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“Building Information Modeling (BIM) is the both the leading edge and the foundation of construction innovation”, says Ivanka Iordanova, Director of Pomerleau BIM-VDC. In an industry that has typically struggled to keep up with digitization trends and productivity targets, recent years have seen BIM become the construction sector’s shining light of innovation. Now 2018 seems set to be another banner year for the technology.

Adoption of 3D-BIM has been strong in the past year but the next 12 months will see the uptake of 4D, 5D, and even 6D BIM. 4D-BIM brings about the visual representation of the construction schedule, while 5D BIM and 6D BIM are focused on costs and materials. As a whole, the system now applies a wide range of design parameters, details such as geometrics, aesthetics, and thermal and acoustic properties, to enable engineers and other stakeholders to better understand building design and cost at an early stage.

“We’re able to plan and coordinate everything well in the virtual world, before moving towards construction. This is the whole principle behind BIM; work in the virtual, optimize your plan and provide for the real world,” explains Iordanova. Over the past six years her firm, Pomerleau, has used BIM on about 75% of their projects, leading to “collaboration, less waste, optimization, quality and repeat business,” she says.

Parallel technology innovations are also aiding BIM adoption and functionality. The IoT, with its up-to-date data, makes releasing BIM data to prefab workshops, suppliers or modelers easy, allowing ready-to-order products to be delivered directly to the building site. Virtual reality (VR) enables installers and clients to “walk-through’ extensive 3D models, while Augmented Reality offers an enhanced operations and training tool.

“BIM is the keystone for construction to move to a combined cyber and physical system, because in order to move to that system you need the underlying information,” Iordanova says. “The big benefit – is access to integrated visual information and data, leading to better understanding, communication and collaboration. It also means less change orders, less RFIs and a lower risk of errors,” she added.

This unprecedented amount of data unleashes new possibilities too. 3D laser scanning at the building site can be used to create point clouds to provide accurate 3D dimensions of the building site, which in turn helps develop the BIM model. While the increasing use of drones brings about accuracy improvements through real-time data capturing in construction projects.

“It’s interesting to see how we can make use of these tools for site logistics, job monitoring, to bring more precision, and also to save a lot of time. We can also make our sites safer because we can use these devices to take pictures and generate point clouds without sending our workers there,” Iordanova said.

“We model and plan and coordinate exactly like for buildings as with civil projects. This is enormously beneficial and we can use equipment like laser scans, drones and different kinds of automated sensors on the construction site linked to the model or modified by the model,” she added.

One of the stand out upcoming evolutions of BIM is greater integration of manufacturers and suppliers with the system and it’s developers. The exact dimensions and cost of millions of products could become available to designers adding another level detail to the planning phase. Being fully integrated the BIM system could then reduce errors and duplicate orders, while also finding new avenues for cost saving and resource maximization.

And then there’s 3D printing! The rapidly developing technology has great potential for creating extremely accurate building elements in a relatively short time, using the minimum material. BIM can also utilize 3D printing as a method for making prototypes, then quickly sharing them with construction partners or for manufacturing components and prefab material. In the future all parts may be printed on site and early tests are showing the potential for the technology to print entire buildings following a BIM design.

BIM is even extending its reach beyond design and construction to facilities management (FM). Operations, maintenance and retrofits have already found benefits from the application of BIM data and functionality. One research project by Simon Francis, the head of estates at London Southbank University, aims to find out the extent to which this is already happening. A open survey has been created (you can participate here), and Francis hopes the results will shed light on the barriers and opportunities for BIMs growing use in FM.

As Iordanova and others have suggested, BIM is quickly becoming the software platform for building design. It is reducing costs and errors, while increasing productivity in the construction phase and even promises to enhance facility management, thereby serving the entire life-cycle of the building.

By continually pushing the boundaries of software development and welcoming integration of new technologies, BIM is both elevating the industry and creating a structure of innovation that will drive construction into the digital and cyber-physical era.

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