Construction worldwide is becoming increasingly complex, with the emergence of new technologies and processes aimed at enhancing project efficiency and productivity. One of the significant achievements in recent years is the development of Building Information Modeling (BIM), which is transforming the way we design.
In today’s world, everything is a virtual object before it comes into existence, even in the case of physical buildings, where the construction process is supported by various tools, technologies, and digital techniques.
What is BIM (Building Information Modeling), and why should we consider this software?
BIM is a technology for creating and managing construction projects using their virtual models. These virtual models help architects and engineers visualize the structure to identify potential design, construction, or operational issues.
The software enables the creation of detailed 3D models filled with data about the physical object. Designers, architects, and contractors collaborate on these models, refining projects and resolving potential issues before construction begins, leading to more efficient and error-free construction.
Individuals and companies planning the construction and maintenance of various infrastructures, such as water, electricity and gas utilities, roads, railways, bridges, ports, and even tunnels, utilize this software.
It’s worth noting that BIM has been in existence and evolving alongside Computer-Aided Design (CAD) for over 35 years. Today’s BIM encompasses more than just geometry; it includes spatial relationships, geospatial information, trust-building property, asset management, sustainable development, production details, and many other features.
These features allow users to extract different views from building models. Professionals like architects, surveyors, civil engineers, and construction engineers usually use them to share information. Each engineer adds specific data from their field to a common model that integrates several different disciplines into one. Combining all these disciplines then enables the visualization of the object. All models exist in one environment, promoting better coordination and streamlining the project, ultimately aiding decision-making.
In the past, when such programs were not available, large projects often encountered problems that could likely have been avoided with BIM-type software.
➡ Completed in 1973, the world-renowned Sydney Opera House could have benefited from Building Information Modeling (BIM). Although it was one of the first major projects to use computer analysis for designing its iconic roof shells, it also stirred controversy due to the way it was designed.
The government at the time mandated the commencement of construction before final project approval, leading to the need to address numerous construction challenges without finalized plans. This resulted in several delays and issues. During construction, it became evident that the concrete podium columns designed to support the main structure were not strong enough and had to be completely replaced. The roof shell also underwent costly changes, causing multiple schedule shifts. While the final outcome was spectacular, having technology to create a building model could have allowed the design team to finalize plans for columns and roof shells long before construction began.
➡ Another example is the Citigroup Center in New York, a 279-meter skyscraper built in 1977. A year after completion, it was discovered that the chief engineer, William LeMessurier, had not accounted for certain wind forces in his calculations. To save on construction costs, bolted joints were also used in the structure. As a result of these oversights, the building became structurally unstable and threatened to collapse during a hurricane. Estimates at that time suggested the building could be toppled by winds at a speed of 110 km/h.
The discovery was made in 1978, and a three-month emergency repair prevented a potential catastrophe. Such a problem could have been prevented. Engineers and contractors could have collaborated better in choosing connections and conducting precise wind load simulations during the design phase. Information about this issue was kept secret until 1995.
➡ Another example is the Berlin Brandenburg Airport. Construction began in 2006, with completion scheduled for 2020. The airport construction was delayed by many years and exceeded the budget by billions of euros.
The main cause was numerous design errors. Some analyses suggest that over half a million defects caused by mismatched escalators were identified during construction.
The short history of the BIM software
The first tool developed for building modeling emerged in the 1970s and was introduced by Chuck Eastman, a professor and pioneer in the areas of design cognition and building information modeling (BIM). Eastman, later dubbed the “father of BIM,” advocated for a computer-based alternative to traditional drawings for construction documentation. The system enabling project information manipulation was initially called BDS (Buildings Description System). It included a graphical user interface, isometric and perspective views, and a sortable database allowing users to search information by categories such as material type and supplier. Eastman claimed that this solution could reduce project costs by up to 50%, criticizing traditional drawings for their inefficiency and inability to accurately represent buildings.
Despite their historical significance, Rucaps, Sonata, and Reflex are less known today. All three systems played a fundamental role in the development of current BIM technology and were largely led by Jonathan Ingram, an Australian. In 1986, Ingram released Sonata, the first system to combine modern BIM features in one application, allowing users to create a single building model in one file. Sonata, possibly the world’s first BIM-supporting application, received recognition with awards from Prince Philip and the British Computer Society. After several years, Sonata evolved into the more user-friendly Reflex, which was sold to PTC in 1996. PTC was a prominent company known for its Pro/Engineer application, later transformed into Creo.
