Many industries have experienced unprecedented disruption due to the new challenges and uncertainties brought on by the pandemic. For the construction industry, this has meant new project start dates have been delayed, ongoing projects paused, and the digitisation of certain construction practices stalled.
As efforts refocus, 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, organisations will need to incorporate these changes into their business to help the construction industry progress.
The data relevance revolution
Industries as a whole are often too focused on digitisation simply for the sake of going digital. The construction industry should be concentrating on what they can realistically do with the information they collect and should prioritise which data is most relevant and beneficial to specific use cases. This relevance-based approach will be key to using digital information to perform key cost and time-saving functions such as automated cost estimation and benchmarking, and will become a focal point for the use of BIM.
Digitisation, including the promise of data-driven insights from machine learning (ML) and AI may be exciting, but first an organisation must identify the potential benefits to a project in more detail. This might be a long transition phase, as some organisations will progress while others take more time to sift through data and navigate the fragmented technology landscape.
Data quality and embracing digital twins
The focus on digitisation will expand how the industry is currently working with BIM, common data environments (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.) with a right-in-time connection. For the construction industry, digital twins can play a profound role in how owners manage built assets, how consumers interact with these structures.
Digital twins will become far more prevalent in the coming months and years, but BIM – in a 3D context – alone is not sufficient enough to develop a digital twin. With the introduction of a 4D simulation, a process that synchronises data and the geometry of a project with the project schedule, this will provide the needed context and chronology to create simulation scenarios of the digital twin. This will allow all stakeholders to visualise the construction phase in a virtual environment, amplifying the traditional BIM process as we know it. In addition, the product and asset data have to be collected and linked in planning and commissioning. They are the foundation of a digital twin for operations.
High data quality is fundamental to this approach. The future will bring strides to improving the quality of data we capture, store, share, and analyse. The success of digital twins depends on this, and will require a closer collaboration of two categories of solutions and platforms:
- Those that focus on operations, maintenance, asset management, and facilities management – Asset Information Management (AIMS)
- Those focused on architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) solutions- PIMS
With modern platforms, companies will be better able to manage and process higher quality data much faster and easier. For example, the use of filters while uploading data considering IDS, IDMs, can apply rules to data that has already been captured, adding criteria to the schedule and zoning of the data, as well as engaging in more consistency checks. We can even expect to see clash detection and resolution across construction projects with BIM in a CDE, an integrated cloud environment.
Improving standardisation and openness
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 standardisation 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.
We’ll also see the next iterations of the BIM Collaboration Format (BCF) and Industry Foundation Class (IFC) in 2021, as the industry looks to standardise across exchanging information. These will move to BCF 3.0 – allowing different BIM applications to communicate model-based issues with each other; and IFC 4.3 – to extend the IFC schema to cover the description of infrastructure constructions within the domains of Railways, Roads, Ports, and Waterways.
There will be a continued focus on the areas of deployment, transparency, and predictability in the standardisation processes. With construction project budgets likely to be tighter, the benefits of the BIM methodology – such as cost reduction, quality improvements, and optimisation of processes and resources – will drive more of a focus on BIM, on the digitalisation of the whole process for other areas including better design, operations and maintenance functions. It becomes the standard methodology how to run projects.
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 APIs. Non-proprietary data standards will be deemphasised 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!
Written by Frank Weiss, senior director of new products, BIM and Innovation at Oracle Construction and Engineering