What is BIM?
(Building Information Modeling)

Building Information Modeling (BIM) has rapidly become a critical component and, in some aspects, mandated to protect the integrity of planning, designing and the construction of buildings to ensure efficiency and collaboration.

Why is BIM so important? Keep reading as we further explore everything BIM, including the benefits, the various levels, how BIM supports job safety and the future of the software project.


BIM Meaning – What is Building Information Modeling?

Building information modeling (BIM), at a basic level, is a 3D modeling process that incorporates all the data associated with each element within the model and is used by project team members to collaborate on the design, construction and post-build operations of the structure.


The Benefits of BIM

BIM lets you virtually design and build your project in 3D, long before anyone has stepped foot on the job site. The program continues to evolve after construction starts, becoming a work in progress. It allows you to experiment with design and material variations to see the effect before moving forward. As a result, you’ll be able to make potential change orders and reworks. BIM’s digital multi-dimensional model presents realistic views of the project, providing users with an in-depth view of the building of the project from the inside.

BIM is quickly becoming the go-to for construction company toolboxes because of its vast capabilities. However, each company may use the program for different functions. One company may use it primarily as a 3D design model or information hub, while another may view it as a collaborative tool that improves workflows. Using one or two functions can be an excellent tool for your company, but BIM is much more than that. Additional benefits of BIM include:

  • Building information modeling: BIM has been used for many years for everything from substantial capital projects, skyscrapers and multi-use facilities to subways, bridges and roadways. And with this wide array of project types in which BIM can play a role, there’s no limit to the kinds of industry professionals who can benefit from using it — everyone from architects and engineers to surveyors and urban designers. 
  • Each model contains various elements: The program can use a variety of components, including nails, glass, steel beams, cement, wiring, piping, switches, etc. Additionally, every single one is linked to layers of information that belong to it: quantity, cost, size, lifespan, replacement value, manufacturer and warranty information. This linking is what makes it interactive and brings the model to life.
  • Those details become actionable: What kinds of actions, you may ask? Up-to-the-minute, proactive changes based on current and accurate information, the recording problems that may arise during the project for faster course correction could result in fewer change orders and a more proactive maintenance post-build. It all essentially becomes a reference guide across the life cycle of the build and beyond. 
  • Details become accessible: The Common Data Environment (CDE) pulls all the information for all to refer to and use as needed. It can also be done in real-time through the cloud, your local server or an extranet. CDE can be used before the actual building phase starts to when it’s turned over to the owner and facilities management takes over.

BIM is still relevant after the build is complete: The final model, also known as a digital twin, adds value to overall building operations because the data still housed within it can help with preventive maintenance, ongoing testing and inspections, parts replacement, unexpected repairs or servicing and even act as a starting point for similar future projects.


What Are BIM Levels?

Various levels can be achieved with BIM on a variety of projects. The levels are based on a set of criteria that depicts the level of maturity. BIM levels start at zero and can work up to 6D BIM. The levels measure how much information is shared and managed during the entire process.

So, what is involved in the BIM process? Let’s delve into each level to identify which level is ideal for a given project.     


Level 0 BIM: Paper-Based Drawings With No Collaboration

BIM’s base level is zero, meaning you’ll be using 2D CAD and working with drawings or digital prints. This level also means that there is no collaboration at all. While most of the industry operates above this level, not everyone has enough BIM training to work higher than the base level. Additionally, specific projects may not include the use of BIM in contract details.


Level 1 BIM: 2D Construction Drawings With Limited 3D Modeling Capabilities

Level one is primarily used for 2D construction drawings, outlining information and other documentation. When operating at this level, CAD standards are measured by BS 1192:2007 and the electronic sharing of data performed from a standard data environment (CDE) that the contractor typically controls. A lot of firms use level one BIM. There isn’t much collaboration, and each party publishes and manages its data. Level one has limited 3D modeling capabilities and is generally used for concept work. 


Level 2 BIM: Collaborative 3D Models

While levels zero and one have little to no collaboration capabilities, level two BIM starts to introduce a collaborative environment. All members can use a 3D CAD model at this level, but they may not be working on the same model. Teams can work on their own 3D models at level two. Information at this level is shared differently than at the previous levels. Data and all other information regarding the design are transmitted via a common file format.

Combining data saves ample time, cuts costs and removes the need for a rework. Due to how the data is shared at this level, the CAD software must be able to export to a common file format like COBie (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange).


Level 3 BIM: Collaboration With a Shared 3D Model

While level two allows team members to work on their own 3D model, level three turns it up a notch by enabling members to use one shared project model. The model is stored in a centralized location and can be accessed and adjusted by everyone on the project. This is known as Open BIM, meaning an extra layer of security is added to avoid clashes.

