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Building Information Modeling (BIM) and the Russian construction industry

In spite of the significant productivity gains in the manufacturing industry since the 1970s, the construction industry continues to suffer from inefficiencies on a world-wide basis. According to research conducted by the Center of Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE) at Stanford University, while the productivity in all non-farm industries has more than doubled during the period from 1964 to 2004, the efficiency in the U.S construction industry has actually declined during the same period. Similarly, a survey conducted by the Real Estate Advisory Services of Ernst & Young CIS also shows the budget and schedule overruns that are typical indicators of low efficiency are a norm rather than an exception in the Russian construction industry. This article discusses the potential efficiency gains of Building Information Modeling (BIM), an emerging information technology in the construction industry and the integrated project delivery approach made possible by BIM. The article also discusses challenges to BIMís more widespread use and its implications for the Russian construction industry.




B. Kagan Ceylan

(Original article published in RWAY Information-Analytics Bulletin on Russian real estate in July 2010, No.184, p.169-171)

In spite of significant productivity gains in the manufacturing industry since 1970s, construction industry continues to suffer from inefficiencies on a world-wide basis. According to a research conducted by the Center of Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE) at Stanford University, while the productivity in all non-farm industries has more than doubled during the period from 1964 to 2004, the efficiency in the U.S. construction industry has actually declined during the same period. Similarly, another survey conducted by the Real Estate Advisory Service of Ernst & Young CIS shows that budget and schedule overruns that are indicators of low efficiency are a norm rather than an exception in the Russian construction industry.  

Emergence of computer integrated information technologies in 1970s and their rapid development henceforth created new opportunities in all aspects of engineering product development. While automation facilitated by the integration of computer aided design (CAD) and computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) have essentially made product development and production essentially a virtual process with integrated design development, procurement, production, and quality control, until now construction process has remained to be a labor intensive, fragmented with numerous stakeholders and paper-based in principle. Recent tools, such as internet based project platforms and databases, also helped little to improve these widespread performance problems in the construction industry on a world-wide basis.    

Decades after the CAD-CIM revolution in the manufacturing industry, an evolution of a similar integration and automation process is finally gaining momentum in the advanced construction industries across the globe. Information technology based tools, methods and software are now becoming a reality with more and more success stories. These tools, methods and software automate the construction process to a great extent and virtually integrate all phases of a project lifecycle, including the design development, procurement, construction, quality control and facility management on a single platform bringing all project stakeholders together to work collaboratively in a similar way to product development in the manufacturing industry. This automation and integrated platform is often called building information modeling (BIM).

Building Information Modeling (BIM)

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is an integrated information system that provides a single platform for all project participants to build and exchange information. This virtual platform provides a common language for each project participant (e.g. designers, contractors, vendors) to exchange information that contributes to the virtual design of the building. Unlike in traditional 2-D building design, which represents a building with polygons and lines, in Building Information Modeling (BIM), building designs are represented with smart 3-D building objects.  These objects, also called as element classes (e.g. walls, windows, electrical fixtures, and so on), creates a set of relations (e.g. distances, angles) and rules (e.g. parallel to, attached to) governing the interrelationship of the building elements. Through complex software tools these building elements are assembled virtually according to these relations and rules while observing and correcting potential conflicts and errors.  These parametrically interrelated building elements can be assigned information such as their geometry, spatial location, structure, function, performance data and other characteristics. For example, a lighting fixture in the design can be assigned material color, a reflection coefficient, texture and so on. Such information can then be shared, built upon and improved by the owners, contractors, designers and others to create a collaborative work environment. 

Benefits of BIM

Virtual Reality for Constructed Facilities

A design software can receive this data and easily build a 3-D design of the building in which the owner, contractor and other project stakeholders can virtually walk through the facility at the design stage. This way property owner can see and feel the designed facility and suggest any changes to the design early in the project when such changes are not too expensive to implement.     

Streamlined Procurement and Construction Processes

The BIM also facilitates incorporation of new applications, technologies and practices into various phases of the project delivery lifecycle, from improved procurement to quality control to construction cost and duration reduction to improved integration of facility management. Digitizing the construction design, procurement and management systems on the BIM platform and linking all suppliers together with contractors, subcontractors and other project stakeholders into this platform automates data transfer and allows them to detect variations and defects before costly design changes or rework would be necessary to correct the problem. For example, in a high rise building construction projects conducted by Samsung Co. in downtown Seoul, each steel structural element communicated in real time with the project’s information management system from the time they were manufactured. This was made possible with radio frequency identification tags, which are similar to electronic chips that can remotely transmit and receive various data, attached to each structural element. Such an accurate coordination of the procurement process streamlined the procurement and construction processes by allowing the contractor to install each structural element in place as soon as they arrived, reduced schedule duration and costs, while eliminating the need for large storage areas within the site, a typical problem at most construction sites located in the city centers.  

