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Leveraging the Real-Time Value of Building Information Modeling (BIM) Technology

Even before the first crews arrive at the job site, a good deal of meticulous planning has already gone into each multifaceted capital project to ensure it doesn’t go over budget, fall behind schedule or venture out of scope.

As with any construction project, though, things often change as new information becomes available or circumstances develop that call for small tweaks or even substantial adjustments to those plans. It’s just part of the industry. And while a project is in progress, you still need the agility to pivot as things unfold.

That’s where building information modeling (BIM) shines. Some in the industry might think of BIM as more of an early stage process, or that you need a designated ‘BIM guru’ given its reputation for 3D-modeling capabilities used during design and estimating. But as a process ideally suited for works in progress and its ease of use, it’s capable of empowering project team members and stakeholders as a tool for real-time communication, risk management and safety. Let’s explore what you can do with BIM as your projects take shape.

Project teams communicate faster with BIM

BIM tends to be known more for all the rich data it collects and quickly processes rather than its communication capabilities. But the two are connected.

Let’s consider that data only has value and usefulness when it’s accessible by everyone who needs it. It all comes down to transparency. The data transparency afforded by BIM is sourced from its universally accessible common data environment (CDE). Think of this as the single source of truth where not only all project data is stored but is automatically updated and/or recalculated as details change throughout the build, whether it’s costs, quantities, specifications or supplier information for each linked element in the BIM model.

But those changes and project updates still have to get distributed to those who need it. This is where BIM’s fast communication capabilities come in. It’s all done through the same CDE which serves as a virtual communication channel through which craftspeople, back office staff and other stakeholders can interact with each other in real-time. Instead of relying on email or text, they will be sharing updates, reviewing solutions to challenges that arise, proposing ideas or requesting clarification in real-time with BIM.

What about BIM from a productivity perspective? The more project team members who are able to access all that data – particularly among trades that historically haven’t been privy to it – the more efficient the workflow. Think about it: many of them may not have had the opportunity or ability to collaborate on the level that BIM affords, if at all. With stronger work relationships within and across the job site and back office, the odds of miscommunication and preventable errors go way down. That’s what can happen when everyone is communicating more openly and working with the same up-to-date data. Today’s best modeling solutions can also consolidate your disparate designs into a single model where you can cross-reference measures with supporting documentation and then build directly from that one model.

In essence, BIM helps overcome the all-too-common lack of communication that leads to mistakes and misunderstandings – particularly when relying on incorrect, outdated or insufficient data from traditional multiple point solutions – which in turn can become fodder for delays, extra expenses and change orders.

BIM mitigates risks with greater confidence

Let’s say the build has already started, but the owner suggests changes to consider, or an unforeseen extenuating circumstance is going to have an unavoidable impact on the project. Your ability to pivot – to make decisions based on facts rather than frustration, stress or guesswork – is going to make the difference in being able to answer questions like: What is the degree of scope creep and its associated impact on cost and schedule? Could minor design or materials modifications balance out the effect of those changes if necessary? Do the changes create new spatial clashes? What is the safety impact?

This is where BIM becomes the great risk mitigator, allowing you to experiment with these scenarios so you can assess the measurable impact. However, it’s not just about running forecasted materials costs and labour requirements; you’re able to create alternate 3D models to ‘see’ or ‘walk through’ the virtual impact of the proposed structural changes so decisions can be made on whether it’s worth it to move forward.

Even for modifications deemed essential, having insight into how costs, timelines and staffing are affected at that moment gives you the chance to evaluate corresponding scenarios that show how to best redistribute your existing resources with the least amount of potential impact to the overall project.

Promote personal and structural safety with BIM

Ultimately, you want to deliver a project that’s within budget, on time and above all structurally safe. But you also want to implement steps to protect site crews from injury on the job sites.

Now, let’s circle back to the CDE which, in addition to serving as a data and communication hub, houses safety information that site crews can reference in real-time throughout the build. This would include personal safety measures, such as safety training, equipment operating manuals and injury-mitigation protocols. There’s also the safety data linked to each component in the 3D BIM model (alongside its estimating-related data) – including any dangerous elements it may contain and how to properly handle it during installation.

BIM’s role isn’t merely a static repository for safety data. Using the two-way communication platform, it’s not only possible to alert the larger project team of issues to be aware of for their own protection, but owners, contractors, affected disciplines and other key stakeholders can use the hub to collaborate on how to best head off potential injury and structural risks. For a more robust approach, incorporating its modeling capabilities where possible can give visual context to the extent a hazard or damage poses, and how best to resolve it.

And while BIM is certainly an ideal process partner to have when responding to critical safety issues in real-time, it can also be used proactively. For example, modeling a ‘what if’ structural change can play a predictive role in determining whether the change would lead to any potential clashes within the structure or cause any other structurally hazardous conditions. In addition, the practise of handing over a digital twin at the end of a project can prove invaluable to owners and contractors alike.

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