A decade ago, talk about BIM was only found in very specific research and development groups, as well as some pioneer companies. However, now the term BIM has spread throughout the construction sector and the building information modelling concept has become essential. BIM manager, parametric objects, common data environment, 4D, 5D, asset lifecycle management, LOD (level of development) and LOI (level of information) are day-to-day terms in the AEC industry.
During these last years, we have witnessed how the BIM methodology has progressively been implemented in many countries. This demand, which was before the desire of a particular developer or a contractor enhancement, is now a requirement and a reality in most complex projects, in addition to being requested by public administrations and employees.
Developing a project with BIM has evident, well-known benefits. BIM provides an increase of the productivity and an improvement of a project´s workflow, a cost reduction in the construction process and a cut-down of execution times. Furthermore, BIM minimises human error and potential clashes, allows easy analysis of the different stages of the project and improves communication between the different stakeholders.
BIM is a reality today. The BIM market is forecast to grow from $3.58bn in 2017 to $7.64bn by 2022. In a short while, projects will be fully developed with the BIM methodology in a common and routine mode, in the same way that no one thinks of detailing drawings by hand – it is done with CAD software. This will take us to a point where, by default, projects can be analysed in advance, giving rise to an industrialisation of construction work.
What will be the next step once BIM methodology is fully implemented as a construction process?
From my point of view, once this is achieved, the B (building) and the M (modelling) will be dissolved, and the I (information) will be the great strength of this methodology. The idea of modelling will be totally integrated in the construction process and the information will be the valuable point, already known as big data.
Nowadays, big data is developed in all the different business sectors. It is a key concept. As has been said, data is the new gold. And this is also true for the construction sector. We are all accustomed to industries such as banking or marketing using big data to set up their commercial strategies. For example, based on bank accounts and movements, financial companies offer specific banking packages. Depending on consumer choices, specific discounts are offered for different products for supermarket shoppers.
This connection between construction work and big data will be through the development of a digital twin model. This model will be conceived as the result of integrating 3D images, construction and design data, i-model, virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, etc.
The digital twin provides the possibility of creating a virtual mock-up of the physical entity. Once this twin model is created, the amount of information linked will be enormous from the first establishment of the work and the early design. This data collection and its subsequent use will be of the utmost importance. The model will be developed in parallel to the building and will be fed by all agents throughout the construction of the building, as well as its subsequent use.
In addition, and at the same time, it will be updated by sensors in the buildings. The sensors will send information about work performance, for example based on monitoring how materials are affected by climate and the passage of time. They can provide information about changes in energy efficiency or a structure’s behaviour.
However, what is going to be the change in the AEC Industry? Based on the digital twin, simulations are carried out to make analyses and predictions. This will improve productivity, with a real impact on costs, and provide an opportunity to generate new business models.
In other words, big data will allow us to deal with a large volume of data, both structured and unstructured. With this information, we will perform predictive and advanced analysis, helping us to make strategic decisions based on a prediction of behaviour as well as real data. This will allow us to minimise the error threshold and allow the possibility of making crucial decisions in real time.
Furthermore, processing this huge volume of data will allow a more strategic view of construction projects and their status. The collection and analysis of this data will be really useful for construction companies to improve efficiency levels.
Last but not least, this huge knowledge will also be an opportunity to optimise processes and improve outcomes in the construction sector. For instance, AI-enabled processes could be used in planning and scheduling activities, since they have the potential to evaluate endless combinations and alternatives based on similar projects, optimising the best route and correcting themselves throughout the project stages.
So what will happen when we reach that point? At that moment, the model will not be the working model as we know it today. The construction project will be developed with massive data schedules from data management software such as Excel, SAP or Oracle.
The model will be just a photograph of that information, visual confirmation that the data makes sense and what we are creating is optimal. It will provide the proof that the data represents the desired viaduct, tunnel, complex structure or amoeba-shaped roof. It will be a digital pre-construction. The model will be the way to coordinate that huge amount of information between the different disciplines in the project.
To sum up, in future construction will be developed in BIM methodology, because it will be the only way to develop complex projects. However, nobody will talk about BIM itself anymore. Each one in his role will see the information identified as important for that defined role, so that they can identify the strengths and weaknesses and achieve their objectives.
It is important to emphasise at this point that training users for the tools and BIM methodology, along with its possibilities, is a key factor for the achievement of the project goals. The value of the user will be how he analyses and uses this information. As a result, HR will never again look for pure BIM profiles.