4D building information modelling is rapidly making inroads into the construction industry, combining 3D geometric representations of a building with scheduling information. The benefits for project management and oversight are clear, but how does the software really differ from what has come before? We explore what this fast-emerging technology might mean for CEOs planning their next facility.
Opening a new facility is an unquestionably exciting moment for any business. However, the process typically requires some surrendering of control. Once a building design has been agreed upon, and a schedule determined, there is only so much the owner can do to ensure the project is on track. Some businesses may simply choose to accept delays - along with the associated cost issues - as an unfortunate but near-inevitable part of life.
In recent years, however, the tide has begun to turn. For anyone who's been keeping an eye on trends in the construction industry, the term 4D building information modelling (BIM) will already be familiar. This fast-emerging technology adds a fourth dimension - time - to BIM software tools, meaning it is possible to combine scheduling with 3D modelling. It is starting to generate a real buzz inside and outside the construction sector.
While the concept itself dates back over a decade, only recently has adoption picked up pace. According to a survey by McGraw Hill Construction, total BIM usage climbed from 28% in 2007 to 71% in 2014, with users experiencing higher ROI, faster production, improved safety and fewer liabilities.
Threes and fours
3D BIM models serve an important purpose, enabling all parties to see how the finished project will look and how it will interact with the surrounding environment. However, they do not provide much indication of how this vision will be realised.
4D BIM, by contrast, allows participants to visualise progress throughout the entire project life cycle. The technology fosters transparency and collaboration, ultimately increasing the profitability of a project.
At the start of development, the construction company can present the owner with a proposed 4D schedule or even a 4D animation, demonstrating how the building will take shape. Further down the line, it is possible to monitor workflow via a real-time knowledge database, ensuring all scheduled tasks are completed on time and to budget.
As and when problems do arise, it's possible to identify them far earlier and bring participants together to fix them. For example, if the construction team falls behind on their deadlines, decision-makers can quickly assess their available resources, budget and personnel, and work out what can be done to compensate.
This fulfils a crucial function in claims resolutions. If there has been a delay in construction, 4D BIM leaves nowhere to hide, allowing all parties to visualise the projected timeline for building next to what has actually occurred. The model supplies a data repository for all decisions, which will remain accessible far into the future. According to Ben Nolan, a director with forensic analysis consulting firm Berkeley Research Group, the ramifications could be radical.
"In 35 years of construction work, I have not seen change happen so rapidly and [a technology] adopted so quickly as I have with the adoption of 4D," he commented at last year's Construction CPM Conference.
Safety by design
One further benefit is the ability to combine cost-awareness with innovation. Typically, where budgets are tight, there is a tendency towards risk aversion, as mistakes may prove too costly to rectify. 4D BIM, however, takes away the fear factor. Because all details are worked out virtually, rather than in the field, project coordinators have scope for some truly cutting-edge thinking.
4D BIM is a term we will be hearing far more in the years to come. As the advantages become more apparent, it is becoming integrated into the very fabric of the construction industry, with important implications for project management. Could poorly coordinated building projects soon be a thing of the past? CEOs planning their next facility should watch this space.