Construction can be a wasteful process. Building information modeling (BIM) tackles this by creating a robust, accessible model and making it available to everyone who needs it.
Recent figures from the US Department of Commerce show that there have been no productivity gains in the construction industry in the last 20 years, although productivity in other sectors has soared through automation and better information management.
Construction does not lend itself to automation. Every major piece of the built environment is a prototype that must address its own unique set of user requirements, site constraints, aesthetic and social goals, economic realities and cultural context. There are few opportunities to build and test large elements of the project or to pressure the supply chain for parts that are frequently bespoke and require a great deal of skill to make.
However, the construction industry certainly has scope to make better use of information. And this is where BIM comes in. A true building information management system holds the data in one place. My experience at Arup is that this allows our people to use their time for engineering and design issues rather than for chasing correct and complete information to support our work.
Our work is intensely interdisciplinary and we pride ourselves on our ability to coordinate and cooperate with each other. For example, all our building disciplines use architectural information to understand the building form. Our structural and services engineers rely on programme information to calculate system sizes. Our electrical engineers base their designs on information from all the trades that need power to operate their equipment. And our acousticians and mechanical engineers need to collaborate closely to design quiet systems. The information can be voluminous, and easy access to a single ‘source of the truth’ can help to reduce the time we need to complete a design.
A comprehensive BIM model can also help to reduce the quantity of materials we need. The visualisation of the final condition improves both our understanding and the contractors’ understanding of what is being built. As this visualisation happens before hammer meets nail, or saw meets timber, any re-work due to misunderstandings can be significantly reduced.
Finally, BIM can help keep the whole design and construction team enthusiastic about their projects. Readily available information saves time, improves communication between disciplines and reduces re-work both at the design stage and on site. This leads to a greater focus on doing things right and better project outcomes.