Beyond Building Automation: Simulation software reduces uncertainty in construction projects

Construction design projects rely on simulation software, such as building information modeling, to drive design and construction decisions. Building information modeling (BIM) and other simulation software usage is picking up momentum.

Simulation software may be deployed in many construction scenarios, such as a power system design or a simulation of a building’s energy consumption. It may be used to simulate a rail station with 25% or 75% capacity in order to explore social distancing measures. Newer construction software is picking up where modeling for building infrastructure, already on the upswing, left off.

Research by Precision Market Reports, Pune, India, found that the use of simulation software for designing a building’s infrastructure is gaining traction as a result of COVID-19. Because lockdowns halted operations on many construction projects and their supply chains, projects have used simulation software to make decisions about construction design and requirements.

BIM software uses data and 3D imaging to design all phases of a project. It begins with conceptual designs and progresses through layering, to rough-ins and detailed designs for plumbing, mechanical and electrical, atop structural systems.

Research conducted by Markets and Markets, Northbrook, Ill., forecasts that BIM software will grow from $4.5 billion in 2020 to $8.8 billion by 2025 at a hefty growth rate of about 14.5% per year. The researcher writes, “Rapid urbanization and increase in infrastructure projects and strong government support by making BIM mandatory are the major factors driving the growth of BIM market.”

BIM and other simulation software add significant value in several ways. Beyond building design, it can simulate how the whole ecosystem within which a project exists and operates. When construction takes place, there are so many different stakeholders internally and externally. This has given way to more experiential design that incorporates how a design might work within a city, how it affects people and what the impact will be on other parts of its surrounding infrastructure.

Bentley Systems, Exton, Pa., promotes its cloud-based simulation software products, OpenBuildings Station Designer and Legion Simulator, as tools to help engineers and designers simulate and develop construction plans for transportation infrastructure, such as train stations. The software helps owners and planning and design agents develop models and accurately simulate, for example, crowd movement and foot traffic and optimize space use of infrastructure assets.

Simulation software is useful in the design of airports, rail and metro stations, retail and commercial complexes, hospitals and stadiums where the ecosystem goes beyond the scope of the project construction itself. Once constructed, the infrastructure will be used by many people. Growth and volume of users should influence how the project is designed and planned. If a project is predicted to have an uptick in volume from increased rail traffic, air travel or other factors, the basic mechanical an electrical load will be affected, and the software can account for that through simulation.

Simulation instills confidence

OpenBuildings Station Designer may be used in a BIM environment to provide a 3D context to simulate pedestrian traffic and subsequently create a virtual model of the project. This may be help designers account for other attributes of the project and include safety, efficiency and security. Something as simple as incorporating more charging stations for electronic devices in strategic locations may be incorporated into designs for construction with data gathered from simulating actual scenarios.

Other important aspects such as backup power and electrical load may be simulated, given an expected volume of traffic flow and users. In the pandemic environment, for instance, a new airport project may need to incorporate factors of social distancing and spacing. Such facilities designs may need to assume that distancing and dispersions will be the new normal. For construction projects at present, simulation software can provide options and plans, which has not always been easy to assess in the past.

Simulation software will become more familiar to the electrical contracting industry because it adds confidence in uncertain construction and usage scenarios. For the electrical contractor, it’s important to be familiar with the value and utility that such simulation software provides and embrace its development in projects.

About the Author

Jim Romeo

Freelance Writer

Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, Va. He focuses on business and technology topics. Find him at

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