It seems likely that designing a building digitally will become standard practice; the question is when. Certainly, contractors of all sizes have digitally designed to one degree or another, but building information modeling (BIM) is much more dynamic. Larger trade contractors involved in big, complex projects have embraced it. It’s here where BIM is coming on strong. Mid-size to smaller sized firms work with BIM far less, if at all. That may change. In the world of technological advances, everything trickles down.
In its 2016 “World Building Information Modeling (BIM) Market” report, the global firm Allied Market Research (AMR) estimated a worldwide BIM market of $11.7 billion by 2022—a compound annual growth rate of 21.6 percent between the years 2016–2022. The report revealed the United States and Europe led, with increasing use of BIM in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific, which is currently the fastest adopter. In fact, by 2022 Asia-Pacific is forecast to lead in BIM usage, placing Europe second and North America a close third.
The report found BIM adoption rates were strongest in the commercial and infrastructure sectors (63 percent), followed by industrial, institutional and residential. In 2017, Dodge Data & Analytics reported BIM use in transportation infrastructure projects jumped to 55 percent in the United States from 27 percent in 2015.
UL Environment, Marietta, Ga., works to make BIM as versatile and useful as possible. Mark T. Rossolo, public affairs director, definitely sees a stronger adoption for BIM. In fact, he describes the acceleration as “rapid.”
“Beyond looking at a number of studies and the data shared, our opinion is rooted in the anecdotal discussions we frequently have with contractors and architects,” Rossolo said. “All the major design firms are using some BIM tools. It’s not perfect, and there is a lot of work to do, but its adoption with construction firms, architects and their design teams is strong.”
Trimble is one of the major players in BIM. Established in 1978, the firm is based in Sunnyvale, Calif., with offices in 35 countries. Best known for GPS technology, its portfolio of 500 technology-based products has expanded its markets and goals. Trimble Building offers a number of BIM products focused on innovation in structural engineering, off-site prefabrication and on-site efficiency.
“In the U.S., I would describe the use of BIM as blossoming [and] coming into its own,” said James Reis, area director, Trimble MEP. “For perspective, I’ve been a user over the last 20 years. In the last five, Wall Street has leaned in with investors teaming up with companies like ours to hone the capabilities of BIM. By digitizing project workflow, we hope to stimulate productivity, something that has lagged in the construction industry.”
Reis and Rossolo have both seen steady improvements in BIM performance and capability, as well.
“From the platform perspective, tools like Revit and SketchUp have become better software, more efficient, faster and more stable,” Reis said. “BIM now offers improved and more digitized data and better graphic representation. Over the last five years, we’ve digitized an increasing number of components used in the construction of a building and have also acquired companies to make BIM richer and more robust.”
Over the last four years, the digitization of electrical components has markedly improved.
“There’s better image precision, be it a junction box or rack system,” Reis said. “Electrical contractors can now use BIM to better prefabricate products needed for the job site. There are also more product choices, so you can compare different vendors’ products and drill down to a spec sheet, allowing you to make the best choice for that project. I’d like to see BIM evolve so a user could explore the impact of different load calculations, maybe more automation. Information for the mechanical contractors has always been strong in BIM, but I see electrical design now catching up and being better served.”
BIM apps and the cloud
Apps are as integral to BIM’s evolution as have been steady improvements in Revit, AutoCAD, SketchUP and other design platforms foundational to BIM.
“It’s important to remember BIM is a descriptive term representing a series of digital design tools, such as Revit, with any number of apps layered on,” Rossolo said. “Think of BIM as a tool with tools.”
UL Environment develops apps for BIM. Its current focus is helping BIM users designing a sustainable building. Now a year old, UL Spot is a free app that provides users a deeper specificity and selection of sustainable products to help achieve project design goals. The UL Spot database features 50,000 green products with more than 900 new products added monthly. UL Spot appears as an embedded toolbar within a BIM program and accommodates Autodesk Revit, AutoCAD and SketchUp.
“If health and sustainability are a goal in the building design, will a said product work well within the building? Will it provide the expected outcome? With UL Spot, product selection is integrated into the BIM model so you can research, click and add the right product,” Rossolo said. “Additionally, if you are pursuing LEED, FITWELL or any certification, you want to know the products specified in the design comply with the credits you are seeking. For non-certification projects that want to go green, such software is equally useful.”
UL Spot isn’t alone. Swedish owned BIMobject Cloud enables manufacturers to share data on the environmental sustainability of their products, and enables designers and architects to perform sustainability calculations and simulations of BIM-based projects.
BIM also is evolving with more cloud computing based capabilities advancing capability and collaboration, and allowing apps to more easily plug into a BIM design program. For instance, information in UL Spot is updated daily.
“The cloud helps in a lot of ways,” Trimble’s Reis said. “You have shared models via the cloud. The data we deliver from the cloud can be instantly updated for project participants. The cloud is most definitely a natural evolution of BIM; the same for software and apps. We’ve enriched our BIM capabilities though new software that addresses different elements in building design. Desktop applications with BIM can now be used by estimators on a project.”
Advances in technology are keeping BIM at the forefront of productive building design. Apps offering 3-D modeling have arrived. Work site goggles featuring augmented reality can now be found on some job sites and feed into BIM models. Trimble has HoloLens in a partnership with Microsoft.
“HoloLens enables us to go beyond the constraints of a 2-D screen,” said Olivier Pellegrin, BIM manager, GA Smart Building, a beta user of Trimble Connect for HoloLens. “Superimposing the digital model on the physical environment provides a clear understanding of the relations between the 3-D design model and the actual work on a job site.”
In terms of mixed reality, Trimble also added SketchUp Viewer to its BIM offerings, giving design partners the ability to view a 3-D representation through goggles, free from a computer screen, which enables a different experience for group evaluation of a digital building model.
“The BIM market and how you use its information may be different tomorrow than how we use it today,” Rossolo said. “Adoption spurs innovation and more uptake.”
Other needle movers for BIM
In Reis’s estimation, the cost of BIM software does not impact its adoption.
“Firms decide what package works best for them and rate of return,” he said. “Though BIM is dominantly applied in the complex projects (commercial, industrial, education and healthcare) taken on by bigger contracting firms, medium firms can certainly dip their toes in the water with BIM. They might initially outsource for certain projects where BIM may be mandated. We do this as a service, guiding MEP contractors through a BIM project workflow. In time, as a mid-sized contractor takes on projects with BIM, that will trickle down to smaller firms, too, perhaps as a niche service. I do see a day when contractors not versed in BIM may be weeded out when they compete for projects.”
Challenges remain for BIM adoption.
“The need for more construction professionals also applies to BIM operators,” Reis said. “But there is an upside to this labor shortage that could lead to added BIM adoption. Companies are looking to do more with less as it applies to labor shortages. BIM might be an answer. The technology is also seen as mitigating project risk.”
In Place of a National BIM StandardThere are a number of resources to help operators, owners and others involved in BIM. Just don’t be confused. Though “standard” may be in the name, there is no unifying U.S. BIM standard. However, that day may come as it has for the United Kingdom, Singapore, Finland, Norway and others.
The National Institute of Building Sciences and its Building Smart Alliance, a council of building professionals from academia, government, for-profit and construction-related associations, introduced The National BIM Standard—United States Version 3 in 2015. The guide is available as a free PDF at nationalbimstandard.org.
A National BIM Guide for Owners was released in 2017 and can be downloaded upon request. Training resources are available through the Associated General Contractors of America’s BIM Education Program and BIM certification track. Learn more at agc.org.—J.G.