BIM and AEC in 2018: Industry Leaders Weigh in
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on December 29, 2017 | | 14525 views

2017 was a big year for the buildings all around us, and thanks to building information modeling (BIM), there’s no doubt that 2018 will be too. To learn how it will be changing over the course of the next year, ENGINEERING.com reached out to experts from some of the leading firms in BIM.

Designers from Turner and Fleischer opted to use laser scanning to capture the structure of the building in order to have precise as-built 3D data to help them achieve the desired renovations and additions. (Image courtesy of Turner and Fleischer.)
Designers from Turner and Fleischer opted to use laser scanning to capture the structure of the building in order to have precise as-built 3D data to help them achieve the desired renovations and additions. (Image courtesy of Turner and Fleischer.)

Increased BIM Adoption

Vectorworks CEO Biplab Sarkar sees an increase in BIM adoption. “By the end of 2017, global design and BIM software developer Vectorworks, Inc., will receive more than 18,000 new software licenses, which isn’t typical for a CAD program,” Sarkar said.“We can attribute this escalated growth to the fact that we offer a robust BIM solution. Our BIM reputation coupled with the continued adoption of BIM worldwide is also contributing to our increase in sales. Our focus on openBIM is a major factor of our reputation because we’ve always supported open standards of design such as IFC, STEP, COLLADA and many other formats.”

For Vectorworks, this growth in customers comes from designers leaving the firm’s competition, as a result of its “Make the Switch” campaign, as well as a retention of existing customers.

But not every member of the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry is using Vectorworks specifically. The benefits of information-rich models for design and construction go beyond a single product. Aidan Mercer, industry marketing director of AEC for Bentley Systems, reflected on the benefits the technology is bringing AEC as a whole:

“The benefits BIM advancements offer can be experienced on projects of all types and sizes. From a technology perspective, a BIM strategy enables the integration of data-rich models and project information databases to build a virtual representation of a project and all assets. All stakeholders can access reliable information, making collaboration easier, reducing risks and improving return-on-investment.”

These benefits will continue to reach to more markets worldwide, according to Autodesk Vice President of Construction Products Jim Lynch. “In 2018, we believe we’ll continue to see BIM getting traction, gaining momentum around the globe, particularly as government owners mandate the use of BIM in places like Singapore and the United Kingdom.”

Stuart Broome, business manager of engineering at Trimble, argues that there are some issues to widespread adoption that will need to be overcome. Engineers are required to make 2D drawings for their clients, even if they design in 3D, leading to “dumb[ed]-down” information. Engineers are also contractually bound to produce “a full set of 2D construction documents that convey the design intent.” Broome also suggests engineers may be afraid of providing too much detail in models that would make them accountable if something goes wrong in a project.

“So, while interoperability is a key tipping point for widespread BIM adoption, the issues are less about the software and technology and more about contractual issues,” Broome said. “As the industry matures and constructible models become more commonplace, we think project teams will begin implementing a true BIM execution plan that states who will create a model, to what [level of demand] and how it will be utilized.”


Improved BIM

Naturally, another factor that would lead to increased adoption is improvement in BIM technology. BIM developers are continually improving existing tools and creating new tools.

Vectorworks, for instance, is investing in the “interactivity” of its product, according to Sarkar. In particular, the firm is working on its direct modeling capabilities, with which users can edit such objects as curtain walls, flat roofs or slabs just by dragging or stretching. Additionally, the Vectorworks Graphics Module has been revamped and, since the release of Vectorworks 2017, can be used for 2D top/plan drawing and offers smoother panning and zooming. These, Sarkar suggests, make for improved interactivity.

He also pointed to the integration of the company’s Site Information Modeling into its software, which makes it possible to generate contours and create site models that can be analyzed. In Vectorworks 2018, direct editing of the site model was introduced, and the company plans to further develop direct editing and sculpting.

