Glossary September 16, 2020
Updated 5 October 2022 by James Ocean

BIM Definition & Meaning. What is BIM technology?

Table of Contents

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is becoming more and more critical in modern-day construction. In many regions, it’s becoming mandatory to ensure that the construction process of any object is efficient and effective at all of the construction stages, from planning and design up to the actual building process.

Even though BIM might seem like relatively new technology, it has been around for long enough for different interpretations of what it means. One of the more neutral BIM meanings describes it as a highly sophisticated process that takes advantage of vast collaborative possibilities to allow both stakeholders and professionals in various fields to work together within the same 3D model. This BIM construction definition implies that the specialities of the varied architecture, engineering and construction professionals are used to make highly efficient and effective decisions based on accessible, real-time information about the project in question.

The Origins of BIM

Before BIM came into fruition, traditional blueprints and drawings that helped to express different information about a specific building plan. Visualizing exact dimensions and more particular requirements was not an easy task in the borders of this 2D approach, especially as models changed.

When CAD (Computer-aided Design) became popular, the digitalizing of previously paper-based construction plans came to life. CAD turned 3D and solved one more problem – adding the third dimension to enable more realistic-looking construction plans.

Then along came BIM – a new process that takes 3D to new heights by adding information and cooperation into the basic BIM meaning.

BIM itself works with specific components called BIM objects. BIM objects are the fundamental components of a BIM model, with each of them having specific geometry and unique data. The change in one of these objects results in changes to the entire model to accommodate the sudden difference in parameters, allowing BIM models to be more accurate throughout the entire construction process. These subsequent changes are making it that much easier for experts in various fields – architects, engineers, designers, contractors, and so on – to participate in the construction process without disturbing someone else’s work.

The Components of BIM technology

One way of understanding the BIM definition in its entirety lies in understanding its name, “Building Information Management”. We’ll be starting with the “Building”, and going further in quick succession.

Building. It’s not just referring to a building in the sense of structure that has four walls and a roof, but BIM can be applied to more than traditional buildings, like infrastructure, landscaping, civil engineering, and so much more than that. Because of this, the definition implies the original purpose of BIM as a process – “to build” something.

Information. The inclusion of “information” in the process and how it is incorporated is what makes the entire process “smart”. As it stands, every project comes with a plethora of different information and data types, and bringing all of that information in one place, making it accessible, and managing it in real-time is what “information” in BIM is all about.

Modeling. The origin of modeling implies that you’re essentially building the entire project from the ground up before starting the actual construction in the first place. This is the direct answer to the question “What is BIM Modeling?” The detailed and efficient model of a building should not just be used as a reference for the construction phase but also for building owners long after the entire construction process is complete.

Information Sharing in BIM

Information about how different BIM objects and models are shared within a specific environment called CDE (Common Data Environment). The data that has been transferred within the CDE is called an information model. These models can be utilized at any stage of the construction process, from planning and initial project set-up to the final stages of the construction and even the renovation phase.

This in-depth approach to the information in the first place is based on one of the founding principles of BIM – the importance of “I”, meaning “Information”, in BIM’s definition. A lot of people tend to agree that the most important and useful feature of BIM is the information that’s being exchanged since it’s not just some data that’s used only once – it’s actionable on its own right.

Various specialists can use that data to reduce coordination mishaps, provide useful insights for the future, express the needed intent for the construction in question, improve the overall accuracy of the project, and so much more than that.

BIM Levels – from 0 to 6D

Of course, it would be unfair to assume that all companies are suddenly going to adopt BIM as their prime construction/planning method and utilize it to its full extent, especially without knowing the BIM construction definition. That’s why there are different BIM levels. Each of these levels express a particular level of effectiveness of various information technologies being used in the construction process.

Level 0 is the first level of BIM. The “zero” in the name represents the amount of cooperation and collaboration in the BIM sense – meaning there’s no collaboration at all. The most common signs of being at BIM level 0 are using 2D CAD (not 3D) and utilizing digital prints and drawings as your primary option for various projects and plans. While there’s still a lot of professionals that are uneasy about changing their set-in-stone construction principles, it’s safe to say that most of the industry nowadays is above level 0 when it comes to collaboration and Building Information Management.

