Technical Article

What is Building Information Modeling (BIM)?

April 22, 2021 by Muhammad Asim Niazi

Learn about building information modeling and how you can utilize it to design your facility.

Building information modeling (BIM) is a modeling technique for architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals to model every aspect of a building. The output of BIM is in 3D form, explaining each asset's component in its most basic form.


Considerations for Building Information Modeling

Building information modeling is not simply a 3D layout but a blueprint of a building's design. The blueprint then forms the building's basis that plant managers can follow throughout the construction cycle.


A graphic showing the potential technology with BIM. Image used courtesy of Siemens


In addition to 3D models, it also provides an information database that gives detailed information about basic building blocks. Listed below are some different ways you can utilize BIM to design and streamline your facility. 


Virtual Model 

Building information modeling creates a building's virtual model and depicts every part in a 3D format. The design team can conceive these properties and share its virtual model to collaborate on their feedback and input. 

The physical stage of construction only starts when all the stakeholders agree to the virtual design. Otherwise, design revision continues until agreed upon by all. In addition to virtual modeling, you can use several computer software techniques to create a digital blueprint of your facility. 


Computer Software

Building information modeling is executed in a computer environment, where the appropriate BIM software operates. The software files are interoperable by each division of the team with their relevant feedback and adjustments. Once the plant manager or designer has executed the computer software step, they need to make sure it's versatile. 


Adaptable to Changing Requirements

Building information modeling may adapt to changing requirements, even after the basic prototype is vetted, approved, and finalized. Change in the field variable will update the dependent variable without re-designing the entire prototype.


Autodesk offers various BIM modeling software. Image used courtesy of Autodesk 


This feature can help to save time and cost, as re-designing is a standard process when constructing large-scale buildings. Building information modeling does require some simulation and software techniques, but it varies from other simulation techniques such as digital twinning.


Are Digital Twinning and BIM Different?

Digital twinning and building information modeling are two different ideas that work in industrial development separate life cycles. Both are developed for entirely different applications and are for individual tools to benefit respective industry professionals. 

These two concepts are often confused together due to many reasons. First, some similarities, then we look into how they differ from each other. So it's common to think, how is BIM different from digital twinning?

One of the main reasons for this misconception is both are virtual. Both BIM and Digital Twin allow virtual creation of the scenarios that a system undergoes and enables testing the machine before they are practically applied.

Another similarity is that both use software to model the scenarios. They each employ different software simulation techniques for the real world, allowing them to simulate other input parameters to test the system's effectiveness and performance.

Both building information modeling and digital twins are research-oriented. They model different simulation techniques to obtain results that best match the optimized performance of the existing systems. Some factors account for are fault reduction, better cost management, and system improvement. 


Building vs. People

BIM applies for buildings in terms of planning and approval to actual creation. As soon as the construction of the building is complete, the BIM chapter is closed. 

For the most part, the idea behind digital twinning is to facilitate people. It establishes procedures that people use for the process optimization, new product development and develops any requirements procedures. These procedures help the people because it outlines the ratio of success and failures for a particular method, which are then used by the relevant responsible people to incorporate into routine procedures and operation.


Design vs. Operation

Building information modeling creates a building's virtual design before it starts construction. It visualizes the physical functions of the building by creating software designs. AEC experts then use these design parameters throughout the construction life cycle to materialize the design elements into an actual world entity. 


Vectorworks' building information modeling software interface. Image used courtesy of Vectorworks, Inc


Digital twinning creates a virtual model of the process operation by simulating actual operating parameters and methods. It enables performance metering on a factual basis and generates live data that gives a clear picture of what's happening with the process or the equipment. Using digital twinning technology, we can test and analyze different operation scenarios such as maintenance strategies and operation improvement before they are practically applied.


Time Dependency

BIM creates a virtual representation for the assets that, once approved and developed, cannot be changed and altered. If a model is created initially in the past, it does not evolve or change as time passes. 

On the other hand, the digital twin gives time-dependent design parameters that can change according to the time function. It provides feedback on the equipment's actual condition and how it reacts to the changing operational needs.


Advantages and Drawbacks of BIM

There are some advantages and disadvantages of BIM considered for its application before its uses. 


Enhanced Collaboration

Building Information Management allows easy collaboration with all the departments and people involved. With its advanced and innovative design, all the concerned persons are engaged in real-time, thanks to its cloud-based architecture.


Detailed Cost Estimation

With its ability to combine pricing data with physical information, BIM can yield better cost estimations on the natural ground than predicting un-realistically.


Updates and Changes

BIM allows for easy updating and change control procedures. Its property of automatically updating all dependent systems and entities updates all values and its description throughout the system.


High Cost 

The BIM tools are of a high cost compared to other tools and software available in the market, such as CAD. This high cost is one of the significant disadvantages, as the decision-makers are confused, whether they will get the Return on Investment or not?


Lack of Experts

Due to the skills gap and continuously evolving technology, there seem to be few engineers who are proficient in BIM. If you decide on opting for the BIM, you will have to invest in its training program for the in-house persons regularly.


Late to Adopt BIM

Many contractors and professionals have not yet adopted BIM as a planning tool. Instead, they rely on standard planning tools available in the market, such as CAD. It can be possible that one or more of your partners will lack the basic level of knowledge and working on the BIM.

It's important to note that BIM has more of a clear definition and digital twinning does not. It's relatively hard to make direct comparisons because the definition of digital twinning is not clearly defined. 

BIM appears to be a subset of digital twinning directly aimed at the building industry, whereas digital twinning covers all analytical tools and product data. Digital twinning is designed to understand the lifecycle of a product as a whole. 

Do you use BIM or digital twinning in your facility design and management? If so, how are these two concepts different or alike?