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National Research Council expert explains fact and fallacies of building information modeling

0 83 Technology

by Greg Meckbach

Shafee Ahamed, research officer for the centre for computer-assisted construction technologies at the institute for research in construction of the National Research Council, delivered a presentation on building information modeling (BIM) at the Construct Canada conference and expo. He explained how BIM expands on computer-aided design (CAD).
Johnathan El-Tenn of Capital Safety shows off some of the most popular equipment at their showroom booth at Construct Canada at the Metro Toronto convention Centre. The event featured conference sessions on a variety of topics including building information modeling and computer methods in construction.
Johnathan El-Tenn of Capital Safety shows off some of the most popular equipment at their showroom booth at Construct Canada at the Metro Toronto convention Centre. The event featured conference sessions on a variety of topics including building information modeling and computer methods in construction.

Construct Canada

As site owners contract more projects using the design-build-maintain model, the use of building information modeling (BIM) software is changing, according to a construction technologies expert with the National Research Council.

“More questions are being asked up front (such as) how a building will be maintained in 10 years,” said Shafee Ahamed, research officer for the centre for computer-assisted construction technologies at the Institute for Research in Construction of the National Research Council.

Ahamed made his remarks during a presentation titled “Facts and fallacies about BIM” at the recent Construct Canada conference and expo, which organizer MMPI claims is the largest construction trade show in Canada, with more than 23,000 attending in 2010.


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Ahamed started by comparing BIM to computer-aided design, or CAD.

“With the CAD world, it basically changed the tools, meaning we switched from the process of paper-based drawings to electronic,” he said. “That’s all we did. The representations are still the same.”

For example, he said, CAD software uses lines to create a wall but BIM uses tools known in computer jargon as “objects.”

“CAD changed the tools and BIM changed the process,” he said, noting that BIM tools enable more intelligence and collaboration.

“Let’s say you had a door on a wall. If you remove the door, the cutout on the wall is not going to move in the CAD world.”

But BIM takes CAD a step further by introducing collaboration, coordination, space planning, estimation, clash detection and detailing. It also does four-dimensional (4D) modeling (which is 3D with time added) and 5D (which is 4D plus cost estimation).

He included a slide naming major BIM vendors, including Autodesk Inc., Bentley Systems Inc., Nemetschek AG and Trelligence Inc.

Ahamed said he does not recommend one tool over another, but he did say smaller contractors do not necessarily need the same tools as architects and contractors. Interoperability standards allow different software packages to share information.

For example, CIS/2 CIMsteel integration standards are used for structural steel, while COBIE (construction operations building information exchange) is used by facility managers.

The most common standard, Ahamed said, is IFC, or Industry Foundation Classes, published by buildingSMART International Ltd.

“It is possible to get information out of the BIM model without using the same tools that the other players are using,” Ahamed said.

He also addressed several popular perceptions of BIM, some with which he agreed and others which he refuted.

He agreed that BIM represents a “paradigm shift” because it is changing processes in addition to tools.

However, he disagreed with some people’s perceptions that BIM is only for “technology-savvy” users and that it is only for companies doing a high volume of business.

He also agreed with the perception that there is some loss of productivity, especially when BIM is first brought into an organization and people have to be trained.

But gains later on can more than offset what you lost initially, he said, with features such as collision detection, scheduling and cost estimation.

Companies can also save money because the coordination, communication and collaboration functions help reduce the need for face-to-face meetings.

Before implementing BIM, companies must identify targets, Ahamed said.

“Do you want to speed up project? Reduce cost? Increase quality?”

They must also understand the information and workflow.

“What is the input coming to you? Where is the output going? Who do you get information from? Who do you give information to? Try to spend some time in understanding this process.”

Construct Canada was held Nov. 30 through Dec. 2 concurrently with HomeBuilder & Renovator Expo, PM Expo, Concrete Canada and the DesignTrends Pavillion. Next year’s show is also scheduled at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre Nov. 28-30.

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