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    BIM: much more than just data modelling

    Branko Miletic

    According to Wolfgang Hass, principal expert, Siemens AG Building Technologies Division, Building Information Modelling (BIM), the digitalisation of the building industry and the need for BIM standards will make BIM a game-changer for the traditional building ecosystem.

    “Architects will tell you that they have been doing BIM for 8-10 years, which isn’t true because they have been doing 3D; but BIM is more than 3D; its more than data modelling and more than graphic exchange formats,” says Hass.

    “BIM stands for digitalisation of the building industry, and the only chance for the industry to step into the digital world is by having a common understanding of the subject, and working on standards. Siemens is pushing for these standards.”

    “There is a strong need to make these changes because the building industry is far behind other industries in terms of adopting digitalisation."

    "Unlike other industries, the building industry is heavily compartmentalised with each discipline or branch doing their own thing – the electrician has his electrical work and the painter does his painting job.” he says.

    “At the end of the day, there are too many players, all working towards one goal but not a common goal,” he notes, adding that, “That goal is profit, and not a good building. No player is really looking at the complete lifecycle of the building, preferring instead to work within their own individual ‘box’.”

    “For years now, we have been doing a lot of optimisation of different disciplines, but at the end, we are more or less doing optimisation in a box. Even if everyone were to optimise their box, it wouldn’t create an optimised building,” says Hass.

    With digitalisation, we are seeing a change in what he calls ‘BDC’ or ‘better design and construction’; this is now being termed as being the ‘digital twins’ of the industry - the two phases of a building process – the virtual building and the physical building. 

    “The design of the building is done in the virtual phase parallel with all the disciplines in a coordinated way,” says Hass.

    “With the virtual model, simulations can be done and changes made in a timely and very cost-effective way. Once the building design meets all the parameters, it moves to the physical construction phase – the second part of the digital twins,” he notes

    “No car manufacturer would start manufacturing a new car when the design and pattern are ready. In any industry (except the building industry), the planning is completely finished, or at least 99 percent finished when they start the physical job.”

    “The current problem is that there is no overlap in the design process and no coordination. For instance, the electrical designer is not talking to the security designer, and while everyone starts with the same set of drawings, some parts are deleted or changed. Since no one’s really working as a group, there is no coordination, especially if one discipline has already wrapped up their work on the site,” he says.

    One unique feature of the building industry is that everything is produced onsite – unlike most other ventures, a building site is basically a mobile factory that produces a building. 

    “With the ‘digital twin’ approach, the industry can consider producing modules in an industrial environment, and transport them to the site for assembly, thereby shortening the physical construction time,” says Hass.

    “This has implications for the future too – given the traffic jams, noise and air pollution associated with urban construction sites, new laws may be introduced in the coming years, limiting construction time. This can happen across all cities worldwide,” he says.

    “While the building industry isn’t currently well prepared for the future, BIM presents a great opportunity to change things, to have these digital twins work in the virtual way, and to build factories producing components. This will also mean buildings will be constructed with products built on innovation and not necessarily the cheapest rate, helping change the industry for good.”

    “The big winners are those responsible for the operational phase, given that this phase accounts for 80 percent of the building’s lifecycle costs. A dollar not spent in the design phase will cost you $20 in the operational phase; if those doing the operational phase could invest $1 in the early phase, they would love to do it,” says Hass.

    “Unfortunately, most buildings where this would have made an impact are office complexes where the operators are not really concerned about keeping operational costs low for their tenants. Not surprisingly, most of the BIM projects today are hospitals where operational costs matter,” he says.

    The BIM roll-out in Australia according to Haas, is expected to happen in phases, with the first phase will involve working with the old processes but with new data, meaning the designers would be using real objects with attributes instead of placeholders. 

    “Essentially,” says Hass, “BIM is much more than data modelling. Much, much more.”

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