Building in the Fifth Dimension

October 20, 2006 · by Lonnie Cumpton

Re-visioning building design with Building Lifecycle Management

Re-visioning building design with Building Lifecycle Management

Technology plays a pivotal role in shaping the way building industry professionals collaborate, and the tenants of our expanding digital world need to change now or risk being left behind. This is especially true for the quickly evolving field of digital building design.

Building Lifecycle Management (BLM), based on Building Information Modeling (BIM), comprises a set of integrated design software tools and new workflows that allow designers to offer new services, preserve design integrity, and improve drawing collaboration and control. BLM will also force firms to adopt nontraditional ways of working together - and change is challenging.

"The challenge for senior executives in firms we work with is seeing how the building information model can extend throughout the entire building lifecycle, turning the design process into a highly collaborative endeavor involving construction and subs as well as owners," said Ashish Mistry, Vice president at RCMS Group, a services partner for architectural, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms. "The opportunities for providing new services outweigh the up-front challenges. We recommend that people take the long view and think about the steps they would need to take to implement BLM."

BIM - Worth Making the Change

Emerging in the past decade, BIM is more than just the sum of 3D modeling and object data parts. By enabling an integrated vision of a project and giving parallel and simultaneous access to all project members, BIM overcomes the most serious drawbacks of traditional building design based on 2D and 3D design software.

BIM integrates all relevant information in a digital format that is continuous, immediate, reliable, and computable. Aside from its technical features, BIM transforms traditional building hierarchies into dynamic working groups. In theory, BIM allows everyone involved in the building lifecycle - architects, engineers, contractors, developers, and building owners - to work together more effectively because they can view the digital model in different ways, seamlessly cross-referencing information from any stage while maintaining design integrity.

"With everyone in all our offices effectively using the same core software, integrated object and modeling technologies, we've been producing consistent drawings faster," said Rich Koblischke, Systems Analyst at Durrant Group. "The improved communications between coworkers, clients, and project team members have resulted in better coordinated projects and shortened timelines."

BLM - The Missing Piece of the Puzzle

BIM's undeniable usefulness can only be fully realized when paired with its dynamic sibling, BLM. Building Lifecycle Management is the logical next stage. It enables all the players in the lifecycle of a building to create, manage, and share information about built capital assets from concept to demolition or reuse. It delivers the long term big picture via an online project workspace. Everybody on the team, including the building owners, has electronic access to all the documents, regardless of location or time zone.

BLM also adds fourth and fifth dimensions to BIM. 4D enables automatic creation of construction schedules based on BIM and simulates 'what if' design choices prior to building. 5D allows accurate and multiple-scenario cost estimating and even construction scheduling against BIM. The major benefit of BLM is that all members of a given project have access to valuable, accurate information, and by using design and collaboration technologies strategically, BLM systems ensure a consolidated picture of all the functions of the building. Stakeholders have access to ongoing changes during the design and build phases, and can respond in a timely fashion. The result is unprecedented flexibility, control, and speed-before, during, and after the building cycle.

The bottom line benefits when all stakeholders are literally on the same digital page. Indeed, all players, from architects to engineers and developers, can make decisions by sharing information which in turn creates a synergy that pushes people to think ahead, moving the project forward faster.

What's Driving BLM?

There are powerful global forces pushing for faster adoption of BLM. "Client requirements for faster delivery, new General Services Administration standards, the move towards sustainable buildings and increasingly the competitive global building supply markets all give design firms impetus to move forwards with BLM," says Mark Haddad, Vice President at Avatech Solutions. "There's no question that companies adopting a holistic approach to building systems will lead and gain market share."

As the debate about the global environment continues, consumers and businesses alike are demanding more environmentally sustainable buildings. Through up-front planning and control, BLM supports the creation and maintenance of green buildings.

All told, timeliness, integrated planning and execution, fiscal control, and dynamic teamwork are characteristic of BLM projects. In the final analysis, owners benefit as much as anyone. They get the building they wanted, and they inherit the wealth of information that their building models have become. In the long run, BLM is even useful for real estate planning of a property. When clients demand it and competition ramps up with it, the message becomes clear: learn to play with BIM and BLM - or go home.

Lonnie Cumpton works in the Avatech Building Solutions Group to provide AEC customers with leading design technologies. Prior to joining Avatech, Lonnie worked in architecture as a technology consultant, designer, CAD manager and project manager.

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