What is BIM, and how can it be used in construction nowadays?

Building Information Management

The overall popularization of BIM as a methodology reached an all-time high level, with many different countries creating government-level requirements for construction companies to use BIM for their current and future projects. And yet, the importance of BIM as a whole for this industry is still underestimated to this day regularly.

In all fairness, most of these estimates come from a need for more knowledge about the topic, which is why it is necessary to talk about the BIM definition and meaning and what this methodology is capable of. The first and most prominent piece of information that some people still need is the correct definition of Building Information Management.

Building Information Management (BIM) is a highly sophisticated process comprised of multiple interactions between stakeholders and other project participants to achieve project completion. There is a relatively common assumption in the industry that BIM is just a variation of a 3D CAD model with additional information. The reality is much more nuanced than that.

BIM is a new approach to the construction industry that relies a lot on cooperation and collaboration to achieve its results. While it is true that a BIM model is critical in this context, a BIM model would only be able to provide some possible benefits with stakeholders cooperating at different project phases to collect information, add it to the shared BIM model, and cooperate.

A BIM model in this context serves as a single source of truth for all project participants, preventing or at least significantly reducing the number of miscommunications and other errors that stem from the lack of information one or several project stakeholders have during the project realization process. 

At the same time, it is necessary to remember that BIM is not the solution to every single problem the industry has, and it also cannot be adopted overnight to provide the best possible result. BIM implementation is a rather complicated process that also requires a significant level of investment up-front – it is also a big reason why BIM was not particularly popular over the years despite its numerous advantages.

Since BIM can affect the entirety of a construction project’s lifecycle from initial design to maintenance and disassembly, it is only natural that there would be multiple different “levels” of BIM – representing the extent of BIM’s involvement in the classic construction project creation process. There are quite a few of these BIM levels, with some already being commonly used all over the planet and others being mostly conceptual due to how difficult it is to implement and use.

It is relatively safe to assume that the “level” of BIM represents its involvement in construction projects. As such, level 0 would be the first level on our list – explained as absolutely zero cooperation, zero collaboration, and zero involvement of a BIM model in the construction process. While there may be some arguments about whether it can be considered a “level” of BIM involvement, it is still necessary to mention it as a part of the whole concept of BIM levels.

The following levels (level 1 and level 2, to be specific) represent the part of the industry that is still primarily relying on traditional approaches to construction projects. Level 1 refers to construction projects that are conceptualized using 3D CAD models but still create most of their documentation (starting from production information) in 2D format. Level 2 is where the usage of 3D CAD is mandated for all team members – but there is always the issue of different file and data formats from various stakeholders.

Level 3 is often considered to be the “standard” for how BIM is supposed to work – a single shared 3D model with no data separation and zero miscommunication based on removing outdated information as a factor in its entirety. This is where most companies would stop when it comes to BIM implementation since the remaining BIM “levels” are much more challenging to implement, and there are even people that question whether these levels are supposed to exist in the first place.

Generally speaking, there are only three “levels” of BIM that are widespread enough to mention them at this point. Level 4 uses all of the advantages of level 3 BIM with the addition of the “time” factor – using the BIM model also to store schedules and other time-related information. This allows for more accurate scheduling, up-to-date deadline notifications, more detailed scheduling, and other advantages.

Level 5 BIM is where the cost-related data comes in, with more accurate cost estimates, more precise budgeting, and automated calculations to eliminate the possibility of human error as some of the most obvious advantages. Level 6 BIM is related to the lifecycle of a project, mostly centered around making the BIM model more useful for facility management purposes – although there is a lot of debate about whether this should be considered a “dimension” of BIM in the first place.

Implementing BIM is a rather challenging task on its own, and trying to add more “dimensions” to it from the get-go is a recipe for disaster – since every single BIM dimension builds upon all of the previous “levels” combined, making the implementation process exponentially more complex with every iteration. As such, there is little sense in trying to add everything at once, and 3D BIM is a great starting point that is challenging enough to implement as it is – even though it is worth it in the long run.

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