Marionette is a graphical scripting tool. (Image courtesy of Vectorworks.)
Marionette is a graphical scripting tool. (Image courtesy of Vectorworks.)
Another trend that is starting to pick up in BIM is generative design. “[O]ur graphical scripting tool Marionette aligns to generative design, which we are seeing as a growing trend,” Sarkar said.“Most BIM software solutions don’t support free-form designs, so this is a competitive advantage for us.”
Multiple neighborhood layouts are generated using the tool. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)
Multiple neighborhood layouts are generated using the tool. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)
We also saw generative design demoed at Autodesk University, where Autodesk partner Van Wijnen used the technology to optimize neighborhood layouts to reduce project costs and increase sustainability.


Industrialization of Construction

Construction projects have historically suffered from waste and inefficiency, which necessarily have environmental impacts. Firms like Autodesk and Bentley believe that, in order to address these issues, the AEC industry should take a cue from the manufacturing industry.

Lynch believes that there will be greater industry adoption of prefabrication technologies, such as modular construction, which will in turn result in greater benefits in productivity, safety and sustainability, in terms of reduced waste. One tool that may aid in the adoption of prefabricated and modular components is ManufactOn, which enables project stakeholders to track prefab components throughout the construction and delivery phases. You can read about Autodesk’s investment in ManufactOn on ENGINEERING.com.

ManufactOn provides visibility for the general contractor to see where prefab elements and materials are in the production supply chain. (Image courtesy of ManufactOn.)
ManufactOn provides visibility for the general contractor to see where prefab elements and materials are in the production supply chain. (Image courtesy of ManufactOn.)
Part of the industrialization process includes digitizing as many components as possible for the design and construction of buildings and infrastructure, according to Mercer:

“Undoubtedly, for project delivery, the ability to industrialize BIM will provide not only better delivery, but also better quality because components and workflows will be fully digitized. Firms will require a full ‘going-digital’ strategy to remain competitive, and owners will require full catalogs of components. Digital components will be reused across BIM workflows in design modeling, analytical modeling, construction modeling and asset registries, covering engineering disciplines and right through to asset performance.”

Bentley offers a range of software tools and services for the industrialization of construction through its connected data environment, shared between ProjectWise and AssetWise, which now includes Components Center, ContextShare, ConstructSim Completions and iModelHubcloud services. Altogether, these tools are meant to aid in project delivery and asset performance.

Closely related to digitizing components and prefabrication are new tools for AEC manufacturing. Lynch pointed to large-scale 3D printing and robotics as technologies that will see a growth in adoption in the AEC industry in 2018. Will they go mainstream? “Absolutely not,” Lynch said, “but I think you’re going to see some really amazing advances in those technologies that will set the stage for the future.”


Reality Capture

Also related to increased digitization is reality capture and reality modeling. Mercer explained the concept succinctly:

“Reality modeling is the process of capturing existing site conditions through digital photographs or point-cloud data—now widely adopted by infrastructure professionals across infrastructure project delivery and asset performance. This technology describes the potentially continuous capture of infrastructure assets’ as-operated conditions and processing them into engineering-ready reality meshes. It also describes the infrastructure assets’ ‘enlivening’ for immersive interaction.”

Using the real-world terrain on which a structure may be built, such as a railway corridor or mountainous terrain, it’s possible to have a “reality mesh,” as Mercer described it, around which to design AEC projects. Through the acquisition of Acute3D’s ContextCapture technology in 2015, Bentley has situated itself well in the reality modeling space.

The Eiffel Tower captured with ContextCapture. (Image courtesy of Bentley.)
The Eiffel Tower captured with ContextCapture. (Image courtesy of Bentley.)
Autodesk, too, is a leader in the space. Lynch concurred that 2018 will see an increase in the use of high-definition photography and laser scanning, as well as drones, on the construction site.

“We’ve seen some of our customers use drone technology to fly around the construction site and compare the results of what the drone captures with the digital model to find out if the work that was planned today was completed,” Lynch said. “With the data, they can look for inconsistencies between what is actually being built versus what is planned.”


