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What is Building Information Modeling?

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  • Written By: Kirsten C. Tynan
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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Building information modeling (BIM) is a process for electronically designing and experimenting with a building’s features and how they function before construction begins. Computer-aided design is commonly used to draft a static set of plans for a construction project, with a different model for each view. BIM goes beyond simple drafting by modeling the relationships between structural elements in a single design. Architects, planners, customers, and others can look at the model from many angles, both inside and out. They can experiment with design variations relatively quickly and inexpensively before any time or money is expended on actual construction.

In addition to providing three-dimensional views, BIM allows the design to be evaluated in other ways, such as in terms of time or cost. Virtual building components for such modeling are programmed with data that is relevant to design and construction of the project. Such data may include the cost of a component, the percentage of recycled content it contains, information on its warranty, and so on. This information can be used to evaluate the overall project or to optimize individual building parameters to best fulfill project requirements.

Product manufacturers may provide models of the components they supply for use by architects and engineers. When a manufacturer does not provide a BIM model, designers may use component information from data libraries. Alternatively, they may define a custom component with the details relevant to their particular projects.

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Architects and engineers are the primary professionals involved in building information modeling, but other professionals also work with BIM during the design and construction phase. For example, occupational safety and health professionals may use the model to evaluate materials and develop safety procedures. Estimators and buyers may access the model to quickly and precisely determine quantities and costs of materials. Code officials may utilize building information modeling to check compliance with local building standards.

Numerous professionals from many fields beyond building design and construction also make use of building information modeling. Financial professionals such as realtors, mortgage brokers, and appraisers may use a model for loan calculations and building value estimates. Security professionals may analyze the model to identify and correct vulnerabilities. Facility managers may rely on the model long after the initial construction of the building is complete to conduct routine maintenance or when planning renovations.

Use of building information modeling is not without its challenges. Collecting the large amount of information that is needed for numerous components is one of them. Not only is the quantity of information a challenge, but ensuring its accuracy is as well. On the other hand, it is necessary to exercise discretion so as not to overburden the model. Including all information available, regardless of is usefulness, would make the model overly complex and slow processing time whenever changes were made. Intellectual property ownership of component data and models is another complex legal consideration that those who use BIM must take into account.

In spite of these challenges, building information modeling has proven itself a boon in the process of designing and constructing buildings. It allows contractors to streamline costs and reduce waste by fixing problems identified in the model before, rather than in the midst of, construction. BIM also helps optimize the performance of building features, which is a great advantage in reducing materials and energy usage over the facility’s life. As building information modeling develops, it is expected to greatly expand opportunities for optimizing project management well before and after the design and construction phase.

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