From pre-planning and design stages of a project to operation and maintenance of installed building services, building information modelling (BIM) systems offer considerable advantages and benefits.
The importance of BIM
BIM is a process that enables architects, engineers, contractors and owners to collaborate throughout the lifecycle of a building project, from the earliest design concept to the demolition of the building.
It works on the principle of spending time and effort at the very outset to reduce the risk of problems on-site that can be difficult to resolve, cause delays and incur additional costs.
More than just 3D drawings, BIM concepts include collaboration between trades that have previously worked independently.
Using software such as Revit, a 3D computer model can be created that represents the physical and functional characteristics of a facility.
This becomes a visual communication tool shared by all stakeholders that can be used to effectively manage project information for consistent, accurate and coordinated models.
In practice, each partner owns their own model. The coordination team brings together the models, integrates the information and carries out clash detection to identify any pipe collisions or interferences within the model. Once clash detection is run, trades will come together in coordination meetings to discuss and trouble-shoot issues found in the models. This allows open communication and quick resolution during the planning stages.
Since it forms a reliable basis for decisions regarding design details, scheduling and clash detection, BIM-led projects can be planned and executed more quickly, economically and sustainably.
Early adopters and legislation
Although the concept of BIM got off to a slow start, it is now gaining ground globally, including in the Middle East. Regulation in many US states has led to a doubling of BIM adoption over the last five years, while the Netherlands has seen a threefold rise from under 10% to over 30% of projects using BIM in the same period.
The greatest rate of increase, however, has been in the UK, where BIM-led initiatives have risen from under 5% to over 30% of building and infrastructure projects.
BIM is now standard practice for many leading construction companies, and as its use gathers pace, supply chain companies are responding.
There is also a recent EU directive to encourage, and even mandate, its adoption in member states by 2016, and the UK, the Netherlands and Norway have already made BIM mandatory for publicly-funded building projects.
Standardisation and scheduling
Compared with traditional building contracts, BIM creates standardisation and a level playing field for all, making cost estimates more accurate and comparison of quotes easier.
The traditional bidding process starts with conceptual designs submitted by the consultant, on which contractors base their quote. This often requires bidding contractors to seek more information from the engineering office, make assumptions or take on a large amount of responsibility.
Having all the information contained clearly and accurately within the model in advance means the job can be priced easily, helping owners to compare bids and reducing risk for clients and contractors alike.
Changes can still be made at a later stage if required, but unnecessary change orders that can add significant cost to the project and delay completion are eliminated.
Similarly, BIM helps keep projects on track due to its work scheduling capability. The model can be used to map a timeline for construction that shows when and in what sequence components need to be installed. As a result, downtime is avoided, productivity is boosted and owners can see how quickly the work will progress.
Further down the line, BIM can advise what maintenance is needed – when a component needs to be replaced or a piece of equipment serviced. For instance – helping owners draw up a maintenance schedule to ensure optimum system performance and thereby contain costs. This facility can be especially useful for retrofits.
It is a prime enabler for lean construction that can be relied upon to facilitate prefabrication, since contractors can use the 100% correct model to determine the cut lengths of piping and start prefabricating assemblies with total confidence.
Just as prefabricating in ideal conditions off-site delivers greater efficiency on-site, using BIM removes uncertainty and eliminates problems during construction and installation. The philosophy is the same: spend time at the earlier stages to reduce problems and time spent in the field where the risk is greatest.
Where changes are needed, they can be made safely, quickly and easily. For instance, if an elbow needs to be moved to avoid hitting another component, this can be done in minutes using the model but might take hours in the field. Clicking on a component identifies the product and gives dimensions.
If the designer changes the diameter, the component also changes and the layout drawing and bill of materials are automatically updated. This would be much more complicated, time-consuming and costly using another method.
With BIM software programmes such as Revit, users can draw all piping and other disciplines from the building, to the ducting and electrical work in one model and co-ordinate to ensure there are no collisions or interferences between the different systems or trades. The 3D model is a powerful visual representation of how a building and its services fit together – useful for contractors and engineers to walk clients through so that they can see how things are positioned.
It confirms, for example, that prefabricated sections can be dropped in as required and that there are clear access routes for maintenance staff or otherwise clearly shows if there are clashes, in a way that would not be possible with other methods.
Manufacturers and their role
Leading manufacturers in the pipe-joining sector have taken steps to allow users to effectively integrate products into BIM software systems. At an individual project level, company experts work with designers who include systems in their drawings to help them understand how products can be best used and routed in specific software.
For example, Victaulic works with major BIM software manufacturers including Autodesk, Bentley, Progman and Stabiplan to ensure that its products can easily be used within their packages, such as AutoCAD, Revit MEP, Fabrication, MagiCAD and StabiCAD.
Projects that have produced drawings using the extensive Revit BIM-enabled Victaulic CAD library include the London Heathrow Airport New Terminal 2 – a recent Building Services Project of the Year finalist – and the Weggeler Centre, Almelo, a flagship BIM project in the Netherlands.
Just as CAD and prefabrication revolutionised design and construction and became the industry norm, so BIM is set to become the standard practice globally for the efficient whole-life management of building projects.
With a growing number of products and increased support available to partners, the way forward to project success is clear. Using BIM to focus on design detail and pre-construction work delivers right-first-time results on the job and allows easy maintenance and smooth operation for the life of the building.
Philip Janssens studied electro mechanics and has worked for Victaulic for more than 15 years. He is currently manager of Construction Piping Services (CPS).