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To BIM or not to BIM, that is the question! (Part 1)

We understand more about BIM and how over the years we have severely underutilized the vast potential it holds
4D BIM, BIM Modeling, BIM technology, Construction, Rebar, Rebar Detailing & BBS, Revit BIM, Shop Drawing
BIM Technology Artwork

“Do you provide BIM services? Can you create a walkthrough for our project? We want to showcase the project to the chairman next week.”

“Can you generate quantities from the model and then recheck them from the architect’s 2D design drawings?”

“Our design process is completed, and we are now looking for our vendor to generate a 3D model.”

If you thought BIM has been a much-touted buzzword in the construction industry lately, you will be surprised to know that this concept has been around for over 60 years! However, over time and through some common statements (see section above), it appears that we have a limited understanding of what it means and how it should be leveraged.

What really is BIM?

In simple terms, BIM (or Building Information Modeling) is nothing but a digital representation of a building’s physical, functional and temporal information within a model. It is a new way of creating, maintaining and transmitting information relating to a any building or other structure. BIM was born out of the need to have all information available as part of a single ecosystem and allow collaboration across various entities that play a role in construction. In a world without BIM, the collation of information and collaboration is performed by either the Design Manager or the PMO team.

Essentially, BIM provisions for the entire structure to be broken down into finite elements and allows recording data such as dimensions, materials, cost, time (and performance) about each of these elements. Seen another way, it is an approach of analysis and synthesis – breaking a complex structure down into its constituents and then visualizing the project as a sum of all these individual parts. Naturally, this approach has the largest implications on the design and planning phase which are early stages in a project.

BIM Artwork MEP

Origin and History

The exact origin of Building Information Modeling is difficult to pin down to a single point and this methodology has seen an evolution in time. The 1960s and 1970s saw the use of computers in design and drafting. CAD software started being used for creating 2D drawings. A couple of decades down the line, architects and engineers started preparing data rich 3D models using parametric modeling tools. The models could store information about individual components, essentially breaking a building / structure down into a database comprised of constituent components.

While we assume that BIM as a concept was originated and propagated in “the West”, a major role was played by two programming geniuses from the Soviet Block, Gabor Bojar and Leonid Raiz. They developed the early platforms that eventually became ArchiCAD and Revit. Sprouting from the business landscape of the cold war wasn’t an easy task and their story is a testament to how much they believed in the promise of this new outlook in the architectural and engineering domain.

What benefits should I expect when I implement BIM?

While most across the industry think of this only as a tool that allows for fancy walkthroughs of the building, there are several real benefits that this approach offers. Here, we have listed them across preconstruction and during construction stages. We have also assessed the time and effort saved to assign a “saving score” ($ to $$$$$) to each of these benefits.


  1. Collaboration: During the preconstruction stage, design managers or project managers have a nightmare in coordinating the designs across various design owners – architect, structural engineer, building services (MEP) consultants and any others who are involved in the design. This is primarily because each stakeholder operates in silos and develops their designs on 2D. There isn’t a single platform on which all designs can be superimposed and reviewed. BIM resolves this by bringing all stakeholders to a common platform, using the same software, maintaining the same “database” of information modeled for the building.
    Planning of a project proceeds just as it does in the 2D environment. Designs go through the stages of Concept Design, Schematic Design, Detailed Design development, Construction Documentation, Shop Drawings and As-built Drawings. These stages are represented as Levels of Detail (LODs) in BIM terminology. While the understanding of LODs may vary across geographies and sectors, they broadly represent a growing level of detail as the LOD # increases.
    Saving score: $$$$ (time saved in coordinating across design teams, and managing changes)
  1. Visualization: With advances in animation, software platforms that enable BIM now offer slick and impressive walkthroughs of what the structure will look like. However, it must be noted that while this feature is the most visually appealing, it is the lowest in the rung of benefits that this approach offers. Owners and decision makers should evaluate the cost-benefit of BIM not based solely on whether they would enjoy this walkthrough alone.
    Saving score: nil (visually impressive but no tangible saving in time and effort)

During construction

  1. Clash Detection: Complex structures have areas where multiple disciplines interact with each other. Architectural finishes are provided with assumption of how structural elements would be positioned. Similarly, designers of building services (ducts, cables, pipes) work based on a limited understanding of the structural frame of the building. In a 2D world, there is a very high likelihood of clashes among these various disciplines. This is why coordinating across the designers is so challenging. This is made messier each time a change is initiated by either the owner or one of the design teams. This leads to a large time and effort (and money) of reviewing and coordinating each detail to ensure there are no clashes in the structure. On this point, BIM offers a huge advantage because all designs are maintained in the same platform. Visualization enables design managers take a call as per the owner’s priority and coordination becomes easier since the constraints are built into the database.
    Since each next level of detail is built in the same environment, any deviations from design or clashes with other disciplines can be automatically detected by the platform (through the built-in constraints). This can save significant time and effort in shop drawing approval and more so during execution where site teams often encounter constructability challenges.
    Saving score: $$$$$ (time saved during execution by avoiding clashes, rework and quality issues)
  1. Quantification and Cost Control: In the words of the management legend Peter Drucker, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. The first step to cost control is accurate measurement of quantities and cost, right down to the last element. In the 2D world, owners, designers and contractors operate based on thumb rules which work for the overall building but are dangerous because they don’t pick on the variations of individual elements and components. Detailed quantity surveying is not valued since it pays only when things go wrong, and things go wrong often across the timeframe of a project. This is why we often hear of disruptions in project cost due to fluctuations in the price of steel, cement, copper and aluminum. Since all details are modelled on an elemental level, BIM provides quantification for the entire project, and can potentially be broken down to the last level of the WBS. If modelled correctly, it offers the single source of truth across the entire timeframe, in spite of changes that may come into effect. Owners also spend significantly in bill certification during construction. This expense (time and effort) can be significantly reduced if the model is integrated with material and labor cost.
    Saving score: $$$ (time saved across multiple stages of measurement)

Given all that we have discussed here, it should be a no brainer to adopt this game-changing methodology in the unorganized construction industry, right? Unfortunately, this is not the case as we have discovered over the years.

In the next article, we will share specific reasons why this approach remains aspirational and has not materialized the promised savings on the ground.

Coming up in Part 2

  • Why is BIM not widely implemented in the construction industry?
  • How should I plan if I want to implement this?
  • What decisions will I need to make in the implementation journey?
  • What are the steps we can take to ensure we derive full benefit from the BIM approach?
  • Quick tips in conclusion.
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