4D building information modelling (BIM) software is critical to driving productivity and reducing risk on building projects, three leaders in construction technology say.

In a joint interview with Sourceable at the Year In Infrastructure conference hosted by engineering and construction software provider Bentley Systems last October in Singapore, Bentley Technical Architect Greg Demchak, Product Manager Synchro XR-RT Anna Assamà and Senior Director, Construction Operations Mark Hattersley said 4D software can help to deliver projects more safely and efficiently and with lower levels of project risk.

According to the executives, 4D enables several capabilities which can help drive better outcomes.

First, there is validation of the construction scheduling process.

As things stand, construction sequencing is typically managed by Gannt charts. Whilst these enable tasks to be viewed in a sequential manner, aforementioned executives say they do not provide an intuitive understanding of what will happen at specific locations on site during various project stages.

By contrast, 4D BIM enables project managers and others to visualise the build process at various locations throughout the site. This can help to identify and avoid problems which occur because the schedule is out of sequence – say, for example, where pipes have been scheduled to be installed before the necessary supports are scheduled to be in place. It can also help to avoid clashes during construction. These might occur, for example, where the erection of a roof means a vessel which needs to be installed within a building does not fit or where more people were scheduled to be working simultaneously in a particular area than can be safely accommodated.

On the point, Hattersley says that whilst 3D BIM helps to identify clashes with the finished design, it is only when construction sequencing is done using 4D that clashes during construction are able to be identified.

Beyond validation, aforementioned executives say 4D BIM can enable collaboration within the construction sequencing process. Speaking particularly of Synchro, a digital construction management platform which Bentley acquired in 2018, Assamà says the software enables data to be uploaded into the cloud and accessed through multiple devices in multiple locations. This enables those doing the work to provide feedback on the proposed scheduling before tasks are handed out. It also enables project team members to collaborate on the construction plan at the same time despite being in different locations.

Finally, 4D can enable project teams to simulate different sequencing options and identify those which work best.

Demchak, Hattersley and Assamà comments follow Bentley’s acquisition of Synchro in 2018.

According to Hattersley, the concept of 4D and looking at different construction models through the sequence of time is one which Bentley is seeking to embed across its portfolio of software offerings.

Essentially speaking, 4D BIM links 3D digital design models with scheduling or time related information to enable digital modelling of the sequencing of project build phases.

Asked about barriers to greater 4D adoption, Assamà talks of contractual issues in traditional procurement which restrict contractor involvement during design. Since design teams typically have limited expertise in modelling the construction part of the build process, she says collaboration with contractors is necessary if 4D is going to work.

When implementing 4D BIM on projects, Assamà says project teams should first make an execution plan before uploading this into the modelling software for analysis. This will produce an animation or simulation of the construction process.

As well, Demchak says 4D requirements should be specified in tender documentation. Doing this will ensure that contractors are prepared for what they need to do in relation to 4D before bidding for the job.

Should enough project owners put 4D requirements into contracts, Demchak says contractors will be encouraged to improve 4D capabilities.

“When owners put that into the contract, contractors will step up and learn that being able to accommodate 4D is now a competitive advantage,” he says.

“If you want to win the job and the owner is putting that up there, you upskill and figure out that now you are competing at that level about who is going to have the best technological capacity on the job.”

The author travelled to Singapore for the Year In Infrastructure conference under a trip funded by Bentley Systems