With many feeling that BIM development is stagnating, AEC Magazine asked Bricsys’ BricsCAD BIM product manager, Tiemen Strobbe, what disruptive technologies he thought will drive the industry’s toolsets
The construction industry — which encompasses real estate, infrastructure and industrial structures — is one of the largest industries in the global economy. It has a favourable growth outlook driven by global population growth, ongoing urbanisation and increased spending on infrastructure.
- However, despite being one of the largest industries in the world, the construction industry has some unfavourable market characteristics:
- A project-based building approach and bespoke projects with unique features have a limited degree of repeatability and standardisation.
A highly fragmented ecosystem, in which construction relies on coordination among specialised groups (including owners, contractors, architects, and engineers), resulting in limited economies of scale.
These market characteristics have caused the construction industry to historically underperform, typified by lagging productivity growth, slow innovation and digitalisation, and low customer satisfaction, as detailed in McKinsey’s 2020 report: The next normal in construction.
The promise of BIM
Building Information Modelling (BIM) is a process for using a shared digital representation of a built asset to ease design, construction, and operation processes to form a reliable basis for decisions.
Although the first BIM applications have existed since the 1990s, BIM adoption rates worldwide have reached just 60 to 70 percent in 35 years. Nevertheless, the promise of BIM for improving performance across the construction industry is high. We believe that the following emerging disruptions and future industry dynamics are expected to accelerate the adoption of BIM and the digitalisation of the industry: a shift towards off-site manufacturing, technological progress in Artificial Intelligence and increased collaboration possibilities.
Design for manufacturing: from projects to products
Modular construction has the potential to offer a more standardised, consolidated, and integrated construction process. Modular construction involves producing standardised components of a structure in an off-site factory, and then assembling them on-site. This approach can speed up construction by as much as 50%, whilst cutting costs by 20% in the right environment.
Whilst the concept of modular construction has been around for many decades, it is currently experiencing a new wave of attention due to changing customer perceptions, and advances in digital design, planning, and production technologies.
In several countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States and Japan, there is a renewed surge of modular projects, and it is expected that modular construction will increase in popularity in more countries soon.
As McKinsey wrote in its 2019 report: Modular construction: From projects to products, “Modular has had its moments before, but there is reason to believe its momentum is sustainable this time.”
Artificial Intelligence has the potential to improve the BIM design process through task automation, recognition of design intent and auto-completion of repetitive tasks, to name a few examples.
This trend will have a significant impact on how BIM tools are used during the design phase. Design decisions will need to be made more upfront, and designers will need to align their projects to the manufacturing process whilst focusing on the efficiency of manufacturing and assembly.
This design approach is often referred to as Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA). BIM tools that allow designers to bridge the gap between conceptual BIM design and manufacturing and assembly can significantly reduce the time and cost of the design period. Through automation and the development of libraries of modules for the manufacturing process as assemblies, the design process can be accelerated to an even larger extent.
Automation of manual work through AI
The interest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) for computer-aided design can be traced back to the 1970s. The architect and technologist Nicholas Negroponte envisioned a dynamic between human and machine that “would bring about ideas unrealisable by either conversant alone.”
More than 50 years later, the advent of big data, increased computing power, and cloud computing have made Artificial Intelligence (and its subdomain of Machine Learning) the BIM trend with the highest growth potential, according to the Business Advantage CAD Trends 2018-2019 report.
Artificial Intelligence has the potential to improve the BIM design process through task automation, recognition of design intent and auto-completion of repetitive tasks, to name a few examples. It is important that the AI tools act only as an assistant to the designer, and the designer can still reverse, overrule, or simply neglect any design suggestion as they wish. Some of the most interesting applications of AI in BIM include:
- Automatic classification of BIM elements
- Auto-completion of connection details
- Maintaining data integrity of models and drawings
- Automatic annotation of construction drawings (including tags, dimensions, etc.)
- Model and drawing clean-up
- Assistance in planning
Collaboration in the cloud
A shift from desktop to cloud-based services has taken place in many industries. However, cloud-based services for CAD and BIM are not yet widely adopted in the AEC industry. Nevertheless, there are strong future growth indicators for cloud-based BIM services, especially in addition to desktop BIM tools. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a shift in attitudes to cloud technology in the construction industry, and working with models in the cloud while working from home has had a positive effect on general work performance.
The most important aspects of working with BIM in the cloud are design collaboration, design review, and construction collaboration. According to the Business Advantage CAD Trends 2018-2019 report over half of the CAD professionals use the cloud for exchanging or collaboration with files and models, and half of them use the cloud for storing and reviewing files and models.
It is expected that BIM tools for collaboration can reduce the time and cost of the design period: These tools:
- Enable the possibility to trace back design changes
- Avoid conflicts and assign ownership
- Allow prompt and seamless communication during the design process
- Coordinate work across teams
- Support non-linear design flows, keeping track of multiple design options
- Facilitate last minute design changes
A good example of collaboration workflow can be found in the software development industry. In software development, many developers are cooperating on source code whilst using version-
control systems for tracking changes in files and coordinating work among
It is expected that such technologies will gradually find their way in BIM tools, if they are built for non-technical users, built for project workflows, and built for design change chaos.