ArchiCAD, the first commercial PC-based BIM product, was released in 1987 by the Hungarian company Graphisoft. ArchiCAD was considered revolutionary for its ability to store large amounts of information, enabling users to create virtual buildings with elements like walls, slabs, roofs, doors, windows, and furniture. It outpaced the competition, quickly gaining global market success. The first Windows version of ArchiCAD was introduced in 1995.
Before 1990, licensing costs for pre-1990s building modeling applications like ArchiCAD, Sonata, or Catia were prohibitively high. The software required advanced workstations, which were expensive and therefore inaccessible to the general public.
In 1998, two PTC employees left to establish their own company focused on developing a building modeling application called Revit, which was later acquired by Autodesk in 2002. Autodesk also published a white paper on building information modeling in the same year. It’s worth noting that until the early 21st century, BIM was not widely adopted.
Previously, BIM implementation progressed at different rates in various countries. One challenge during those years was the existence of different standards in each country, leading to communication issues between projects. To address this, a new international standard for managing information throughout the life cycle of a building object was developed – ISO 19650. This standard, based on the established British standard BS 1192, aimed to bridge the gap between different standards existing in various countries.
History in a nutshell: The history of BIM (Building Information Modeling) software is marked by significant milestones and the continuous evolution of technology.
Here’s a chronological overview:
Chuck Eastman’s BDS (Buildings Description System):
Significance: Chuck Eastman, a professor and pioneer in design cognition, introduced the first tool for building modeling. His system, BDS, laid the foundation for computer-based alternatives to traditional drawings for construction documentation.
Rucaps, Sonata, and Reflex:
Significance: Jonathan Ingram, an Australian, played a pivotal role in the development of three systems – Rucaps, Sonata, and Reflex. Sonata, released in 1986, was one of the first applications to combine modern BIM features in one application. Reflex, a more user-friendly program, was sold to PTC in 1996.
Significance: ArchiCAD, developed by the Hungarian company Graphisoft, was the first commercial PC-based BIM product. It was revolutionary for its ability to store large amounts of information and quickly gained global recognition.
Significance: Two PTC employees left to establish their own company, which developed Revit, a building modeling application. Autodesk acquired Revit in 2002, and it became a significant player in the BIM software market.
ISO 19650 Standard:
Significance: The development of the ISO 19650 standard aimed to address the challenge of different standards in various countries. It is an international standard for managing information throughout the life cycle of a building object.
Throughout this history, BIM software has evolved from the early systems like BDS to sophisticated applications like Revit, ArchiCAD, and others. These software solutions have contributed to improving collaboration, reducing errors, and enhancing overall efficiency in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry. As technology continues to advance, the capabilities of BIM software are expected to grow, enabling more complex and integrated building design and construction processes.
In BIM-based design, issues such as mismatched pipe segments will be addressed in the model, preventing them from becoming actual errors. Although such errors can lead to delays, unexpected costs, and significant stress for all involved parties, they have allowed the industry to draw lessons and ensure better practices in the future.
As for the BIM world itself, technology, processes, and skills are constantly evolving, leading to a greater number of projects pushing boundaries. What is now achievable through BIM is far more advanced than what was possible at the beginning of this software’s journey, and its continuous evolution will undoubtedly result in more complex projects in the future.
The advantages of BIM in construction engineering include:
- Integration of information: BIM enables the gathering of all relevant project information in one place, facilitating access and data management for all stakeholders.
- 3D building visualization: BIM allows the creation of a three-dimensional model of the building, enhancing understanding of the project and identifying potential issues before construction begins.
- Interdisciplinary coordination: With BIM, various departments involved in the project (architects, engineers, installation designers) can collaborate more efficiently, helping to avoid errors.
- Cost management: BIM enables better cost forecasting by providing more accurate estimates of the materials and labor required to complete the project.
- Sustainable development: By incorporating data on energy consumption, materials, and other environmental factors, BIM can support a sustainable approach to design and construction.
- Easier facility management and maintenance: BIM provides information regarding the maintenance and operation of the building, facilitating its later management and maintenance.