Level three comes with numerous benefits, including better 3D visualization throughout the duration of the project, easier collaboration between teams, streamlined communication and understanding of the design and decreased chance of revisions at multiple stages of the project.


Level 4 BIM: The Time Dimension

Level four BIM is known as the time dimension because it measures progress in terms of the scheduling data. This is helpful when analyzing the impact of what-if scenarios and actual changes on the project timeline.


Level 5 BIM: Added Element of Cost Estimating

Level five adds the element of money. In the beginning stages of cost estimating, BIM allows you to input cost data specific to the individual components — from bolts to beams — so it can perform the quantity calculations that directly inform the takeoff. This fifth dimension also allows you to track cost progress throughout the build and, as in the time dimension, analyze scope changes, what-if scenarios and how incurred expenses impact the budget.


Level 6 BIM: The Facilities Management Dimension

Level six includes life cycle data, referred to as the facilities management dimension. This is the dimension that provides information about those individual components that will be most relevant post-build, such as manufacturer, warranty, replacement value and operation manual. Its focus is not on the inputs that went into the building but on the efficiency and operations outputs after completion.

These dimensions make BIM so critical to the success of large capital projects. With thousands of pieces of data associated with these builds, there’s little wiggle room for erroneous or missing information or miscalculations. That’s what makes using BIM so advantageous; it provides an edge over the competition during the bid process and lays the groundwork for improved efficiencies throughout the build and beyond.


How BIM Supports Job Site Safety

BIM is mainly known for saving time and money—the two project resources against which your construction progress and performance are typically measured. What may not be as well-known is BIM’s ability to protect another critical project resource—your onsite team. 

Promoting safety might seem more of an inadvertent byproduct of BIM’s overall capabilities rather than an intentional effort. But if we shift the focus to how to proactively use BIM to promote the safety of those in the field, we begin to see BIM in a new way. 

Let’s delve into the three ways that BIM promotes onsite job safety.


Proactive Hazard and Error Detection

Prevention is the best way to keep construction injuries from consistently ranking among the highest among OSHA’s annual accident statistics. This is where BIM has a clear advantage. But timing is key because the best opportunity for its potential is at the design stage.

Simulating walkthroughs and fly-throughs of the multi-dimensional model affords contractors and specialty subcontractors the chance to visualize the designed structure at three different levels: 

  1. Eye level
  2. Aerial view
  3. Through walls

This allows them to identify any potential hazards or safety concerns, particularly those unique to their discipline, that otherwise wouldn’t have been detected until construction was well underway.

With BIM, you can check the model for construction issues before the building has begun, including hard and soft clash detection and noncompliance with building codes. This allows enough time and opportunity to revise, evaluate and finalize design alternatives that resolve those issues. All of this translates into far less rework. 

But what does this have to do with safety? High onsite injury rates often accompany late-stage rework. Under time pressure to redo the work by the completion date (and not put their own retainage at risk), there’s the increased likelihood of taking shortcuts and being lax about safety measures. Preventing these clashes from occurring in the first place can help bring down the accident rates.


Safety Communication and Information

Of course, you can’t avoid a hazard you don’t know about. One of BIM’s strengths is providing the two-way platform necessary for sharing critical real-time safety updates among project team members once construction is in progress.

Depending on the hazard, there may be the added benefit of presenting it visually to provide context and a better perspective on how to address it. This turns the BIM platform into an even more robust collaborative tool, enabling the appropriate construction disciplines to collectively manage the risk, with everyone referencing the same information and graphics in real-time. It creates a transparent way to explore solutions in real-time and provide proof of corrective action.

That same transparency makes the platform more than just a communication channel, though. It’s also a channel through which to access project-related safety information. That can include everything from procedures and protocols to safety data specific to the linked elements within the BIM model, such as necessary precautions to take when handling certain materials.


Prefabrication Design to Reduce Injury Risk

Large or complex structures, particularly, present precarious construction scenarios for site crews who are often tasked with in-place construction and installation of intricate components or awkward building systems—involving ladders, scaffolding and tight spaces. The potential risk? Bodily injury at best or suffering a life-threatening fall at worst. One effective way to prevent this is to instead turn to BIM to design a precise 3D model in a particular manufacturing-friendly file that can be used to prefabricate these components and systems ahead of time. Once created, they can be set up as larger units onsite (on the ground, rather than entirely up high) and put into place using heavy machinery instead.

With accidents and injuries an unfortunate yet common part of the construction industry, it makes sense to find ways to turn that trend around by creating a safer job site environment and implementing preemptive safety measures through BIM. It also makes good financial sense regarding less rework, fewer missed workdays and workers’ compensation claims.


What Is the Future of BIM?

