BIM Definition & Meaning. What is BIM?

GlossarySeptember 16, 2020

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

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 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 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.

  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.

Conclusion

BIM is a highly sophisticated process that can take time to reach its full potential. As a technology, it’s 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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