Building information modeling (BIM) has been seeing greater uptake in the AEC realm over the last few years.

BIM offers architecture, engineering, and construction firms a way to streamline many elements of the construction process digitally. Clash detection and creating an as-built model for the client, for example, become more efficient when they’re done within a BIM model of a structure.

According to the UK Cabinet Office BIM Strategy Paper (2011), using BIM in the procurement of infrastructure can deliver:

  • A 20 per cent reduction in build costs
  • A 33 per cent reduction in costs over the lifetime of the asset
  • A 47 to 65 per cent reduction in conflicts and re-work during construction
  • A 44 to 59 per cent increase in overall project quality
  • A 35 to 43 per cent reduction in risk, and improved predictability
  • A 34 to 40 per cent better performing completed infrastructure
  • A 32 to 38 per cent improvement in review and approval cycles

After construction has begun, progress must be documented on a regular – even daily – basis, so that all stakeholders can keep track of the project in real time, or close to it. According to Nicolas Arnold, vice president of product management and head of business development for software firm HoloBuilder, in a best-case scenario, BIM would be available in the field and would also be updated from the field.

Data collected in the field is necessary for creating the as-built model, but manual updates are unpleasant and inefficient.

“It’s a very manual, very tedious, very error-prone, very laborious task,” he said.

In contrast, using a software solution can save countless hours. According to Arnold, it’s possible to use a 360° camera with specific software to document the day-to-day progress on a project. The user takes a 360° photo using an inexpensive 360° camera, then logs the photo location into the app using a smartphone or tablet. The phone or tablet has the BIM model loaded, and the app tells the BIM software where and when the photo was taken. Daily photos create a record that shows progress, without requiring manual updates in the BIM software.

In addition to software designed specifically to document construction progress, 360° photography and inexpensive 360° cameras are making automated documentation more accessible. 360° photos provide much more data per image than standard images, Arnold said.

“Let’s assume an empty room,” he noted. “If you take one 360° picture, with one picture you have captured the entire room. We assume that it takes 11 flat pictures, pictures that you take with an iphone, tablet, or a normal camera, to capture that room as well as you could with a 360° photo.”

Using 360° photography is also more likely to avoid missed details in a room.

“People might say, ‘Hey, that’s a good picture but we’re missing this part. Nobody took that part. Where is this cable going? Where does this pipe come from? It’s not on the picture,'” he said. “If you have a 360° picture, most likely you have that information with much less effort. It’s much faster, more complete.”

Though it offers many advantages, BIM is still not widely used industry-wide. Arnold noted that the construction industry is still in the process of adopting this kind of technology and the processes that come with it.

“BIM is not just a piece of software,” he said. “It’s also a way of how you deal with the data, how you integrate the data into your workflow.”

However, firms that are using BIM, he added, are also finding ways to use it more and more, particularly in the design and pre-construction phases. Its effectiveness has meant that it’s being used increasingly during construction as well. 

“There are a couple ways that people use it,” Arnold said. “It’s either for coordination meetings between trades on a project, or it’s also being used by top contractors when they are doing their planning and estimating with the BIM mode.”

Australia’s government has become an active supporter of BIM technology, though it has not yet mandated BIM use. A 2016 report issued by the Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities includes two BIM specific recommendations:

Recommendation 6 calls for the creation of “a suitably qualified and resourced Smart Infrastructure Task Force, led by Infrastructure Australia, on the model of the UK BIM Task Group.” The task force is to be “ a coordinator and conduit for the development and implementation of policy nationally, including the development of industry and product standards and training and education.”

Recommendation 7 calls for requiring “BIM to LOD500 on all major infrastructure projects, exceeding $50 million in cost, receiving Australian Government funding.” This recommendation also aims to establish BIM as a procurement standard.