How can we increase construction efficiency with BIM and data-driven design ?

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The construction industry is facing a lot of challenges, as building projects are growing in size and complexity. At the same time, emerging innovations and advancements in technology are disrupting the industry. Virtual and augmented reality, Artificial intelligence (AI), IoT technologies, information management systems, and cloud-based platforms are a few game-changing technologies.

All these tools present opportunities that could potentially improve productivity and increase efficiency. However, building projects still underperform; they go over budget and face delays regularly.

This article will discuss how emerging technologies and Building information modeling (BIM) can facilitate change within the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry. The focus will rely on the ways that the construction process can be much more efficient when project teams collaborate effectively.

Construction project underperformance: why is it happening?

A well-executed construction project management plan can prevent project underperformance, mitigate and resolve issues before they arise. Using BIM as a technology is a way to optimise and streamline processes while creating a better flow of information. At the same time, BIM as change management can help project participants to adopt new ways of working and eventually collaborate more effectively.

Before we suggest how all these are possible with BIM, it is essential that we create a clear understanding of the significant causes of delays and inefficiencies during the construction process. A lot of the times, they are related to changes in the scope of work agreed by the client, contractor, and architect. When they occur during the construction process, they have a financial impact on the project, and they can lengthen the schedule by causing major rework.

Design errors or clashes are also causing extensive rework, especially when they are discovered late in the process. The reason behind those design inconsistencies is that technical information, drawings and in general construction documents are prepared by different disciplines or teams.

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Hence, the fragmentation of the AEC industry is making the coordination of information among various professionals from different specialisations even more challenging. In many situations, the conflicts mentioned above can rapidly be turned into construction disputes. That could lead to litigation proceedings or termination of the contract between the parties, which is again extremely costly in terms of time and money.

BIM for construction project management

We can look at BIM as a technology providing the right tools for various disciplines to collaborate in order to develop an integrated information model. The main goal is to construct the actual building virtually before construction begins. In this way, teams can prevent errors, detect clashes and resolve most of the design aspects. However, BIM is so much more than a technology.

It is undoubtedly a management process because it has a positive impact on the collaboration between all project stakeholders. The BIM features optimising the construction process through technology and management workflows are highlighted below:

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Clash detection

With clash detection project teams can resolve constructability issues early in the process and consequently prevent conflicts on-site. The integration of 3d models (architectural, structural, MEP, etc.) allows participants from various disciplines to collaborate successfully and identify clashes through automated processes.

Information management (or data)

A BIM model holds a lot of data and at the same time, valuable information about each aspect of the building (e.g. mechanical equipment, materials, costs, lighting features, furniture, etc.). The fact that all disciplines can collaborate to create a unified BIM model is an asset for everyone involved because all the information about the project is in one place. What we need to recognise is that data might be more important than the 3d geometry because of their value at different stages of the building life cycle.

Time management (4D)

This is the fourth dimension of BIM. It identifies all the activities related to the planning schedule and the construction site organisation. Using the data within the BIM and through a simulation process, the construction activities can be better planned and tracked as the construction progresses.

Cost management (5D) & quantity takeoff

Project cost management is the fifth dimension of BIM. With the use of data and associated information that are linked with particular components within the BIM model, teams can improve cost control throughout the lifecycle of a project. Additionally, project members can rely on digital design tools, and quantity take-offs to continuously test design solutions against cost. The benefit of this is that while the project is progressing and changes are occurring, model information is updating cost reports.

Virtual reality (VR) for better decision making

The use of VR improves communication with clients who cannot fully comprehend paper drawings and 2D plans.  For example, building owners can get a better understanding of the space, the materials even the light that is coming in. As a result, they can make decisions and decide on details early in the process. That will prevent changes to happen during the construction phase. Additionally, with VR, project participants from various disciplines can collaborate in real-time within a shared-environment, examine details and point-out issues.

BIM and data-driven design

As mentioned above, all of the BIM features are increasing productivity and driving efficiency in project management processes. What becomes clear is that the real value relies on the data about all relevant building information which are integrated into the BIM model. Also,  there is a vast amount of data generated from activities during construction.

Drones, sensors and IoT technology can help by gathering and analysing that information when linked to specific software.
As described above, the technology is available today, and by applying data analytics techniques teams can create reports in real-time, conduct performance and cost analysis, so that they can make well-informed decisions on a consistent basis.

We need to embrace cultural change

As technology is always developing and improving, the impact on the construction industry is inevitable. Emerging technologies, Building Information Modeling and data science are positively influencing collaboration. The technology is available but alone is not enough. Industry professionals need to embrace a culture of change towards digitalisation if they want to deliver high-quality projects, on-time and without cost overruns.

About the author: Theodora Papanastasiou is an Architect and BIM educator at Building the digital, an educational platform about BIM, digital design and innovation.