Last edited 12 May 2017

Building information modelling BIM

See also our Step-by-step guide to using BIM on projects supported by more than 100 linked articles.


[edit] Introduction

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is a very broad term that describes the process of creating and managing digital information about a built asset such as building, bridge, highway, tunnel and so on.

The range of BIM 'maturity levels' are categorised as:

  • Level 0: Unmanaged CAD (Computer Aided Design).
  • Level 1: Managed CAD in 2D or 3D.
  • Level 2: Managed 3D environment with data attached, but created in separate discipline models.
  • Level 3: Single, online, project model with construction sequencing, cost and lifecycle management information.

[edit] Policy

In the UK, the Government Construction Strategy published in May 2011, stated that the '...Government will require fully collaborative 3D BIM (with all project and asset information, documentation and data being electronic) as a minimum by 2016'. This represents a minimum requirement for Level 2 BIM on centrally-procured public projects from April 2016.

[edit] Uptake

NBS have suggested that adopting BIM can cost a practice £10,000 per workstation (ref nbs: National BIM report 2012). However, this depends whether implementation is simply an exercise in buying hardware and software and then training staff to use it, or whether it is part of a wider process of business change. The justification for this cost is in the value that adoption of BIM brings to a project throughout its life-cycle. The BIM Task Group suggest that '...if successfully implemented, (BIM) will help organisations strip the waste from their processes which in many cases could be in the bandwidth of 20-30%' (ref BIM Task Group FAQ's).

The requirement for the adoption of BIM in the public sector has lead to an increase in uptake, meaning that the UK now ranks alongside Singapore, USA and Scandinavia (in particular Finland) in terms of BIM usage. Adoption of BIM in the UK is most common among architects and larger contractors, whilst there is less take up by services engineers, facilities managers and smaller contractors.

The 2012 nbs BIM survey found that 31% of respondents were using BIM. Whilst this showed an improvement on the previous year, rather worryingly it revealed that 30% of those surveyed only used 2D (rather than 3D) CAD, and 35% did not use CAD at all.

The 2013 nbs BIM survey revealed that the figure had increased and 39% of respondents were using BIM. The NBS National BIM Report 2014 suggested that 54% had used BIM on at least one project, although 73% believed there was confusion about what BIM means. Rather surprisingly, the NBS National BIM Report 2015 showed a slight reduction in awareness and use, but this improved in the NBS National BIM Report 2016.

By 2017, NBS reported that 62% of those surveyed were aware of and using BIM.

However, the 2017 Construction Manager BIM survey revealed 49% of clients did not make BIM a requirement on projects, and only 20% said they asked for BIM Level 2 on all projects, compared with 23% the previous year.

[edit] Characteristics of BIM

Fundamentally, the purpose of BIM is to ensure that appropriate information is created in a suitable format at the right time so that better decisions can be made throughout the design, construction and operation of built assets. It is not about creating a 3D model for its own sake, and it is not an add-on process. BIM is fundamental to the way a project is set up and run.

It centres around the creation of employer's information requirements (EIR), which define the information that the employer wishes to procure in order to be able to develop and operate the built asset. Setting this out in a contract document ensures that appropriate information is created in a suitable format at the right time.

Very broadly, building information that might be required is categorised as:

  • 2D
  • 3D
  • 4D (including time / programme information)
  • 5D (including cost information)
  • 6D (including facilities management information)

At level 2, building information models are likely to comprise a series of federated models prepared by different design teams, including model files, documents and structured data files containing non geometric information about the facility, floors, spaces, systems and components. Together these create a digital replica of the built asset that starts by representing design intent, but by handover, reflects what has actually been built and installed.

The creation of a geometric model as part of this process allows buildings to be conceived collaboratively and tested virtually, before they are built and operated for real. This should reduce the problems that are encountered in construction and occupation. See clash avoidance for more information.

These models are created from a series of objects. Each object is defined only once and then placed in the model in multiple locations as required. If the object is then changed, these changes will appear throughout the model. This makes models automatically consistent and reduces errors. See parametric modelling for more information.

The common data environment (CDE), is the single source of information for the project, used to collect, manage and disseminate documentation, the graphical model and non-graphical data for the whole project team. Creating this single source of information facilitates collaboration between project team members and helps avoid duplication and mistakes.

[edit] Software

According to the NBS National BIM Report 2017, the most popular drawing tools are:

[edit] Protocols standards and tools

A number of reference protocols, standards and tools have been created in the UK to help the industry adopt level 2 BIM, including:

[edit] Find out more

[edit] Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki


To join this discussion, click 'Add a comment' above and add your thoughts to this page.

A comprehensive BIM standard protocol for projects has been produced by the Construction Industry Council CIC/BIM Pro first edition 2013. Published in February it can be downloaded free as a PDF document.

"Between 1996 and 2006 there was a 25% increase in the retail price index cost with construction costs rising by 89%”. In a recent 2011 report by McGraw Hill, research showed that a quarter of large projects finish late and a fifth over budget by at least 15% with 11% resulting in legal disputes. Of the 35 multi-national firms interviewed 71% of respondents thought BIM (building information modelling) helped to decrease project risk by offering substantial opportunities to increase efficiency.

As a Project Manager I would be interested in discussing the challenges that arise from implementing BIM, what applicable software platforms are available and how BIM is evolving as a result of the Mandatory requirement imposed by the Government.