BIM: a building revolution
Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology provides the building industry with augmented vision, a collaborative support system and a tool for optimising financial and technical resources. BIM does not revolutionise buildings themselves but it enables avatars to be created so that buildings can be designed, operated and, ultimately, demolished, in the best possible conditions. It is an innovation that is boosting engineers’ creativity and helping them meet their precision-focused goals.
By Albane Levieux – Head of Assystem’s Building & Infrastructure entity
Everything starts from the design phase of a new build. In an operating context marked by the fight against climate change, a quest for energy savings and high vigilance in the face of all forms of attack, constructing new buildings and infrastructure has become particularly complex. These projects now involve new materials, enhanced automation, smart devices and new energies and are subject to a much stricter and more specific regulatory framework. Consequently, each project needs an increasing number of players. All of these factors mean that agility and teamwork are essential for overseeing the construction projects of both today and tomorrow.
Ability to identify problems upstream and optimise costs
What BIM actually involves is a 3D digital model whose data is input by architects, engineers, structural design offices and other participants working on the design of a building. A long way upstream, and before the first structures are laid, BIM enables virtual models to be created and therefore all of a building’s dimensions to be visualised. This means that analyses and simulations can be performed at a very early stage (related to structure, energy, compliance, technical interfaces etc.) in order to detect any problems before construction begins and therefore improve the quality of the design. Regularly updated by the various project participants, this type of digital model also helps to more effectively control costs and respect deadlines.
Thanks to BIM and the 3D visualisation it offers, the building is made virtually before it is actually constructed. In other words, we create its avatar. For example, Assystem’s engineers performed the technical synthesis – i.e. compiling all of a building’s services – for the Station F business incubator building in Paris. We started from the 2D plans drawn up by the architect Wilmotte and then modelled the whole building and its services, with everything that needs to be placed inside an existing structure. That meant we were able to see very early on that the positioning of the main shaft carrying all of the fluids into the building wasn’t suitable. We were therefore able to make changes upstream and avoid cost overruns during the actual build.
This revolution under way in the building sector is similar to that seen in the automotive industry a few decades ago, with 3D design and the ability to scale and modify the design by inputting data. BIM is radically changing how we build and is introducing more collaborative working methods.
Virtual, scalable and collaborative
Buildings and their design need the expertise and experience of engineers. With BIM, an engineer’s work can be compiled and consolidated – and not just upstream of a building project either. The model is enriched with data input by the various trades during the whole construction phase, which means that the building site can be better organised and each type of intervention more effectively coordinated.
Thanks to BIM we can collect and interconnect all of the technical data provided by the project’s different participants. Everything is input into the digital model in real time, such as data about surface claddings, fluids, vibrations or the integration of smart devices, to give just a few examples. And of course, BIM is connected up to all the software available today about surfaces, ventilation, acoustics etc. in order to achieve real interoperability.
And lastly, BIM enables a building’s digital model to evolve in real time. Once the construction is finished, the client not only has the building itself but also its digital clone, with all of the data about the building’s equipment and systems.
An ideal playing field for engineers
The innovation underlying BIM is the fact that the model can be used as a data base. It can cover all of the phases of a building project, from design and construction through to operation and maintenance and, ultimately, demolition.
For both young graduates and the most seasoned engineers, the deployment of BIM tools – which are still in their infancy – is a real boon. In a sector as well-established as the building industry, this game-changing technology is bringing a breath of fresh air and paving the way for new types of buildings and uses.
Young engineers are arriving on the scene at a time when there is still progress to be made with BIM but when very few new-builds are envisaged without using this technology. There is still room for improvement in the ways it is used. For instance, the systems used by the 3D model for calculating and automatically exploiting data could be further enhanced in order to bring to life amazing structures designed by talented architects. Engineers’ skills and creativity will therefore be at the forefront when it comes to constructing the housing, stadiums and other buildings of tomorrow’s towns and cities. As Gustave Eiffel once said, “Whatever branch you have chosen, if you focus on progress in your future life, however minimal it may be, it will do widespread good.” Fast tracking to the present time, engineers now need to have confidence in their ingenuity and creativity more than ever before.