Elma Krasny: “To BIM or not to BIM?”

Recently, I had a conversation about BIM with a good friend of mine, that comes from the field of economics. She said that, day by day, many architects and engineers are coming to her with some new information about BIM and how important and revolutionary this method is in the construction and architectural industry. Everyone is talking about it, but nobody explained to her what BIM actually is. She asked me: “Do you use BIM at Walter?”

In the light of these “new” inventions and focus on BIM, I decided to write something about these three very popular letters in the architecture and construction sector, especially because in Walter, the company I work in, BIM is the core of all business processes.

We all know that BIM is an abbreviation for “Building Information Modeling.” Building of an informational model, as I call it, is a digital object description that includes every aspect of the object. Therefore, the focus is on all elements of this product so that all involved in its life cycle can make right decisions before, during and after construction, but also during maintenance, reconstruction, and even demolition. For an architect or designer of this object, BIM is much more than a technological change in the way it works, it is a complete metamorphosis in the process of creativity. And not only for the architect, but literally for all participants in the construction process: from the designer to the one who will manage the facility or product.

In order to fully understand BIM and this whole new concept, it is necessary to explore the development of technological processes that have helped the creation of this process so far, and analyze key moments in this development. Many of our distinguished and experienced colleagues still remember the rapidograph, hammer and paus paper. While it was “on paper,” all known processes of design, such as planning, ideas, sketches and schematic views, conceptual solutions, the main project, to the project of the performed state, were worked on “foot” or “hand”. It is superfluous to talk about all the challenges this creative process can bring to us. I remember my sister who was always doing all the design projects manually at her faculty (not that she was so old, but the country is still a bit obsolete) and there was always her frustration if she has wrongly draw the line with the rapidograph. Let’s start over. Sisyphus’s job. Architectural drawings differed from layout and construction details. Paus was used to check the collisions at various stages. There were too many mistakes, and the time was not suitable for the creation of such projects.

The period when I was studying coincided with the massive use of AutoCAD. AutoCAD was revolutionary, but only if the amount of time saved was considered. The creative process remained the same, and the only difference is that today we use mice instead of the rapidograph. Hands on the heart, it was easier to correct the mistakes, it did not require repeated painstaking work from scratch, but the design philosophy remained similar. The architect worked on his/her drawings,which were a sort of 2D representation of an objects again. Based on architectural drawings and with the help of computer engineering systems, she/he would analyze the object and incorporate the analysis results (armatures, formwork plans, etc.) into AutoCAD again. A similar process would be done by a mechanical engineer and an electrical engineer. All projects would be printed on paper, manually counting the amount of material, and the highlight of the Excel worksheet.

Many people think that moving from paper to AutoCAD is the same as switching from AutoCAD to BIM, and they are completely wrong. BIM has fully transformed the creative process. It now creates and uses a 3D object model, in a very innovative and specific way, whether it’s a product or a building, as the only source of information. The core of this process is a digital document, a database that contains a holistic and complete DNA on that object. The quality and comprehensiveness of information depends on the complexity of BIM.

The level of complexity of BIM is best explained by the Bew-Richards model. The majority of the industrial leaders in the world are usually at the Level 2 of this diagram, and are slowly turning to the Level 3. Shoulder by shoulder with its partners from Sweden, Walter has already largely stepped into the Level 3, and we are already thinking about what comes next (we are skipping discussions about our vision for the next article).

What do these levels mean? As far as the picture above explained, level 0 was the archaic, stone age when diligent engineers were drawing their designs by hand. Level 1 is a metal age when we used AutoCAD and 2D representation of the object. At this time, when we started presenting objects in 3D (to be honest, only architects and few constructors began using it), we are imagining that we are using BIM, but we have not yet reached the goal. We are not interconnected, information does not make sense. We created it, but we do not know what to do with it. We do not use it. Cogito ergo sum. As for the Level 1, model we created does not think exactly, so  according to the Decrat, BIM does not exist. Therefore, I hope you started realizing how important it is for us to reach the Level 2.

BIM Level 2 is based on cooperation, because it represents a structured, holistic, informative, strategic, well-defined, clear and precise model, that is evolving, and being shared between those who produce the object. This level addresses communication and coordination challenges among designers, but does not have any significant role in the process of building and maintaining the facility. BIM Level 2 still operates in the following four camps:

  • Designing Camp: Architects, Engineers, Consultants
  • Purchase Camp: Suppliers, Suppliers
  • Construction Camp: Contractors, Subcontractors
  • Building Maintenance Camp: Owners, Facility Maintenance.

Each of these camps inherits the BIM model from the camp before, modifies and upgrades it (using its predefined settings that are not the same as those of the camp before or does not use BIM at all), but often without actual inter-public communication. As a result, the information suffers again: it is missing, it is not complete, and the time required to create an object is lost. And time is money.

Level 3 refers to the information, a database that is transferred to the construction, production and maintenance of the facility, allowing open collaboration and product life cycle management (PLM). By adding BIM information to the PLM system, the building lifecycle management (BLM) is created, and it is exactly BIM level 3. BIM + PLM = BLM. In other words, 3D geometric data and information (non-geometric data) are exchanged over “Common Data Environemnt (CDE)” (central database). The BLM model definitely addresses problems such as the lack of data integration, disconnected documentation, and insufficient data for simulation of the process. The main benefits of the BLM model are productivity, sustainability, quality, error and cost reduction. BLM eliminates re-work, centralizes data, contextualizes information, and accurately predicts outcomes. This model has evaluated for one degree, recognizing that not all involved in construction processes are trained to manage sophisticated BIM software, and everything is mostly related to CDE, a central database – sophisticated and detailed web system, easy to use but very powerful tool in the manipulation and management of data, which in a smart way conveys the change or addition to information through all levels of documentation (architectural, construction, machine, electrical, investment, maintenance, etc.).

Now when you know the BIM path, can you answer the question “Where you and the company you work for are currently at?”. I think the key activities in this “soul-searching” are:

  • Defining the Concrete Benefits of BIM for Your Company
  • Convincing Your Partners And Working Colleagues That BIM is the Right Way
  • Education and Equipment
  • External Help of a BIM Expert

As you have already seen, there are various levels of BIM, and BIM is like life: the process, the path to perfection. Depending on what you are doing, BIM will help your company differently, but it will certainly help. It is only necessary to clearly define what BIM can do for you specifically. If you are an architect, it may speed up the design process. In the beginning it will certainly not do it, be sure of that. It will take time and money to establish a BIM system that is effective. To compensate for this transformation that can often be painful, define additional benefits. It would be best to communicate with partners, for example, associates in design, in order to convince them to switch to BIM, in cooperation with you,. In that moment, the whole story started to make sense. This way, you are striving towards the Level 2.

The next thing is to persuade partners and colleagues that BIM is the right path. Like any acceptance of the new technology, you will find skeptics, depressed, anxiety, traditionalists (the construction industry is full of these). With a clear plan and strategy, defined and measurable benefits, you can fight against such situations. And even when you get the majority on your side, be prepared to fall into eagerness and a general disappointment before enlightenment and productivity.

Concerning this whole process, education is the key. Do not expect people working in your company to know how to move to this new, innovative, modern way of working. At the very least, the engineers will need to be trained in the use of BIM software. In addition, software and hardware are essential. You will need to invest in software licenses and good hardware, because without good machines, there is no BIM. Sounds like a good slogan, but that’s right.

And last, but perhaps most important, you will need an expert to guide you through all these processes: from the start when you define the benefits, until the end when you finally produce your first successful BIM model. Well, second, third, until you become experts.

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