Building information modeling (BIM) is increasingly becoming the design standard for architectural and construction engineering. Adopting BIM technology and tools is likely to be a future priority.
Despite its relatively recent development, reports show that Building Information Modeling (BIM), which involves digital models for use in construction and design, has crossed the threshold into broad adoption, making it an important consideration in maintaining engineering competitiveness.
According to a 2009 survey from Building Design+Construction magazine, 83 percent of the largest United States engineering, architecture and design firms have at least one in-house BIM seat license (which grants access to a BIM program), half have more than 30 seats and 23 percent have 100 or more BIM seats.
Although the BIM adoption rate has slowed due to a challenging economic climate, 51 percent of survey respondents have added or plan to add more BIM seat licenses, down from 63 percent of companies in 2008. The total number of seats purchased is also expected to decline by 56 percent since 2008.
In terms of technical capabilities, building information modeling, like computer-aided design (CAD), relies on design tools to draft three-dimensional models for fabrication, construction and engineering purposes. Unlike CAD, however, BIM creates models parametrically, tracking the relations between multiple objects within a larger design so that if one object changes, all the others are adjusted accordingly.
"Because building models are machine readable, it becomes practical to use the data they carry in many other ways: for energy, lighting, acoustic or other analyses — not as post facto checking if an almost finished design is 'OK,' but rather to provide feedback while designing, informing the designer of the effects of changes or to explore the relative effect on alternatives," Chuck Eastman, director of Georgia Tech's Digital Building Laboratory, explains.
In addition to consistent designs and cost and materials estimates, BIM can also be used to analyze numerous engineering factors, such as lighting, acoustics or energy usage, in order to provide feedback while designing. This versatility allows engineers and designers to see the effects of changes and explore alternatives in a streamlined process.
These advantages have caused BIM technology to experience rapid market growth in the past few years. According to McGraw-Hill Construction's 2008 SmartMarket Report on Building Information Modeling, 43 percent of architects, 35 percent of engineers and 23 percent of contractors use BIM on more than 60 percent of projects. The number of engineers who rely heavily on BIM systems was projected to increase to 43 percent in 2009.
Among engineers employing BIM technology, the most common applications include 3-D visualization for communicating with project teammates, increased attention to design phases and reviewing work in collaborative settings. Architecture, structural systems, mechanical systems and plumbing systems are the most frequently modeled subjects in construction engineering.
Architecture, engineering and construction journal AECbytes cites BIM's potential as a "disruptive technology" that could drastically change how the build industry operates. At its core, BIM can provide more building knowledge earlier in the life cycle, subsequently improving organizational performance and enabling construction to occur faster, with more efficient sourcing and lower costs due to waste reduction.
The reduced material waste and ability to optimize energy consumption through BIM has also made it an emerging option for green building projects, and it has been endorsed by the U.S. General Services Administration for public building projects.
Local governments have begun supporting this modeling technology as well. In July 2009, Wisconsin became the first state to require all state building projects with a total budget of $5 million or more and all new construction projects with a budget of $2.5 million or more to use a building information model throughout the construction process, Building Design+Construction reports.
New technologies often take time to gain widespread acceptance, as many companies are reluctant to make a significant investment in tools or processes that are not yet widely proven to deliver results. However, as BIM becomes standardized, it will become increasingly necessary to incorporate some elements of this modeling technology in order to retain or grow market share.
"As recognition of the benefits of BIM grows, the ability of design professionals, contractors, fabricators and suppliers to work effectively in this new environment will increasingly become a competitive differentiator in winning work," McGraw-Hill Construction says. "In challenging economic times this kind of edge can be critically important to survival."