Building Information Modeling (BIM) has driven a multibillion dollar paradigm shift in construction strategies, allowing firms working in every sector of the industry to build more intelligently and more efficiently. As a result of BIM, design teams, contractors and clients are collaborating more than ever before, using the same sets of information to communicate more effectively and avoid confusion throughout construction. The technology has become widely adopted around the world.
But how is BIM doing all of this, and what does it mean for data center construction?
The billion-dollar question; what is BIM?
BIM software helps to create digital models of construction projects. The result is a building information model, which serves as a centralized store of information about the building. This information can be accessed and manipulated by the various parties involved in the project, to help them plan or even predict how various decisions will affect the rest of the project.
BIM offers teams more complete information about the project before any action is taken by construction crews. Sophisticated programs allow companies to add additional information to the BIM model including schedule, cost, and even sustainability information through the use of notes and attached documents. A report by Dodge Data & Analytics finds that large percentages of contractors are using BIM to improve their operations, including 93 percent of HVAC contractors, 91 percent of plumbing and piping contractors, and 88 percent of structural fabricators.
With BIM, teams have access to a single, authoritative source of information for every part of the planning process. In practice, this gives each party in a project unprecedented advantages. Architects can demonstrate their ideas with a comprehensive model, while showing contractors exactly what scope that idea requires. Contractors can attach estimated costs and scheduling information to the model, in order to show architects and project managers the cost and time it will take to bring their visions to life.
Though BIM has been around for over a decade, recent advances in IoT (Internet of Things) and machine learning are generating renewed excitement about the technology. With these advances, BIM is likely to once again change the way that companies work on their projects in fundamental ways, creating exciting opportunities for companies doing all kinds of construction.
Using BIM on the job
Here is how firms are using this technology to increase productivity and efficiency at present:
Collaborative models: Companies are using BIM to give their teams freedom over individual aspects of a project, while automatically coordinating information so that those models are all using up-to-date information. BIM models can be immensely detailed, down to the physical characteristics of the components designers are manipulating.
This means that if, for example, you change the color or material used for a door or floor panel, that change will be reflected across all associated models. Not only does this eliminate version control issues every time a change needs to be made to one tiny portion of the project, but it also means teams are automatically communicating with each other each time someone makes a change and addition to the BIM model. This in turn means fewer meetings and fewer phone calls to get each department caught up on the activities of other departments.
Improved documentation: When documentation can be attached to a single multidimensional document like a BIM model, information is less likely to get lost. Every team — on or off the site – can have access to every piece of relevant information, whenever they need it. This improves clarity and transparency for the entirety of the project, and also allows information to be easily accessed after the job is complete. That data can then be supplied efficiently and easily in the case of audits or inspections.
Efficient information sharing: BIM offers an unprecedented way to share the vision for a project with investors and project owners. The extremely detailed modeling made possible by BIM programs means that project goals and progress can be related visually, and often without disruptive site visits or long meetings.
Additionally, when a comprehensive BIM model is created, it has utility long after the project is over. Information on building materials, the average lifespan of components and appliances, and even proposed maintenance schedules are easily accessible at any time on a BIM model.
Revenue and ROI: BIM wouldn’t be so popular if it didn’t make sense financially. A study by Autodesk on the impact of BIM in modern construction confirms that more than 80 percent of respondents had a positive return on their investment in BIM software, while another 14 percent at least broke even.
Respondents who were using BIM for more than 50 percent of their projects reported improvements to coordination of materials, quality/performance of buildings, schedule control and reduced project error. Additionally, the study found that BIM was helping a small percentage of firms improve ROI by reducing IT costs.
Making data centers simpler
Data centers are intensive construction projects. Their design needs to be exacting, and the infrastructure needs to be extremely robust in order to prevent critical machinery from losing power or becoming damaged. Not only that, but as data center technology increases in complexity with new cooling techniques and denser server racks, data centers will need to be built and maintained differently.
Modeling projects using BIM software is the first step towards solving problems associated with these new technologies, both before and after facilities are finished. Modern data centers can now be painstakingly planned before construction ever begins. Both the models and the data from these construction projects will be accessible long after the project is over, in a form much easier to find and analyze than a series of 2D drawings.
The information from those models can efficiently answer audits, serve as benchmarks for future projects, and even help reduce the costs of renovations when data centers need upgrades. With the help of BIM, data centers have become easier to build and maintain, as the demand and complexity grows in our modern, digital economy.
Source: Eoin Byrne is an Associate at Linesight, providing cost management services in the data center sector.