Why The Construction Industry Needs Universal BIM Standards

BIM_IllustrationThe adoption and use of Building Information Modeling (BIM), the digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility that creates a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility to form a reliable basis for decisions from conception to the end of its life-cycle, has skyrocketed over the past few years. Some of the benefits of BIM include faster delivery time, improved collaboration among stakeholders, reduced costs for construction and facility operations and a reduction in change orders.

While BIM use has seen impressive growth recently, the construction industry is still a long way from having 100 percent implementation on all projects and 100 percent participation from the AEC community. Two items that will be vital to universal BIM use is the adoption of a set of national standards and interoperability among all software applications. BIM is a process and processes need standards and guidelines in order to be properly implemented. In the UK, national BIM standards have been developed due in large part to a government mandate for BIM adoption on their projects by 2016.  Other countries like Finland, Norway and Singapore also have national BIM standards with more countries making plans to follow suit.

The problem we currently face is that various government agencies as well as public and private entities like the New York City Department of Design and Construction and Pennsylvania State University have developed their own sets of standards for BIM use. This makes adoption difficult for architects and contractors because they are forced to learn and adhere to dozens of unique standards for all of their clients. This would be akin to individual computer manufacturers developing unique keyboard configurations as part of their hardware. Could you imagine having to learn how to type on a dozen different keyboard layouts as opposed to the standard QWERTY layout?

The closest thing we have to a universal set of standards National BIM Standard-United States (NBIMS-US) developed by the buildingSMART alliance. These are consensus-based standards developed through “referencing existing standards, documenting information exchanges and delivering best business practices for the entire built environment.“ Version 3 of NBIMS-US was scheduled to roll out back in April, but the release has been postponed with a new release date not yet set. The NBIMS-US boasts a small but impressive list of adopters representing some major players in the AEC community.

The other major issue that will help facilitate universal adoption of BIM is non-proprietary interoperability of the various software applications available. Stakeholders using BIM are going to need to be able to easily transfer and share the data created in order to effectively communicate and collaborate on projects. Users need to be able to export models from one software application to another regardless of developer.

This isn’t currently the case. In fact, some applications aren’t even compatible with earlier versions of the same software. This means that if an architect firm is using a current version of software and their MEP engineer is using a version that is two years old, they might not even be able to share and collaborate on the model. Software developers need to commit to developing open source data exchange methodologies and adopting standards for object naming, data fields and assemblies. This will facilitate better data exchange through the life-cycle of a project and allow project team members to use the software tools and applications that best suit their company’s needs.

BIM is the future of the construction industry and the sooner the AEC industry as a whole adopts its use the better.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2015 Issue of Construction Data Quarterly.

2 Responses to “Why The Construction Industry Needs Universal BIM Standards”

  1. Bob Rininger July 15, 2015 at 8:33 AM #

    I have attended many conferences that have had presentations about technology in the construction industry and BIM has always been a main topic for at least the last 8 years or so. However we do not see many projects that have BIM requirements so naturally when considering adapting to any new technology in your business ROI is always a huge consideration. There will be a considerable expense in adopting BIM in a company – new software, the training of your employees, and I would think the possible addition of someone tasked with implementing and maintaining the programs use. I would like to know more about the strategy of how you get owners to pay for this cost since most owners are looking to for your company to save them money, not add cost. In the presentations I have attended there is always talk about how BIM saves money by eliminating conflicts before construction but how does a company put a dollar amount to that? I am always skeptical when it comes to spending money in the hopes of saving money without data to backup the claims.

    • Kendall Jones July 15, 2015 at 9:23 AM #

      Thanks for the comment, Bob. I understand the difficulty in trying to assign a value to eliminating a conflict during the design phase as opposed to during the built environment because BIM eliminates it before construction begins. From what I’ve read and heard, when BIM is used properly it saves times and drastically cuts down on change orders which saves the owner money. The owner will also see savings down the road since the BIM model is meant to last for the entire lifecycle of a building and can aid in reducing costs during maintenance and facility management. Building owners are going to be the ones that drive the adoption of BIM. As more owners see the added benefits and cost savings of using BIM, the demand for its use and implementation will increase.

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