Among the top items, construction companies plan to invest in within the next five years is BIM processes and technologies. This is because they acknowledge BIM is helping and will help represent the future of their projects, their companies and even the industry as a whole.

It may seem rather curious to think of it as part of the future of construction when it’s actually been around for quite some time. For nearly 40 years, BIM has been a mainstay in architecture circles within the industry. But it’s only gained ground in construction over the last two decades. 

Let’s analyze and discuss how BIM will affect future infrastructure projects.


Financial Efficiency With Better Use of Capital Project Data

To appreciate BIM’s potential impact, we can look at aging infrastructure projects throughout the U.S. There’s growing attention on them due to various states of disrepair or lack of safety. It is possible to theorize that some of this could’ve been addressed and prevented if building information modeling had been around during their creations. 

Having to rely on traditional construction practices involving 2D drawings and decentralized project details can be very limiting. Think of all the data that starts rolling in from day one. And it accumulates when the completed project has been handed over to the owner’s operations and facility management team. It can be somewhat of a challenge, not to mention overwhelming, to track and understand everything.

But that’s where BIM can help. What often makes it stand out is the BIM model’s ability to link directly to all the details associated with each individual element, from the smallest nail to the largest volume of concrete. Those include all usable and actionable data, including size, current cost, replacement value, lifespan, warranty information and more. These specific details or project intelligence can be leveraged repeatedly throughout the project’s construction and beyond from within its own common data environment (CDE).


Optimized Design Phase Efficiency

How often have you heard or said, “If only we knew at the beginning…” or “if only we could see through walls?” With BIM, you actually can.

Building your project through BIM before actual construction begins opens up opportunities to experience things you hadn’t been able to with traditional design methods. For instance, designing a structure through BIM modeling frees you up to experiment with variations on materials, exteriors, door and window placement, layout configurations, and more. You can virtually walk through a model for a realistic view of the flow, the aesthetics, the space, and even any design mistakes to fix on the spot. Project team members have the chance to collectively evaluate choices before committing to a final design.

What else does it let you see? The BIM process also acts like a risk mitigation tool enabling you to discover structural and spatial interferences through automated clash detection. Catching these early allows you to correct them at the design stage before they’ve had a chance to be built into the structure, which would set the stage for change orders for anything from minor alterations to full-on budget-eating rework down the road. You preserve the original cost and schedule estimate and your profit margin.

Maximizing design phase efficiency with BIM is more than just seeing the previously unseen and making decisions before work begins. It’s also confident that those choices you make for your future capital projects are cost-efficient regarding the construction estimate and future maintenance after handoff.


Interactive Data to Foster Interactive Teams

As much as BIM is about data, it’s also about communication and collaboration. Being able to access and interact with all your projects’ constantly updated details at such a granular level is the kind of transparency that sets the stage for better understanding of the build and more effective communication among project teams. That includes those disciplines that may not usually have had a seat at the design table.

With all the data linked from the model housed in BIM’s CDE, it serves as a central hub where everyone can interact with the wealth of information it contains. In addition to making design and materials choices, it’s also where teams can interact with each other to share updated models, ask and answer questions, suggest modification ideas, and review solutions to problems. That can make a noticeable difference among back office staff and job site crews that may not have had many opportunities to work together at such an impactful, truly collaborative level. 

BIM helps foster an environment where there’s less chance of miscommunication or obsolete information that could lead to delays caused by errors or unexpected changes.


Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions regarding building information modeling.


What Does BIM Mean?

The acronym BIM stands for building information modeling. It’s a process of creating and managing information for a built asset. BIM uses an intelligent 3D modeling process to aid in the planning and designing of construction and operations.


What Is the Difference Between BIM and CAD?

BIM is used solely in designing and constructing commercial properties, including office buildings, airports, schools, etc. CAD is generally used for the industrial design of mechanical and electrical sources, which includes airplanes and phones. BIM has recently become more of the industry standard.


Is BIM a Good Career?

The job outlook for BIM looks bright. With BIM rapidly becoming the industry standard, companies and firms are looking for knowledgeable individuals in the BIM space. BIM managers play an integral role in AEC taks, including cost estimating and implementing new uses for BIM.


Is AutoCAD  BIM?

No, AutoCAD is not BIM. AutoCAD is a function of BIM where CAD drawings are generated in AutoCAD software and then imported into BIM. AutoCAD is a vital function of the BIM system.


The InEight Model of BIM Can Help Your Next Project

There may be no single “right” way to define building information modeling. The right way for you will depend on how you intend to use it. The InEight Model might be the BIM software that will add the most value to your projects. We would be happy to walk you through a demo of InEight Model to give you an idea of how it can help you realize new levels of project efficiency and certainty. 

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