Over the past year, many industries have experienced unprecedented disruption due to the new challenges and uncertainties brought on by the pandemic. In construction, this has meant ongoing projects being paused, new project start dates being delayed, and stalled progress around the digital-driven evolution of some construction practices.
As efforts refocus this year, it is important to understand how the landscape of building information modelling (BIM) will evolve in 2021 and beyond. Built around standards and openness driven by buildingSMART International, organizations will need to incorporate these changes into their business to help the construction industry progress.
For BIM to move forward, the construction industry must first address four key areas that will be important for a successful transition: the common data environment (CDE); data relevance and quality; the adoption of digital twins; and improvements to more industry standardization and openness.
Many engineering and construction industry professionals still believe BIM is all about 3D modelling for the design and construction teams, but this is only a small part of the story. BIM at its core is about all related data and not geometry only.
A successful BIM implementation should extend across all stakeholders of a project, unifying all teams involved throughout the lifecycle of the project. However, due to the fragmented nature of the design and construction process that can include hundreds or even thousands of team members, this can prove difficult. This fragmentation and its impact throughout a project can prove costly in terms of time and money, and it can be amplified as projects grow larger and more complicated. This can also happen because of gaps in education, missing end-to-end processes and proper tools.
To unify these stakeholders and processes, project teams require a single source of truth―a true CDE. Engineering and construction professionals rely on BIM working within a CDE to bring greater control and efficiency to projects.
A CDE is a single platform used to collect, manage, and disseminate information necessary for all project stages, teams, and tools. It includes the graphical model and non-graphical data for the entire project team. The CDE ensures a robust audit trail that facilitates end-to-end process management and avoids duplication and errors. A true CDE, because of its openness and integration with other solutions, helps connect data versus locking it within a single system. It provides a platform for team members to record, distribute, and resolve changes at a much lower cost.
A true CDE has three pillars:
Industries as a whole are often too focused on digitization simply for the sake of going digital. The construction industry should be concentrating about what they can realistically do with the information they collect, as compared to asking project teams to share every data insight from a project. They should prioritize which data is most relevant and beneficial to specific use cases. This requires more holistic understanding of the value of the data collection and for setting proper incentives.
The promise of data-driven insights from machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) may be exciting, but first an organization must identity the potential benefits to a project in more detail. This will be a volatile transition phase, a journey, as some organizations progress, while others take more time to sift through data and navigate the fragmented technology landscape.
This relevance-based approach will be key to using digital information to perform key cost-saving functions such as automated cost estimation and benchmarking, and will become a focal point for the use of BIM.
The focus on digitization will expand how the industry is currently working with BIM, CDEs, and digital twins. But what exactly is a digital twin, and how does it impact the built asset industry? At a basic level, a digital twin is simply a digital representation (a mirror or replica) of a physical thing (e.g., an asset, a process, a system, etc.). For the construction industry, digital twins can play a profound role in how owners manage built assets, how consumers interact with these structures.
The understanding of digital twins has evolved. Today, the two-way connection between the digital and physical asset is key. The cost of sensor technology has reduced and IoT solutions can be easily deployed so regular objects in a building can now become smart construction objects (SCO), sharing data with the digital twin.
Digital twins will become far more prevalent in the coming months, but BIM – in a 3D context – alone is not sufficient to develop a digital twin. With the introduction of a 4D simulation, a process that synchronizes data and the geometry of a project with the project schedule, this will provide the needed context and chronology to create a true digital twin. This will allow all stakeholders to visualize the construction phase in a virtual environment, amplifying the traditional BIM process as we know it.
A key ingredient of this approach will be higher data quality, and the future will bring strides to improving the quality of data we capture, store, share, and analyze. The success of digital twins depends on this, and will require a closer collaboration of two categories of solutions and platforms:
This drive to support higher quality will see modern platforms enhance the quality of data running through their systems. The translation of the exchange information requirements (EIR) from a poor document to machine readable rule sets is making progress. Recent initiatives like using IDS (Information Data Specifications) are addressing that in more pragmatic ways. Rule sets can be applied in authoring tools but also in CDEs through the use of filters while uploading data. This technology could also apply rules to data that has been captured, adding criteria to the schedule and zoning of the data, and engaging in more frequent consistency checks. We can even expect to see clash detection and resolution across construction projects with BIM in a cloud environment.
As the construction industry works to make headway around its use of BIM, we’ve seen significant progress in both standards and openness, driven by key industry leaders and facilitated by buildingSMART International. There have been many developments over the past year to progress the standardization of information across the industry, although these efforts vary across geographies. The next step will be moving on to the “activity stage,” where activities or prototypes of digital twins will be more greatly defined.
Industry Foundation Classes (IFC), addressing how construction and facility management data across various applications are shared and exchanged, helps deliver several improvements on how digital twins can be defined in its latest version, including:
Another new standard, BIM Collaboration Format (BCF), allows different modelling applications to communicate model-based issues with each other by leveraging IFC models previously shared among project collaborators. This can be accomplished seamlessly via APIs by a RESTful service that connects software platforms directly to a dedicated third-party BCF server communications hub or traditionally via a file exchange between software platforms (file import and export). There are a number of use cases throughout the asset lifecycle that can benefit from BCF-enabled workflows:
There will be continued focus on the areas of deployment, transparency, and predictability in the standardization processes. With construction project budgets likely to be tighter, the benefits of the BIM methodology – such as cost reduction, quality improvements and optimization of processes and resources – will drive more of a focus on BIM, on the digitalization of the whole process for other areas including better design, operations and maintenance functions.
We also will see more interoperability between different software products, so BIM can become more open to the transfer and accessibility of data, e.g., via the openCDE API. Non-proprietary data standards will be deemphasized by asset owners and regulatory bodies, which view open data as a preferred solution for the future.
The construction industry will see a growing push for a more open and accessible BIM environment based on industry-agreed standards, with a greater focus on data relevancy and quality. Such changes should lead to broader adoption of BIM across project teams, paving the way for greater use of digital twins. Exciting times ahead of us!
Frank Weiss, based in Berlin, is very excited and passionate about the digitization of the construction and engineering Industry. He is a co-founder of www.conject.com, which was acquired by Aconex. In Aconex he served as VP for BIM Strategy and Development globally. Today, Frank Weiss heads the global strategy for New Products, BIM & Innovation for Oracle Construction and Engineering. He represents Oracle as Strategic Advisory Council Member at buildingSMART International and has led several standardization initiatives (e.g., DIN Spec 91391).
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