BIM Use Cases at Different Phases of Construction Process
As a technology and a process, BIM, or Building Information Management, has already earned a lot of respect from various players in the construction industry, showcasing the massive number of advantages it can offer. It is an extensive collaborative process that uses a single model as the main source of information for every participant in the construction process, from designers and architects to engineers, construction workers, and even the building owner.
BIM is a unified source of truth for different stakeholders involved in the construction process. However, there is still quite a lot of hesitation when someone asks for examples of actual BIM benefits for the project realization process, not just abstract benefits. As such, it would be the goal of this article to showcase specific BIM use cases at different construction phases – from the planning phase to the scheduled maintenance phase.
BIM use cases for the planning phase
The pre-construction phase, or the planning phase, is a part of any project’s realization process that most likely benefits from introducing BIM as a technology. The AEC industry is one of many examples of this, with private and public companies using BIM to some extent in their operations.
At this stage, BIM’s biggest advantages are visualization, clash detection, different building variations, cost estimates, and communication. Now we are going to go over each of these separately, explaining why specific benefit matters in the context of BIM.
Visualization is most likely one of the most obvious benefits of any 3D model, including BIM models. It is useful for engineers to add or modify variables to avoid conflicts during later construction stages. It is useful for architects with a three-dimensional model of the project in question with the ability to modify or further improve it during the entire project’s realization.
Stakeholders and project investors have access to a three-dimensional visual representation of how the project would look in its finished form, creating an affirmation of investments for investors and a ground for various modifications for stakeholders. A centralized 3D model as a single source of truth is also a great advantage for all communication efforts, eliminating miscommunications and conflicts between different parties. A BIM model can even be used to review the construction progress remotely if any investor wishes to do so during any phase of the project’s realization.
Clash detection (or collision detection) is a series of checks and analyses that searches for places where different parts of the same model are overlapping each other. It is an extremely useful feature both in the planning phase and at the later stages of the construction process.
Clash detection as a feature can also be customized to include individual rules for specific objects within the same BIM 3D model, notifying users about these objects overlapping each other. Clash detection is one of many features that most BIM models have, ensuring no overlap because every overlap could result in a potentially expensive and time-consuming operation on-site to fix said issue.
There are three main types of clashes that could happen in a BIM model of a construction project:
- A workflow clash. This type of clash is one of the hardest to detect, and it is more of a technicality than anything else – a clash between work schedules, especially noticeable regarding equipment procurement.
- A soft clash. A specific object being closer than recommended to another object but not overlapping one another is what the industry refers to when calling something “a soft clash.” One example of that is a water feature being too close to a parking bay – not overlapping, but placed closer than tolerated, which could lead to potential inconveniences for the building’s usage in its finished form.
- A hard clash. An actual overlap between two objects that were not supposed to happen. A result of that overlap is all kinds of errors and inconsistencies for the entire project.
This particular use case is more specific to the AEC industry, but it is still important for the whole picture. The planning phase of any project includes stakeholders attempting to create design variants that fit the requirements of said project. This often leads to multiple variations of one project being created at the same time – but only one of them can be implemented in the final version of the project. One way to solve this is to use the Level of Development – an industry-wide specification used mainly by the AEC professionals to specify various content within the BIM model.
However, in our example, LOD is used to assess each variant in terms of how fitting it is for the final version of the project. The introduction of BIM into this process makes it easy for these stakeholders to keep track of the general project model while having their variants on hand. Generally speaking, the best-performing variant wins this assessment in most cases.
Collaboration and communication
A single most commonly known benefit of BIM is improved collaboration. The easiest definition of BIM coordination is a situation when many stakeholders would be able to contribute to a single 3D model, be it at the design phase or later. For example, an architect designs a 3D model in the first place. Various subcontractors later use that 3D model to add information such as material costs, installation time estimates, labor costs, etc.
The same logic could be applied to analyses and reports – performing them and attaching the results to the model itself creates more context for other stakeholders about the model as a whole. That same model is extremely useful for communicating between stakeholders about project-wide updates, such as delays, plan changes, scheduling modifications, etc. Project transparency contributes a lot to projects being completed on time and without clashes.