Level 1 is the current collaboration level for the majority of construction-related firms and represents using 3D CAD for concepts but still utilizing only 2D CAD for production information drafts and subsequent documentation. This level is covered by the BS 1192:2007 Standard, where it’s normal for only the contractor to have access to the data from the CDE. At this level, each stakeholder has their own siloed data that they can publish and manage, and the amount of collaboration is substantially low.

Level 2 is also quite popular, primarily because it was made mandatory by the UK Government for use on all publicly tendered projects. At this level, 3D CAD is used by all participating team members. However, challenges arise because different models can be used for different groups of specialists. One of the biggest changes for this level is the use of common file formats.

In this level, stakeholders are bound to exchange information using the shared standard file format. Combining data in the same file formats allows for several advantages, including reducing costs, saving time, and so on. At the same time, the necessity of using a common file format does mean that the CAD software should be capable of working with specific file formats, like COBie or IFC (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange and Industry Foundation Class, respectively).

Level 3 is where BIM begins to get to show it’s true colors – no separation of 3D models, but one model for everyone to work from, the direct answer to the question “What is BIM technology-wise?”. This BIM 3D model needs to exist in an accessible, shared environment. Such an environment is called Open BIM, serving as an additional level of protection against different decisions clashing in the middle of the project planning, among other things.

BIM, as an industry standard, is here to stay. There’s a clear list of benefits that come from implementing it, and a lot of the supposed disadvantages come from the conservative side of the market that doesn’t want to implement new technology and change with the industry. It’s also clear that BIM grows more complicated with each passing year, and the addition of 4D, 5D and 6D is not as far away.

The talk about different “dimensions” higher than level 3 of BIM is still in its early stages. Some participants are outright refusing to accept parts of this idea in the first place. However, it’s always useful to know what does BIM 4D, 5D and 6D actually mean.

4D BIM represents the 4-dimensional work in the BIM environment, essentially adding the fourth “dimension” – time – to the already known three dimensions. The idea of 4D BIM revolves around project participants being able to interact with different activities in the process of construction in general, including:

  • Risk mitigation;
  • Activity monitoring;
  • Physical activity sequencing;
  • Critical path visualization as a consequence of a series of events, and more.

4D BIM can be represented as the modification of known traditional Gantt charts or CPM schedules. There are occasionally examples of this type of technique being utilized with the larger projects, but they are limited due to the costs associated with implementing it. Still, the overall BIM technology progress gradually makes it easier for 4D development to be used in other areas, like manufacturing processes and so on.

5D BIM is even more complex. It takes the already complicated 4-dimensional project image and integrates it with various cost-related information, thus making “cost” the “5th dimension” of BIM. There’s potential to improve different aspects of BIM with this technique regardless of scale. The entire idea is still in the early stages of being introduced to the public so it might be a while before both time and costs to be considered as separate dimensions in the context of BIM.

6D BIM is the last “dimension” when it comes to BIM and it represents the interaction between the classical 3D components and all of the aspects that comprise the project’s life-cycle. The 6D model is often used as a final representation of the construction project when it’s officially completed. It comes in the form of a BIM model populated with a plethora of various building-related information, including warranty data, manufacturer info, specification, manuals and other details that might be useful in the process of building’s subsequent usage throughout the years.

The help with the operation and maintenance of the final facility are the main purposes of this kind of model. It’s less commonly used in the UK as something not directly adding another dimension to the overall scale, and  is often replaced with either Asset Information Requirements or Asset Information Model (AIR and AIM, respectively).

BIM standards

Of course, BIM as a whole would not have become this popular and effective without specific standards in place. It is worth mentioning that several countries have their region-specific standards when it comes to BIM. Still, it is possible to segregate a number of standards that are accepted and renowned internationally. These standards define BIM’s information structure, BIM processes, and so on.

  • ISO 23386:2020 – “Building Information Modeling and other digital processes used in construction – Methodology to describe, author and maintain properties in interconnected data dictionaries.”
  • ISO 16739-1:2018 – “Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) for data sharing in the construction and facility management issues – Part 1: Data schema.”
  • ISO 19650-1:2018 – “Organization and digitization of information about buildings and civil engineering works, including building information modeling (BIM) – Information management using building information modeling – Part 1: Concepts and principles.”
  • ISO 12006-2:2015 – “Building construction – Organization of information about construction works – Part 2: Framework for classification.”

As we have mentioned, some countries use these international standards as the baseline for their BIM regulations. For example, the UK BIM Framework relies on the ISO 19650 series standards to create its ruleset for this specific industry – UK PAS 1192 series.

