We need to talk about BIM

In the past

The starting point for the building of what are possibly the largest, oldest structures on Earth, Egypt’s ancient pyramids involved a ‘grand vizier’ who was ‘head of royal works’. Plans would be drawn up on papyrus or limestone slabs and once true north had been identified and foundation rituals carried out, construction could begin with the plans used to ensure that the Pyramid was constructed exactly as intended.

In many ways we have continued to work in exactly the same way with paper replacing papyrus. The advent of Computer Aided Design (CAD) was the first step in using technology to improve the process of designing of buildings, however for the FM although CAD was an improvement in reality it hasn’t always been as useful as perhaps it could have been for the maintenance and improvement of buildings.

We have seen how new digital technologies can impact on the way that we live and work, including how we read, listen to music, communicate and process data. Within the lifetime of many people currently in the workplace we have seen the change from the landline telephone to the mobile, the typewriter to the pc and from record player to MP3 player.

Polaroid with their Instamatic Camera is a well documented example of a company that had an established and unique product but failed to adapt to the arrival of new technology in the form of digital cameras. In 2008 Polaroid filed for bankruptcy following a decline in sales of their cameras.

The Future

The construction and built environment industry is now witnessing a similar revolution. Building Information Modelling (BIM) enables the representation of building geometry, spatial relationships, light analysis, geographic information as well as quantities and properties of building components. BIM software enables drawings, specifications and schedules all in digital format to be integrated and flow through the life of a building  eventually up to and including its demolition.  BIM allows for data to be consistently added through the design stage and once the building is occupied.  Properties and quantities of materials can be easily located and a scope of works can easily be defined. Additionally systems, assemblies and sequences can be shown in relation to each other and relative to the entire project. So even before construction we can have a 3D record of the building that holds an extensive amount of linked data, which can be subsequently be enhanced by Facilities Management through the life of the building.

The Change

So how will BIM change the way that we build and run buildings and what impact will it have on suppliers and manufacturers?

CAD was a big improvement on hand drawn building plans as it made the design process more efficient and also allowed Architects to create more unusual and interesting structures as CAD allowed entire sections of drawings to be twisted or stretched. However projects using CAD are effectively traditional in that manufacturers and suppliers provide detailed data and specifications that is generally separate from the drawings, which makes the task of the facilities manager maintaining and adapting and improving a building both harder and more time consuming.

The current lack of funding for new construction in the UK means that the construction industry needs to find ways to reduce the cost of construction as well as speeding up the entire process, particularly on larger more complex projects.

The return on investment on BIM systems has been estimated as greater than 60% and US studies indicate that using BIM can lead to a saving of 5% of the construction cost of a project and 1.5% saving on the cost of subsequent refurbishment projects. However no studies have been carried out to consider the potential savings that FM could make through the use of BIM.

Currently the introduction of BIM in the UK is being led by the Government, with a mandate to use BIM on all central projects described as ‘collaborative 3D BIM’ on its larger projects by 2016. It has been said that not joining the move towards BIM will lead to suppliers and manufacturers potentially being ‘Beta-maxed out’.

Potential Problems

So what are the potential problems for creating an accurate BIM model?

A challenge for all parties involved in providing data for inclusion in BIM models is to ensure that all participants in the project follow the same naming conventions and standardise their modelling processes and platforms otherwise the BIM model will be incorrect and this could cause significant problems until wrongly named items are identified and corrected.

Correctly created, the BIM model should provide integrated systems with all of the building data linked to the asset register. Performance data can also be included so that equipment runs efficiently using the manufacturer’s benchmarks.

Apart from the very largest building projects, BIM in the UK is to date fairly rare in the construction world. Many general and sub-contractors currently have neither the skill nor software to support BIM, when working on a large project but nonetheless being contractually required to provide compliant operation and maintenance information.

Potential Benefits

BIM provides the capability to build and develop drawings in real time and co-ordinate in real-time with intuitive 3D sharing the main model on-line with the extended design group. This means that there is faster and tighter controlled coordination of building information.

With BIM breakdowns, leaks, power failures and other problems can be quickly identified so emergency response becomes quicker as engineers can be sent to the correct location taking with them suitable tools and parts.

A major benefit of BIM is the intuitive and intelligent way that it uses element attributes to build and embellish information in a model linking in with a schedule with the drawing and specification more tightly on project-work. With this 3D model and its material properties we are able to achieve quicker visualisation and lifecycle model testing at preconstruction stage.

A significant difference between BIM and traditional CAD software is that a schedule of components can be created. With this comes 4D modelling and faster cost analyses and accuracy with proper scheduling of related product ranges used in a building.

An example of the benefits of BIM (for the FM team) could be as follows: a call is logged about a cold water leak. Using data from BIM on your CMMS (Computer Maintenance Management System) you can see a detailed view of the location. The isolation valve can be identified and providing relevant data to the engineers becomes much easier and quicker so that they can be sent to the correct location with suitable tools and parts.

The various benefits of using BIM can described as

  • Improved collaboration between design and engineering
  • Speedier delivery at early project stage
  • Cost savings particularly in engineering work
  • Higher quality of work performance
  • Integration and co-ordination of data

What needs to be requested?

Types of assets need to be defined, together with the level of information that you need and what priority it will have.

Naming conventions need to be agreed for elements, attributes, systems and viewpoints

The data exchange process needs to be agreed

Model elements, objects, spaces and systems need to be defined

Research how the BIM model will interact with your CMMS system

Define the standards to be used such as COBie (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange)

Who will promote BIM?

BIM needs champions who recognise that it is a lot more than just a new piece of software. The FM industry needs to create a BIM brief that describes exactly what FM needs from BIM.


Properly defined and managed BIM should bring significant benefits to the FM industry in future years, however all suppliers and manufacturers will need to be on board and supply data in the correct format.


Bernard Crouch, independent FM consultant & interim FM for myfm

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