Building information modeling (BIM) is a hot topic in the design/build community. It has the potential to dramatically improve performance in the design and construction industry and to increase value to owners.

BIM is a database. Lee Evey, president, Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA), said that there are four critical and key characteristics that a database must meet to be defined as BIM: it must have objects, behavior, consistency and coordination. Without meeting those four criteria, it is merely another form of estimating or modeling software.

Reports, lists and renderings that emerge from BIM tell users what everything is. Once all of the information and data is embedded and contained within the BIM system, a complete model emerges.

For instance, all objects—windows, electrical components, etc.—have information tied to them, especially relating to their purpose or, in other words, their behavior. And, the information about an object is applied consistently, e.g., a window is a window no matter where it is located or what its exact size is.

The fourth characteristic, coordination, is a consistency in spatial relationship that the BIM system establishes between all of the objects and then allows consistent spatial coordination of each element. The entire BIM system can be manipulated—moved, spun, viewed from above or below—without changing the spatial relationship between objects.

“All of these things put together is why BIM allows for much better communication and coordination,” Evey said.

It allows one to watch floors being constructed on a computer, floor by floor, day by day; to focus on any parameter imaginable; and to allow for rotating drawings, adding and removing components, changing layouts, and then dealing effectively with anything that could occur.

“It allows you to pull everyone together in the process,” Evey said “More than anything else, BIM is an effective means for team communication.”

The DBIA, Evey said, is intrigued and impressed by BIM and is interested in educating its members on the subject; it’s even forming a BIM committee.

“It is being done to optimize BIM and design/build. They are just made for each [other],” Evey said.

BIM should not be equated with 3-D modeling. BIM provides insight into how a building and its contained systems may be built while providing various reports that assist designers and constructors in a number of ways.

The various “Ds”—3-D, 4-D, 5-D, 6-D—refer to different capabilities or reports that can be produced by BIM, starting with 3-D rendering and moving up through various levels of complexity. Using 3-D rendering, BIM can depict, in its most elementary level, various subsystems, such as plumbing, electrical or HVAC within a building. BIM then explores higher levels of complexity and visually sequences the time and schedule, material and equipment lists, and links in estimating programs.

A comprehensive, higher-end BIM solution will even, at the end of the project, embed virtually every available piece of information on just about everything contained in the building into the system. This information can be of immense value to an owner during the useful life of a building.

“Today, turning on the air conditioning is not as simple as flipping a switch. In a proper startup sequence, actions need to be done in a series. A sequence must happen. Using BIM makes it easier in that all of that information is contained within [the system]. So why not embed all of that information in the software and let BIM do it? You can even use the BIM software to automatically generate standard equipment and material lists, which would then allow for material and parts lists to be generated as a consequence of design,” Evey said.

This ability also is beneficial to procurement and delivery processes.

Evey said, as more manufacturers produce catalogs in BIM-friendly formats, system users can look up product information, including specifications, prices and maintenance information. The information becomes relevant to those involved in the project, from the specialty contractors to the building owner.

BIM does not benefit just designers and contractors. BIM can and should be used by building owners and operators, as well. Evey mentioned that BIM shines when it comes to building operations and maintenance. Contractors should explain this to customers.

“There are various estimates regarding the cost of a building over its life, and a good, middle-of-the-range figure is that, for every dollar spent to build a building, another $15 will be spent on building maintenance,” Evey said. “So, anything that can be done to save on those downstream costs can create huge savings over the course of a building’s life.”

BIM assists in keeping those costs down by storing a complete and continuous record of all building components.

“Say you could save 10–20 percent in your energy consumption by changing the way the building was oriented. Over 50 years of a building’s life, that would be a big cost benefit,” Evey said.

BIM provides almost limitless benefits to contractors and their customers.

“BIM really is only limited by imagination,” Evey said.

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at jennifer.stong@comcast.net.