Buildings are amongst the most complex things produced in the modern economy; and construction projects are amongst the most complicated forms of human organisation. This combination demands that the quality of information on which projects are based should be of the highest possible standard. This is not possible in conventional construction, in which design is based more or less entirely on the use of dumb, line-based, two dimensional drawings. Almost all of the major shortcomings of the construction industry derive directly from this fact. Ray Crotty’s book focuses on the two most fundamental of these deficiencies: the failure to deliver projects predictably: to the required quality, on time and within budget; and the failure of most firms in the industry to make a survivable level of profit.
The problems associated with the use of drawings as the basis of building construction include, in particular, the fundamental lack of trustworthiness and computability of drawings. Every drawing on a project, and every document derived from each of those drawings, must be checked and appraised in detail before they can be used as the basis of any decision or action. No drawing-based document may be taken as true – correct, clear, consistent, coordinated and complete – as it stands. High and demanding levels of human expertise and judgement must be applied to every document before it can safely be used. And the information that documents contain can be re-used in their recipients’ computers only by being re-keyed, or re-entered in some other wasteful, error-prone way.
Building Information Modelling (BIM) presents a dramatic opportunity to change this way of working. The BIM approach involves the creation of ‘intelligent’, computerised, 3D building models, which can share and exchange the information they contain using efficient, secure, ‘hands-off’ techniques. No human intervention or judgement is required. BIM models are created by inserting precisely specified, digital components, at precise locations and orientations, into computerised 3D models. Each model component corresponds with a physical component in the real building. The digital components are intelligent in the sense that they ‘know’ how to behave and how to interact with each other – so (at least in theory) it is impossible to build the model incorrectly. The completed model – with all components properly coordinated with each other – can be used to generate drawings and other view forms, and ultimately to be used a perfect digital prototype of the building it is intended to represent.
The huge improvement in information quality that BIM brings about will transform construction in the same way that other industries have been transformed by improvements in the information on which their operations are based. Retail was transformed by EPOS systems and related technologies; manufacturing by CAD/CAM and associated systems. Most of the major sectors of the modern economy have, in one way or another, been transformed through information. A similar future awaits construction with Building Information Modelling.
The use of BIM – effectively perfect information – will transform the operation and structure of the construction industry. Such a transformation will obviously be important and hugely beneficial here and now; it will be even more important, and potentially much more beneficial, in the context of a global construction industry that is going to create upwards of 800 city-size conurbations over the next fifty years.