BIM is also used to create an interdisciplinary model – a model that would work for multiple stakeholders at once, carrying a single set of rules for everyone, such as model verification rules, as well as IFC export capability, compatibility testing of the entire model to avoid clashes, and so on.
Cost calculation is a natural progression of a 3D BIM model that already has all of the necessary materials for the construction process calculated, with their parameters being a part of said model. The introduction of automatic cost estimates based on the existing BIM model data turns said model into a 4D BIM model – a model with more than three “dimensions” included.
While it is relatively obvious what a 3D model means ( a model that has 3 axis – X, Y, and Z), the nature of 4D models and their evolution is still a rather conflicting topic that does not see a lot of practical implementation so far. As such, we can only mention the general consensus about other “dimensions” of BIM models.
Two of the most consistent “dimensions” in the industry by far are the scheduling dimension, and the cost estimate dimension – the former is often referred to as the 4D model, and the latter follows it, referred to as the 5D model. Other dimensions are not as concrete in the industry so far, which is why we will only focus on 4D and 5D for now.
Interestingly, a 5D BIM model implies that both the scheduling dimension and the cost estimate dimension are implemented simultaneously – but they are not exactly dependent on one another. This raises the question of whether a BIM model can still be considered 4D if it only includes the classic three dimensions and the cost estimate dimension but not the scheduling dimension.
There are many examples like these, and it is unclear if it is the correct terminology in the first place. It would be important to mention here that the aforementioned notifications about schedule changes cannot be considered an entire “scheduling dimension” because this particular dimension implies actual schedules of different stakeholders being a part of the BIM model, which is clearly not the case in this article.
As such, we would continue referring to our specific example as a 4D BIM model, even though its’ fourth “dimension” is not the scheduling but the cost estimates. It is a great addition to the project as a whole, providing accurate and up-to-date estimates on the total project cost and its separate parts, which makes decision-making far easier than before.
BIM use cases in other phases of the construction project
It is easy to see from the list above that many of these benefits, and use cases can also be applied to other project realization phases, not just the design phase. A “collaboration” use case applies to the entire process of project creation, from early design phases to post-construction maintenance or disassembly. A “visualization” use case is also applicable for the process from start to finish, offering a visual representation of a project’s status for investors or stakeholders and an incredibly useful model for the post-construction phase.
The truth is that there are many different BIM use cases, and most are not specific enough to only apply to one single project phase. As such, we can also mention a few other use cases that BIM improves on significantly, splitting them into a few categories: construction site management, documentation management, and handover/commissioning management.
Construction site management covers most of the operations that can be controlled with the help of BIM software at the construction phase – which boils down to the management of construction machinery, on-site security management process, and the generation of documentation related to this specific project phase.
Speaking of documentation, there is also an entire group of use cases for BIM that can be referred to as documentation management. As the name suggests, this category covers everything related to the documentation at different project phases, whether at the design phase or the handover phase. As-built documentation is a good example of a use case that is a part of this category, representing a set of documents such as drawings and specifications of a building as it was built, not as it was planned to be built. As-built documentation has several different use cases, including acting as proof of work for the general contractor, performing maintenance and other tasks for the building owner, and so on.
As a continuation of the as-built documentation topic, we can also mention the last but not least category of use cases for BIM – handover/commissioning management. This category of use cases covers every BIM operation related to the process of handing the final results of a project to its owner, as well as a number of operations performed with the building itself before it is handed over (which is often referred to as commissioning). Specific examples of BIM use cases in this category are:
- Handover and warranty management;
- Commissioning management;
- Acceptance management, and so on.
BIM is an incredibly useful technology, capable of transforming every stage of a construction process into something much more efficient and easier to manage. At the same time, many BIM use cases are difficult to attribute to a specific project phase because of how expansive BIM’s influence is. In this article, we have attempted to present several different BIM use cases and categorize them to a certain degree.