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BIM for Beginners: Everything You Need to Know

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is already bringing significant changes to the global construction industry, yet adoption rates vary hugely.

20th July 2018 published by


If you’re new to BIM, this guide will introduce you to the basic principles that underlie this important process, and how you might adopt BIM in your business.

What is BIM in practice?
Building + Information + Modelling = Process + People + Platform

Building information modelling is a process for combining information and technology to create a digital representation of a construction project that integrates data from many different sources. It relates to creating, managing and sharing information over the entire life-cycle of a project, with the aim to improve efficiency and communication among all parties working on a project.

In practice, this means that project data is hosted in a common data environment (CDE) where multiple parties can access and manage it. Data is both graphical (2D and 3D models) and non-graphical (schedules, performance requirements etc). These two types of data should be linked together wherever possible.

What are the different levels of BIM?
BIM has four levels (0-3), with each level representing increased BIM Maturity, or the increased ability to exchange information digitally within the supply chain.  Here’s a quick breakdown of the different BIM levels.

Level 0

These projects use only 2D CAD, with little to no digital collaboration. Plans are usually printed off and exchanged on paper. You’ve probably carried out Level 0 projects since the turn of the century, if not earlier.

Level 1

The digital elements of these projects step up a gear, with a mix of 2D and 3D drafting. A common data environment (such as a cloud-based service) is used to share data electronically within the team.

Level 2

Now every object is data-rich (cost, scheduling information is linked) and managed in a 3D environment. All parties can combine their data and collaborate through the common data environment. All public projects must meet BIM level 2.

Level 3

At this final stage, projects are fully collaborative, with a single project view for data integration. All parties can access and modify data (subject to processes and security restrictions).

What are the benefits of adopting BIM?
To many small businesses, BIM may seem like more trouble than it’s worth – but there are significant benefits to adopting this way of working and by using 3D BIM software available on all devices.

Data exchange across the project liftetime = Increased efficiency. Digital data is easier to manage, utilize, and share than figures on paper, particularly when multiple parties (designers, contractors etc.) are working on the same construction project. It’s easier to share data between parties if it’s in a standard digital format that’s universally understood. Some studies have suggested that BIM can generate efficiency savings of 20-25%. In other words, you reclaim an entire working day each week to focus on more important areas of the business.

Better Information = Reduced errors and conflicts. BIM software often has built in conflict detection, helping you catch critical errors in plans at an early stage. Also, the link between non-graphical and graphical data reduces the need for data duplication and errors arising from it.

Better communication= Improved results for the client. The BIM process takes into account the client’s needs at every stage in the process. Employer’s Information Requirements (EIRs) set out the information the client wants to see from their team at various stages of the project. This requirement gives your team focus throughout the project and ensures that the client is satisfied. BIM also lets you pass along 3D models to the client once the project is complete.

A responsive model. Whenever a change needs to be made on a project, BIM updates graphical information in real-time, so that all collaborators on a project see updated plans immediately.
Keep up with the competition. As time goes on, more and more clients will expect businesses to use BIM. Both the detailed 3D models and the collaborative nature of the process are appealing to clients looking to work with professional businesses that are keen to maximise accuracy, minimise waste, and meet their requirements. BIM lets your small business compete with bigger names, particularly when it comes to government contracts.
Futureproof your business. More and more projects will require you to use BIM level 2. By adopting the technology now, you give your business the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of BIM before it becomes virtually essential.
BIM or open BIM

Open: Interoperable and allows exchange of data no matter which software the data comes from, vs.

Proprietary: Only one software vendor, which is expensive to maintain, support and develop, and which may ultimately force you to procure all software from a single vendor.

Open BIM is an initiative of buildingSMART and is a universal approach to collaborative design, delivery, operation, and maintenance of assets, which are based upon open standards and workflows. It is easy to use software from different vendors. buildingSMART develops and supports 5 standards, but the most commonly used standard in Open BIM software is IFC which supports import and export of model data between software and the BIM collaboration format (BCF). BCF allows comments and snapshots to be exported and imported between different software packages.

Who needs to adopt BIM?
You might think that BIM is only for designers and main contractors, but the nature of BIM means that many different types of businesses should make a BIM strategy and  to start testing different software and training their teams. BIM is quietly changing the construction industry and will influence the whole value chain and all companies that provide products and services to a construction project. 

To get the most out of BIM, all parties involved must have access to the same model, and it will be passed onto the building owner once construction has finished so the building owner can continue to use the BIM model for maintenance, re-design etc throughout its lifecycle, further improving efficiency and reducing waste.

What are the biggest obstacles to adoption for small business?
The first concern is always cost. Implementing BIM will require the purchase of new software, but the good news is that due to open formats developed by buildingSMART, more and more innovative software vendors provide user-friendly software for solving different problems. Software is becoming more affordable all the time with reasonable monthly payments instead of vast one-off payments. Additionally, many options, including Integrity’s sister-software StreamBIM require no set-up costs.

Another concern is the significant change in mindset required to make BIM work for your business — BIM projects are truly collaborative and traditional processes must change to meet new requirements. But with user-friendly software available on all devices, there’s less cost and effort required to train your workforce. Instead you may find that members of your team are the ones who notice the improvements and say they want to start using BIM software. 

Where can I find more details about how to reach BIM level 2?
The UK government has released a set of specifications titled PAS 1192-2, which builds on existing standards defined by BS 1192:2007. You can download these documents here.

If you’re looking for some user-friendly BIM software that’s suitable for small construction businesses, ask us about StreamBIM.

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