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Building Information Modeling: Why BIM Matters to Product Manufacturers

Apr 2014

In order for architects, engineers, interior designers and other design professionals to effectively and economically solve design problems for their clients, they rely on an array of tools (many of them electronic) with which to write, draw and communicate.

CAD

An important drawing tool emerged within the construction industry some years ago as a result of earlier research and development done in the aerospace industry. It was CAD, or computer aided design. CAD dominated early on because it automated the drawing process, making it easy to change and reuse information on the plotted page. It reduced errors and, for the designer, liability. It also reduced the labor costs associated with drawing. Clients began to demand it and the fact that CAD saved everyone time and money meant architectural firms intending to maintain a serious commercial presence in their profession needed to automate and adopt it.

The first iteration of CAD was all about two-dimensional drawing. These 2-D CAD files are made up of vector data that essentially shows where a line begins and ends, how thick it is, etc. The future building and its components described in the CAD drawing are broken down into representations (plans, sections, elevations, details) that are flat. They can be plotted on paper and they look pretty much like hand-made drawings produced over a hundred years ago.

But as computers became better, faster and less costly to acquire and use, the software was improved to enable designers to draw in three dimensions. After all, we live in a 3-D world and the advantages of 3-D CAD became instantly obvious. The 3-D data could be “viewed” just like a cardboard model so the designers and their clients could easily visualize what the building was going to look like, to experience it first hand, and to make changes and improvements before any construction money was spent.

The next step was using 3-D models to analyze building designs, predicting how they would consume energy, react to climate and influence the lives and activities of building occupants. In fact, architects have long known that the best architecture doesn’t come from drawings, it comes from models. A relatively inexpensive digital model, residing in a computer, had the potential to be a tool unlike any other that had come before it.

BIM

A recent development in electronic tools has been Building Information Modeling, or BIM. The National Building Information Model Standard Project Committee uses the following definition:

“Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. A BIM is a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle; defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition.”

And Autodesk, one of the main software publishers in the industry and long-time promoter of BIM defines the technology this way:

“Building Information Modeling (BIM) is an intelligent model-based process that provides insight for creating and managing building and infrastructure projects faster, more economically, and with less environmental impact. Autodesk BIM software includes a comprehensive portfolio of solutions for design, visualization, simulation, and collaboration that uses the rich information in the intelligent model to inform better decision-making and break down the barriers to better business.”

BIM involves representing a design as combinations of 3-D BIM “objects.” These objects might be a room, a door, a window, a piece of furniture or a huge air-handling unit. Each object may be moved, modified or otherwise manipulated to serve as a building block in the larger 3-D model that will become the building. Furthermore, each object can carry a stream of data such as information about its geometry, physical and performance attributes, part numbers, maintenance information and defined relationships to other objects.

BIM design tools allow for various views of models of the building, for producing drawings and other uses such as energy and day-lighting analysis. The different views are automatically consistent, since they are based on a single digital definition of each object. And since BIM objects are defined in relationship to other objects, if a related object is changed, dependent ones will automatically change too. Think of a door being moved along a wall, and the light switch next to it being moved along and repositioned automatically. Because each element within the model can carry selection attributes, tasks like cost estimates, material tracking and even product ordering become simple enough to accomplish.

Many manufacturers are beginning to offer BIM libraries of their products to support the modeling and drawing efforts of the architects and designers who select and specify their products. These models can be proprietary and brand specific, or they can be generic in nature, provided through an industry trade association. In any case, these libraries can reduce or eliminate the time required by the design team to prepare objects needed for their design and documentation work.

BIM has great potential value across the building life cycle, from design through construction and into the operational phase of the building’s life, all the way to demolition. Manufacturers who are engaged and support the implementation of BIM by providing needed information to design firms and the BIM modelers who support them, stand to benefit by being selected and specified more often.

It’s important for product manufacturers to stay connected to developments in BIM as they can change quickly. Be prepared to provide detailed information about your product not only to design firms but also to the BIM modelers. Some aspects of providing all this detailed, proprietary information may seem uncomfortable at first. Welcome to the world of transparency; free and open access to information. Whether it is simply a color or style number, product dimensions, installed cost data, maintenance requirements, or sustainability-related labeling information, your information will be helpful to the process. Keep in mind that since having access to this important information is intended to deliver better, more efficient and sustainable buildings, everyone stands to benefit including the product manufacturers who can help make it all happen.

Learn more about BIM by visiting Autodesk.