takes on another role entirely throughout construction. Augmented reality allows construction workers to walk through their site with VR goggles and view digital 3D geometry overlaid on top of what they’re seeing. This gives them the ability to see the design on site, spatially correct, before it is constructed.

Once complete, embedded BIM data can also be used for building lifecycle management. It can alert building managers when air conditioners need to be checked, when paint needs to be redone and any other repairs and improvements required over the lifecycle of the building.

However, in order to achieve this, the information needs to be highlighted and embedded at the design phase. And embedding this kind of data requires considerable time and budget. For some, that additional up-front cost results in massive savings over the length of the project. But for others, investing in data modelling that doesn’t get being used is a waste of valuable resources.

The best BIM for your buck

The larger the project and the longer a client’s expected involvement with a building, the greater the return on investment when implementing BIM. Hospitals and shopping centres are prime examples of where BIM is most beneficial from the design phase, right through to construction and ongoing building management. However, for short term projects – such as a residential apartment – the requirement for BIM will be far, far less. While BIM technologies would still be used for collaboration and detailed modelling, embedded data is unlikely to be of benefit, (but of course this may change in future).

In order to understand which level of BIM is right for a project, it’s imperative to know from the outset exactly which deliverables are required.

  • Consult with an architect: Before you even develop your project brief, consult with an architect first. An architect will help walk you through all your requirements to help determine which elements of BIM will be most beneficial
  • Talk to your builder: Make sure you and the builders are on the same page in order to produce a deliverable that suits their needs. If they’re going to require 3D modelling for construction, you’ll need to know their exact requirements when pulling the brief together
  • Understand where the costs lie: Additional information management, clash detection and coordination software are additional expenses, as is the use of other programs such as Drofus, Solibri or Codebook. The embedding of extra information, outside of the standard delivery method, will also be more costly due to the extra resources required. So it’s important to know up front whether the project actually requires this level of detail
  • Be involved: Check in on the deliverables throughout design phase; the more cohesive the design process, the better the outcome.

Utilising BIM technology can drastically enhance construction projects. From interdisciplinary collaboration to 3D modelling and clash detection, BIM can help prevent construction issues during the planning stage, increase efficiencies and reduce project costs.

However, due to the increased expense associated with advanced BIM technologies, it’s important to understand your output requirements to determine which elements of BIM will be worth the investment.

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