Improved Schedule and Cost Control

Another example for the automated integration of construction management processes with real estate development is four dimensional computer aided design, 4-D CAD. 4-D CAD tools integrate 3-D construction design with the construction schedule by linking each construction element (e.g. columns, slabs, equipment and so on) in the design to the appropriate schedule task(s), thus adding the time dimension to 3-D construction designs. This linkage makes it possible to visualize the assembly of the building elements already designed in 3-D in synchronization with the construction process planned by the contractor, which is represented by the construction schedule. This visualization serves as a consistency and constructability checks of the contractor’s planned construction process by allowing the contractor to detect possible logical errors in its construction schedule or question alternative construction solutions if the visualization reveals that the planned sequence is not practical (e.g. if the construction schedule assigned too many different crews at the same location at the same time). Similarly, the cost dimension can be added to the 3D design elements, thus extending the BIM to 5D by assigning the cost of each elements of the 3-D design. This integration can produce the cash flow of the construction process on the go in synchronization with the 3-D design and schedule throughout the construction stage.     

Change Management

Because all building elements are parametrically (spatially) related to each other on the BIM platform, when a change is introduced into an element, all other elements adjust themselves automatically with the help of smart software tools. Because all other processes of the project (e.g., schedule, cost, procurement) share the same platform, related changes by different project participants (e.g., designers, suppliers, contractors) can be made and shared in various parts of the design and construction plans much easier, faster, and more accurately.

Improved Facility Management with BIM

Unlike the traditional practices, which typically involve handing over of numerous paper based and digital 2-D drawings showing the as-built state of the facility by the contractor(s) to the facility managers, the building model developed and processed on the BIM platform provides an invaluable accumulation of data providing the history of the as-built state of the building systems for the facility managers at no additional cost.

Improved Design for Sustainability

The increasing number of green buildings designed and constructed requires much greater communication among the project participants and calculations during the early design phases. Similar to the sustainable construction practices, because BIM also requires a high level of collaboration early in the project, it also provides a convenient platform for sustainable design and construction. For example, energy use calculations to ensure the building can achieve the necessary credits under energy efficiency requirements of BREEAM, LEED or other certification systems can be more conveniently performed and design changes, if necessary, can be carried out faster on the BIM platform to meet the requirements of such certification systems.

Organizational Challenges to BIM

Despite the accelerating evolution of BIM technologies, the potential savings and other benefits of BIM require some new ways of working. For example, BIM requires significant front end design and construction preparations and collaboration with the participation of designers, owners and the contractors in order to achieve the above mentioned savings later. In the Russian real estate market fast track development is typically the preferred project delivery method of the developers. Therefore, developers should adapt the mindset to invest time and effort for front end preparations to reap the benefits later.  Also, in order to achieve the true benefits of BIM internal systems and tools of major project stakeholders should be compatible. For example, if the owners and designers work with a 3-D BIM platform, while the contractor is still using 2-D drawings and is unable to integrate its schedule into the BIM, the drawings and all other related BIM outputs should be downgraded back to the contractor’s existing systems, possibly adding time and cost, and the benefits of BIM for construction planning and management would not materialize. Many design firms and some large international contractors already have these capabilities at least partially or can develop them rather easily. In the absence of these capabilities, one time investment of time and resources may be necessary to develop and align these capabilities among the project stakeholders. This investment can pay off pretty fast in large complex engineering projects, where cost of inefficiencies can spiral out of control easily. Not surprisingly, BIM is already being implemented in some large, complex energy projects in Russia as an innovative project delivery system. Similarly, BIM can also create a competitive advantage for long term partnerships among owners, designers and contractors in the case of repeat projects. Consulting firms can assist the owners in this process by facilitating development of these capabilities and partnerships.   

Potential Cost Savings in Real Estate Development with BIM

Despite the current barriers for BIM to become a common project delivery system in the Russian construction industry, potential benefits are expected to overcome these barriers eventually. According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) of the U.S., the inefficiencies in managing the construction process can be as high as $60 per square meter for new construction. Although we are not aware of any such statistics for Russia, in the Russian construction industry, which is typically characterized by fast track approach and poor collaboration among the owners, contractors, designers and local inspection organizations, this figure can be even higher. According to a survey conducted by the Real Estate Advisory Services of Ernst & Young CIS, budget overruns can be as high as 30% for most projects in the Russian market with the root causes typically related to poor organizational effectiveness, design development and project delivery practices, which can be effectively addressed by the implementation of BIM. This figure does not include the indirect losses of the developers, such as lost revenues due to delays and costs associated with disputes due to cost and budget overruns. Potential savings with BIM also include contractors’ internal budget contingencies, often times ranging from 5% to 20%, that are typically hidden in their bids for anticipated inefficiencies due to poor coordination with other project stakeholders, elimination of design conflicts, poor project governance, ineffective change management and others.  For example, it is estimated that 6-15% of construction cost is wasted due to defective components detected belatedly during construction for various reasons. All these inefficiencies can be alleviated or eliminated by the successful implementation of BIM and cost of real estate development can be reduced significantly. With increasing numbers of success stories in the advanced construction industries and the clear example long has been set by the manufacturing industry across the globe, its emergence as a widely accepted project delivery system in the Russian market eventually is also inevitable.

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