BIM Misconceptions

Surprisingly enough, there’s a lot of misconceptions going around about BIM, many of which might be the prime factors impacting adoption. Here are some of the largest misconceptions about BIM:

  1. BIM is an all-in-one solution that works right out of the box.

This misconception is not as popular as the other, but it’s present nonetheless. A lot of people think that BIM Software itself works at its full capacity from the get-go. While it is true that a lot of BIM software can be deployed and functional in a short amount of time, the only thing that you’ll get immediately is 3D modeling, and that’s it.

BIM, as a construction process, revolves around changing and adapting the majority of your existing processes to accommodate for the innovative way that BIM implements information and collaboration into every aspect of the process. It’s not an easy process, either, but the payoff is worth it in the long run.

  1. BIM is just an evolution of CAD as a design tool.

While it is true that one of the main purposes of BIM is 3D modeling – just like CAD – it’s important to know the distinction between the two. Figuratively speaking, 3D modeling is just a tip of the iceberg when it comes to the vast amount of different BIM features, including interaction, collaboration, project delivery, taking advantage of the information available for each project, and so on. The long and short of it – you can create a perfectly fine 3D CAD model with BIM software, but you won’t be able to enjoy the majority of BIM-related advantages using 3D CAD software.

It is also essential to draw a clear line between a 3D model that can be created using CAD software and a BIM object. The former usually includes nothing but the geometrical information about the real-life object and can be created with nothing but your regular CAD tools. The latter is a 3D object with a plethora of other important information about this particular object, such as comprehensive technical information.

BIM objects are necessary so that 3D modeling as a process can be as close to real-life situations as possible; otherwise, there is no point in modeling projects in the first place. Including technical and other information also makes it far easier to detect clashes between different objects and predict other potential conflicts as early as the project’s design stage.

  1. BIM is for architects only.

This is a common misconception about most “design tools”, not just BIM. A big project of a skyscraper in the middle of the city is probably the most obvious example of almost any design tool in the works, but it’s not just that – far from it. “What is BIM in architecture?” is quite a common question, as well. However, it’s much more complicated than that.

One thing that might have added fuel to this fire is the fact that both construction and architecture industries were the first ones to adopt BIM as a technique, so this might be the reason why everyone thinks BIM can only deal with buildings.

In actuality, BIM can be adapted to work with a large variety of different structures, including road engineering, rail engineering, subway architecture, energy structures, civil engineering, and more.

BIM lifecycle

The fact that BIM is beneficial to the entire project lifecycle can be represented by a diagram below – it can be used to see how many things are that much more convenient and practical with the inclusion of BIM in these processes. Knowing what BIM technology is as a whole, it is easy to see why BIM can be considered a cornerstone of digital transformation for a number of industries – facility management, building management, the AEC industry, and the commercial real estate field, to name a few.

This kind of influence is relatively apparent since these industries gain many benefits from accurate, timely, and convenient information about their subject. Combine that with how data is considered the most important resource of an organization right now – and it is easy to see how BIM has become this much of an influence on the entire construction industry.

BIM adoption and construction industry trends

The influence of widespread BIM adoption has generated a number of “waves” in the construction industry, starting new trends and pushing the existing ones towards actualization. Knowing what BIM is in the first place, it is easy to see how it spawned this many changes and new trends. In fact, there are so many of these trends that they can be segregated into a separate list:

BIM and Artificial Intelligence

It is relatively common to see a BIM model collecting a large mass of information throughout the entire project from start to finish. This information can be useful for the project itself, and it can also become a learning experience for future projects. However, this kind of information is often rather tricky to interpret and analyze manually – which is where AI assistance comes in. The usage of artificial intelligence for BIM analysis purposes is the first upcoming trend on this list, offering a much faster and more efficient data analysis when compared with manual analytical methods. BIM data can be used to help AI learn patterns and identify potential issues with much higher accuracy than ever before.

Real-time information access

Using BIM as the single unified source of information for the entire project is already a trend, offering massive advantages over traditional data-sharing methods. The usage of cloud services for accessibility purposes in BIM makes it far easier to collaborate, solve issues and figure out specific project details, resulting in fewer delays, better performance, and more.

