The benefits of building information modeling for investors, owners, and operators
The way a building is designed and constructed directly impacts the costs to operate and maintain that building over its entire life cycle. Therefore, real estate investors and building owners have a big financial and operational stake in how these processes are done. In that respect, building information modeling is something you need to know about.
Over the last 20+ years, little has changed in this industry and many studies have shown that innovation growth has remained at a very flat pace. A report by the World Economic Forum concluded that the “Engineering & Construction sector has been hesitant about fully embracing the latest technological opportunities, and its labor productivity has stagnated accordingly.” Clearly, it is time for a change.
When I entered the construction business 20+ years ago, it was a transitional time when much of the work was still paper-based. In the interest of time and efficiency, I resisted developing estimates on paper. Instead, I used AutoCAD to draw the project in 3-D and linked it to an off-the-shelf project scheduling tool effectively combining cost estimation and project scheduling via simple Visual Basic code. It was rough, but served the purpose at that time.
– Khaled Fakhuri
As building developers plan new projects, controlling costs will always be a top concern. Many factors affect the final cost of a building, and some can fluctuate widely. For example, throughout the pandemic, the price of most building products has continued to escalate. Softwood lumber has risen in the U.S. by almost 80% compared to only a year earlier.
Labor also represents a major percentage of construction costs, and this is where finding efficiencies can make a big difference. Though the industry has been slow to move, there has been one emerging trend that is making a positive impact: building information modeling, or BIM. More about a few methods to increase tool life.
Better design = better construction and operation
bimspot describes building information modeling as a “3D model-based process [that] gives architects, builders, engineers, and other construction professionals the ability to work more efficiently and effectively. This covers planning phases as well as managing buildings and infrastructure.”
Though BIM has not been widely embraced as quickly as some had hoped, bimspot reports that BIM is being increasingly adopted by governments and major design and construction firms around the globe. The reason is simple: BIM offers a wide range of benefits to stakeholders across the building life cycle.
Benefits of building information modeling
- BIM improves building design. BIM creates a combined digital model of the building structure and all its internal systems. There are also building energy modeling (BEM) tools for helping choose the best materials and design to optimize the energy efficiency of a structure. Advanced ‘generative design’ uses AI-based machine learning to suggest design alternatives to the designer. Given the right inputs, this can save tremendous amounts of time in laying out different aspects of the building, as well as delivering optimized design choices that the designer alone may not have otherwise conceived.
- BIM saves designers and contractors time and cost. Design can be very manual, tedious, and repetitive. BIM saves time by automating design steps using known rules and established processes. Information about all systems is captured within a digital workflow. Detailed, accurate digital models are shared with everyone involved in the design-build process, which encourages collaboration and avoids duplication. BIM also includes cost and time dimensions that help building contractors more accurately estimate costs and more efficiently sequence construction.
- BIM reduces risks. By sharing accurate information, all parties can catch and correct any errors and omissions in design documentation. Having accurate component and system information enables ‘clash detection’ that reduces conflicts among mechanical, electrical, and structural aspects of the building. United BIM Group explains how this helps “architects and contractors eliminate chances of multi-level design changes which can result into budget overshoot and delay in project completion time.”
- BIM simplifies facility and energy management. Beyond guiding design and construction, the final building model becomes a ‘digital twin’ that can help facility, maintenance, and energy management teams optimize building operation. A digital twin provides accurate details about each infrastructure and all-important assets, as well as a building’s expected energy performance. Equipment can be located faster, complete with operational, diagnostics, and historical data. Integration with power management – such as solutions – enables predictive maintenance and reduced response time to operational risks, while energy consumption per zone, floor, tenant, or equipment can help in allocating and optimizing costs.
Adding the missing piece to building information modeling: detailed electrical design
Building information modeling is still evolving. To date, most BIM projects have not included enough detail for electrical system specifications, as the data integration steps have been too onerous. Without complete electrical system information, the building model is either incomplete or inaccurate. This limits the contractor’s ability to manage project cost and time for the electrical infrastructure and limits the value of a digital twin for a building’s operation and maintenance stages.
Fortunately, new tools like LayoutFAST – a web-based application and a plug-in for AutoDesk Revit – are helping easily integrate electrical system designs (e.g., one-lines, busways, etc.) and component specifications (e.g., physical, electrical, energy, costs) into BIM. This improves the completeness, consistency, and accuracy of BIM plans, helping all stakeholders improve speed, efficiency, and risk mitigation.
More detailed electrical system data also feeds the BIM AI engine for more accurate and effective generative design, saving time in laying out electrical rooms and distribution systems. Further time savings come from tools like LayoutFAST that automate many aspects of electrical design. For example, with the click of a button, a designer can generate an electrical schematic such as a one-line diagram or riser diagram that shows where all electrical equipment is in the building, or even place busway hangers without the need to manually calculate distances between each hanger.
Mindy Thomas, BIM manager for McDonald Electrical Corporation, appreciates the efficiency that electrical design automation offers. “LayoutFAST is so easy to work with and saves us a lot of time. It gives us a competitive edge, makes us look good [and] could potentially help us get future work down the line.”
A more accurate electrical design within BIM also flows forward into the build phase. It can be imported into a project lifecycle management solution like MTWO, helping support estimating, bidding cycles, and scheduling.
The bottom line? The benefits of BIM and tools like LayoutFAST for designers and contractors ultimately translate to better building projects that are delivered on time and budget, with the infrastructure and performance expected by the investors, owners, and operators. They are also delivered with an accurate digital twin that can help facility teams reduce energy and operational costs while boosting sustainability and resilience.
Therefore, when planning your next building project, you should seek out forward-thinking design and contracting firms that are using BIM tools and are partnering with companies like us that make it easy to integrate optimized electrical system specifications into BIM.