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The Evolution of Building Information Modeling: BIM 1-2-3

09/12/2008 by Dennis Neeley



BIM is the most important event that has ever happened to the Architectural, Engineering, Construction, Facilities Management (AEC/FM) and Building Product Manufacturing (BPM) professions. Our professions have been lagging in the world of automation and efficiency. Part of the reason for the lagging (dollars spent per year per person in the AEC professions is the lowest of almost all other industries) is that the industry is not integrated, the collection and sharing of information is almost non existent so any efficiency is limited to the immediate individuals/company efficiency. Compare this to banking where I can make a deposit almost any place in the world at an ATM and my account is adjusted, using the automation of the AEC professions someone would need to print out a drawing of my deposit, scan it in to a computer, attach the scan to an email, send the email, print it out and enter it by hand into my account.

The AEC/FM, BPM professions combine to be the biggest industry in the world, bigger than automotive, aerospace and oil. When the world’s largest industry is inefficient and wasteful in both time and money anything that will save time and money is a big deal. In the case of BIM it is going to not only save time and money, but it is going to lead to more aesthetically designed buildings, substantially more energy efficient buildings and buildings that are going to perform better for the occupants and operators of the buildings.

The reason for this remarkable future is summed up in a few words – integrated, sharable information.

We are not going to get to this remarkable future instantly; we will go through stages of automation, what we are calling;

  • BIM 1.0 – Visualization
  • BIM 2.0 – Analysis
  • BIM 3.0 – Simulation

As we progress through these stages the use of BIM will become more and more sophisticated, and the results more and more impressive. This paper will look at these phases, what they mean and when we can expect them to become common place.

BIM 1.0 – Visualization

A majority of BIM users today are in the visualization phase. BIM is used to design and document the design. We have moved from hand drawing to CAD to BIM, but are fundamentally still using BIM to create the same 2D contract documents that we created when drawing by hand. There is no question that BIM is better than hand drawings and CAD for coordination, speed on creating the documents, and reduced errors & omissions. The Visualization phase includes powerful rendering tools that use the BIM model for the renderings with little additional work by the user.

Plan View, 3D Wireframe and Rendering

Design professionals are moving to BIM three times faster than the transition from hand drawing to CAD which took about fifteen years, BIM will be the predominant tool of choice throughout the professions by 2011. Not only are the designers moving to BIM, contractors are redrawing CAD drawings into BIM to reduce the cost of construction through savings in coordination, reduced conflicts and better visualization for the workers. Owners are hearing of the savings that can be realized through the use of BIM and they are requiring their designers use BIM. We just completed a project for a building product manufacturer where the architects requested that the manufacturer’s traditional CAD drawings be redone in BIM so they can be easily blended into their BIM project for the creation of the contract documents.

This is a most exciting period. Design professionals are making the move from CAD. Contractors are seeing that BIM is their future for reducing costs and increasing efficiency. Owners are already hearing of 5% to10% savings on BIM projects. Building product manufacturers are now getting requests for their objects in BIM, predominately in Revit. It is only a matter of time before you will see workers with computers at job sites like you see cell phones today. Or, perhaps I should say you will see workers with cell phones that they use to look at the drawings, days activities, details and more.

BIM 2.0 – Analysis

When I look back at the progression of CAD it moved from visualization to analysis, BIM is taking the same path, although we are just scratching the surface and the processes are not yet smoothly integrated, but they will be and soon.

Revit structural integrates with analysis programs. I was in a conference last year and one of the speakers was from a major structural firm, they said that they are telling their architectural customers that they need to move to Revit or they will not work with them because the savings and reduced risks in using Revit Structural with analysis are so substantial that they will only work with Revit.

There are several energy analysis programs available that extract the geometry and materials from the BIM model and return day lighting and heat loss/gain calculations. Autodesk has recently acquired analysis companies so clearly the integration between the drawing and the analysis will be better and more powerful soon.

We have just scratched the surface, the next six years will find scores of new analysis programs, not just analysis but analysis connected to the software API resulting in automated drawings, schedules and specifications. At Reed we have developed (to be released next year) a very sophisticated Quantity Take Off product that calculates quantities to any degree of granularity (number of windows, or down to number of screws needed to hold the windows). The product ties into RSMeans costs (A Reed Company) as well as customers own spreadsheets. Others companies and universities are working on concrete, rebar, lighting, and much more. The floodgates to analysis tied to drawings are opening.

Currently the interface between the BIM project and the analysis programs is not as smooth and seamless as it will be. There is no question that in the near future you will push a button and see your energy usage, costs, day lighting and then sit back and watch the automatic creation of your engineering drawings.

BIM 3.0 – Simulation

With CAD we have had visualization, with CAD we have had analysis tied to CAD, however neither to the level we will see with BIM, but with CAD we have not had widespread or viable simulation. With BIM simulation is the end game. Simulation will be a valuable tool during design, construction and post construction in the operations and facilities management of the building. Just imaging during the design phase if you could decide on the design of a shading device and see immediately what the consequences are on energy usage and the cost of construction. There are thousands of lighting options – fixture spacing, layout, types of ballasts, lamps, reflectors, mounting height, and the use of day lighting. The designer’s selections determine the quality, intensity, construction costs and operating costs for providing lighting. In the near future you will see the results of your decisions in photorealistic renderings, operating costs and lighting intensity as tested against the end user tasks.

Buildings use about 50% of our total energy. There is tremendous concentration now on automobiles and making them more energy efficient, we need the same concentration on buildings. To make informed decisions we need to see the immediate consequences of our design decisions so they can be adjusted and refined immediately. HVAC calculations are very complicated, the variables include exposure, acceptable standards, weather, occupancy, material selections, landscaping on the demand side and then design, delivery, operation and equipment selections on the delivery side. The power of the BIM will come when you get immediate information that is integrated and in real time. Years ago I wrote about a time in the future when you would design and in real time in the corners of your monitor you would see, the cost of construction, the time to construct, and the maintenance and operations costs to operate the building. I remember getting feedback that this was impossible. It is not impossible, in the next eight to ten years you are going to have some, if not all of these tools at you disposal. When we have these tools, we will be better designers and we will have better buildings.

Construction stands to gain the most through simulation. My father worked for Fluor during the 1950’s and 60’s, a time when we were building refineries throughout the US. Fluor had one of the largest physical model shops in the world. They modeled the refinery not only for presentations to the owner but to test construction sequencing. The physical models for refinery construction have been replaced with tremendously expensive software, software that can be justified on these expensive and massive projects. Buildings projects, with few exceptions, have not been able to justify the expense of simulations, but with BIM and the data concentrated in integrated locations, we are on the path to wide spread building simulations. Buildings are a very complicated construction process, with hundreds of suppliers, contractors, and workers. Wasted time is rampant, materials are stored in one place on Monday, moved to another on Wednesday because they are in the way and then moved back to the original location the following Monday. Concrete is poured and the next week it is saw cut or jack hammered out for a pipe or duct. Workers arrive and then stand around all day waiting for the trade ahead of them to finish. A construction conflict will find the architects, engineers, several contractors and scores of workers all investigating and waiting for a decision on how to proceed. Once we have the tools it will be much less expensive to plan the project on a computer, to run a simulation and see the conflicts with just electrons running around and not workers running around.


BIM is what we have been waiting for. Unlike hand drawing and CAD, BIM will not be replaced by a new process. BIM will continue to get better, faster, more integrated and more powerful. Our professions have move slowly in the past, change could be measured in decades, and automation just scratched the surface or what could be imagined. Now let your imagine run wild, because the next decade will be amazing.

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