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By: Mark Senior on December 28th, 2020

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Looking Beyond BIM in Digital Construction

Construction Technology

Building Information Modeling, I think it’s safe to say, is one of the biggest developments in the construction space in the last 50 years. It gives building projects a central repository of information that helps keep projects running on time, to budget, and reduces the risk of costly errors such as clashing, among others.

While BIM adoption is growing, the U.S. doesn’t have a nationwide mandate for the use of BIM like other countries. BIM adoption got an added boost in 2020 due in part to the coronavirus pandemic as well as being a foundational technology that many other construction technologies are dependent on according to JLL’s State of Construction Tech: 2020.

The pace of technology, however, is only getting faster—and so even though BIM might feel like a relatively recent development in the traditionally slow-to-adapt construction industry, there’s already a world of digital construction software that goes beyond what BIM can do. In this article, I want to take a look at some of those new technologies and what they can do for AEC firms.

Reality Capture – Revolutionizing the Building Process

Reality capture is technically a blend of old and new technologies—LiDAR scanning, for example, was invented in 1961 but its application in construction is still relatively new. Simply put, scanners generate a 3D image of a building or space, called a point cloud. Using point cloud to BIM software designers can import these scans into existing building models, using them to generate highly accurate measurements, or highly accurate pictures of as-built conditions. Reality capture helps construction projects progress even faster and with fewer errors than using BIM alone, especially on projects such as extensions or redesigns, where the location of existing components such as strucutral members or pipes is important.

Visualization Tools – Improving Collaboration and Client Relations

I’ve written before about the potential of VR in AEC. Though not solely a piece of digital construction software, VR has great potential to help different project teams collaborate on a design—by showing to them in a space they can interact with. Clients can also see designs in VR, helping them understand the design, and consequently approve it, more effectively than a 2D drawing could.

Similarly, 3D printing holds promise as a tool for demonstrating designs in a more tangible way than drawings or computerized models. 3D printing has fast become a mainstream technology in the engineering world, and using it to generate physical models of BIM designs is a logical extension of the technology. More tangible than VR due to its physical presence, a 3D model of a BIM design could be used to look at floor plans, overall building designs, or even specific segments such as a plant room to eliminate clashes.

Additional BIM Dimensions – Augmenting Existing BIM With More Information

Most BIM models are what is known as 3D BIM, a collection of spatial data of the building. However, as BIM has grown in popularity and scale, people have added more dimensions to BIM.

United BIM offers a great definition of the different dimension of BIM, but simply put, each additional dimension adds more information on the building to the model, including timelines, cost estimates, energy consumption and lifecycle management. 7D BIM, the most advanced level there is currently, is really a blend of digital construction software and facilities management software, recognizing that the way a building is constructed can have a huge impact on its total lifecycle cost.

Digital Twins – Smart BIM

Digital twin technology combines IoT sensors, AI, and machine learning to create a model of a building that learns from the real-life building, and provides incredible insights into the building. IoT sensors throughout the building feed data to the model, providing similar insights during construction to reality capture tools.

Once the building is operational, those sensors can provide information on whether components are likely to need repair sooner than expected, or on energy consumption in real time, and can interpret that data to make predictions about the building’s lifecycle. It’s still early days for digital twins, but the potential they offer to AEC firms is huge—essentially, increasing the value of the data and models that the firm generates during construction.

Excited Yet?

Hopefully these technologies don’t feel like something out of a sci-fi film—most of them already exist, and are being used in the construction industry today. I appreciate some of them are much more advanced than standard BIM, and if you’ve only just implemented BIM this may all feel daunting!

If I had to recommend just one technology to adopt, I’d recommend looking at point cloud to BIM software, once you’re comfortable with your BIM software. It’s probably the technology that’s been most tested in the field of all those on this list, and the one that will deliver the greatest savings and opportunities for AEC firms who are comfortable with BIM and looking for the next innovation in digital construction software.

Whatever you end up doing, though, I wish you the best of luck embracing digital construction. There’s so much out there to look at, so many different ways that AEC firms can embrace digital to make their firms more competitive, that in some ways there’s never been a better time to be in this industry.

Mark Senior is a business director of PointFuse which specializes in converting point cloud to mesh. It also offers AEC software, as-built BIM, and virtual design software. He has been involved with PointFuse since its conception, shaping its development from bleeding-edge technology to the successful commercial solution it is today.

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