3D printing in the construction industry

Since 3D printing is getting tested in many different applications worldwide, it is only natural for 3D printing to be tested in the construction industry, as well. There are multiple reports about entire houses created with nothing but 3D printing, and the advantages of this technology are tremendous. The material for 3D printing in building construction can be cement, recycled materials and even leftovers from traditional construction processes. 3D printing in the construction industry can drastically reduce construction waste amounts, improve recycling as a whole and offer even more architectural freedom than ever before – and creating something as complex as a house using 3D printing would be impossible without comprehensive information-rich BIM models.

Sustainability

Sustainability and energy efficiency have been a trend for a while now, and it is only natural for the construction industry to be involved in that, as well. More and more strict construction regulations get accepted every year, and there are many sustainable construction certifications already that focus on sustainability of different project types (GreenBuilding, LEED, BREEAM, etc.). However, creating building-sized sustainable objects requires a lot of precise calculations – something that BIM will always be better at compared with manual labor. BIM can help reduce emissions, pick more sustainable materials, analyze the project’s future lifecycle, and more.

Digital Twins

The concept of the digital twin sounds extremely useful on paper, and it is already making its way towards being a regular occurrence in the construction industry. The idea behind this concept is the very core of BIM – a centralized source of information about the project in the form of a 3D model. However, a digital twin of the project also develops alongside the actual building using various technologies and information sources. A digital twin can use machine learning and artificial intelligence to provide handy insights into the project’s present and future state. It should also be possible for BIM models to accept facility management information and be scalable enough to cover an entire city and not just one building. However, this advancement is still waiting for us in the near future.

The legality of digital models

Another emerging trend for BIM technology is the official recognition of BIM models on the same level as the classic project documentation in the 2D .PDF format. This kind of recognition is necessary for BIM to become even more of a standard for the industry as a whole, with the ability to turn BIM into a common practice in the near future.

Robotics in the construction industry

The existence of incredibly accurate centralized information about the project as a whole makes it far easier for the entire industry to start moving towards the next obvious step of the construction industry evolution – using robotics to create buildings. Robots are not that common in the construction industry so far, but the introduction and widespread popularity of BIM have made it a lot easier to turn from fantasy to reality.

Modular construction and prefabrication

BIM technology offers many different advantages, but its main benefit in the form of consistent and detailed information about the project is already enough to spawn a variety of trends and tendencies in the field. Another example is modular construction and prefabrication – both of which gained a lot of traction since the BIM became this popular. Manufacturing relies a lot on preexisting information accuracy, which usually makes it difficult to fabricate entire sections of a structure beforehand. However, BIM and its information accuracy practically solved that problem, allowing both prefabrication and modular construction to rise in popularity with tremendous speed.

Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality in the construction industry

All three of the aforementioned technologies are extremely useful in the construction industry – and only the introduction of BIM and its accuracy in data made it possible in the first place. Augmented Reality can be used on-site to add digital information to a real-life construction site, making it easier to plan different project parts – such as the ventilation, the plumbing, and so on. Virtual Reality, on the other hand, allows users to traverse the 3D model itself before it is created – with the help of special VR goggles. It can be used for both construction and promotional purposes, offering its users the accuracy and level of detail extremely close to how the entire project would look in reality. A Mixed Reality combines the two – it uses a highly detailed virtual project model. It anchors it to the real-world location, allowing actual traversal on-site to make it easier to understand what different parts of a future building would look like. This is also an excellent technology for the installation industry, offering more freedom in terms of customization for clients and contractors.

Conclusion

BIM is a highly sophisticated process that can take time to reach its full potential. BIM technology is still relatively new, and the advantages of it are more evident as more companies adopt it. It’s important to remember that adapting to BIM is not an instantaneous process, but the return is worth it. So, what is BIM in construction? There are the added benefits of cooperation and collaboration, the overall ease of interaction and inclusion of different details in the project, and so much more – the advantages of BIM are near endless.

There is a final common advantage of progressing – the overarching goal of reducing waste in the construction process. By eliminating or severely decreasing the possibility of construction errors with BIM, companies waste less time and building materials reworking errors. In the end, BIM directly impacts supply chain inefficiencies, making the entire project and process more efficient and sustainable.


About the author
James Ocean

BIM/VDC Specialist. James Ocean is Head of BIMspiration at Revizto and keeps everything moving onwards and upwards. From supporting and teaching our internal team as well as our clients, James shows us the ins-and-outs and how to best leverage Revizto to maximize workflows, cut costs, and get all types of projects through the finish line.

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