Mixed Reality

Reality capture is also linked to mixed-reality technologies, such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). While drones and laser scanners can capture site data, VR can allow project stakeholders to immerse themselves into the project. AR makes it possible to map models onto the construction site or perform maintenance and quality control through on-site data collection.

Broome said that adoption of these technologies will increase in the near future due to access to affordable and high-quality software. “With the ability to experiment with mixed reality, project teams will find new ways to use it for interpreting physical and digital information and the spatial relations between them,” Broome said. “Mixed reality will have a significant impact on the AEC industry over the next few years. The technology addresses some of the industry’s main inefficiencies during the design, construction and operation stages. Integrated with quality construction layout software and using 3D BIM models as a main data source, it improves communication, tightens workflow integration and enables real-time collaboration with remote teams.”

Broome also described how mixed reality is being implemented on the construction site. “While years of education and practice might train architects to visualize their designs in 3D, other stakeholders have a hard time deciphering them,” Broome said. “Using mixed reality, stakeholders can walk around and explore the design in real 3D without the need for an expert to guide them and dictate their point of view.”

Vectorworks sees the value in all of the aforementioned technologies, with Sarkar saying, “When we look to the future of BIM technology, we’re investing resources in AR, photogrammetry and cloud-based workflows, among others. Vectorworks released VR technology a couple of years ago, and now we are adding AR to the mobile app Vectorworks Nomad. Photogrammetry-based workflows will also be supported through Vectorworks Cloud Services.”


Big Data

Reality capture also ties directly into how all of this data can be used for smarter construction. Lynch referred us to BIM 360 IQ, which collects all of the data from previous projects to provide information on how to pursue subsequent projects.

At Autodesk University, we also learned how, not just drones, but on-site cameras can be used to capture real-world data to monitor safety conditions, taking snapshots of the site to ensure that everyone is wearing safety equipment or using sensors to detect hazardous events and help evacuate staff. 

This concept grows to encompass infrastructure, in which sensors built into public structures can be used to monitor the overall health of equipment overtime. The concept can then be enlarged to cover entire cities.

Dassault Systèmes, for instance, has developed its 3DEXPERIENCity initiative, in which it has worked with territories such as Singapore to provide location-wide BIM data to stakeholders.

Severine Chapus, cities initiative director at Dassault Systèmes, hopes that information-rich modeling will expand from BIM to city information modeling in the near future.

CO2 emissions from a construction project estimated within the virtual Rennes. (Image courtesy of DassaultSystèmes.)
CO2 emissions from a construction project estimated within the virtual Rennes. (Image courtesy of DassaultSystèmes.)
Sarkar sees the development of smart cities tying into the adoption of BIM in developing countries. “BIM will become more prevalent in the developing countries and emerging economies,” Sarkar said. “If we look at what is happening in Southeast Asia, in Singapore or in India, more and more smart cities are being planned for. The idea is to have coordination between different subsystems that make lives for the citizens better and more comfortable. And BIM will play a major role on that front.”

Lynch believes that, if smart cities and next-generation infrastructures are going to be developed, BIM and private actors need to be included in the development process.

Referring to the Trump administration’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan, to be proposed in 2018, Lynch said, “I don’t think we can continue to look forward to pay taxpayer money to support infrastructure. I think there’s a significant opportunity for technology to play a role in the design, engineering, construction and operations of this transportation proposal. From our perspective, digitized construction with BIM will be a part of the conversation for the first time.”

It should be noted that there have been issues with privatized infrastructure policies in the past, in particular associated with members of the Trump administration. Trump’s infrastructure plan is modeled after the privatization plan implemented in Indiana when Vice President Mike Pence was the state’s governor. According to International Business Times’ Lydia O’Neal and David Sirota, Pence’s plan in Indiana resulted in “months-long construction delays, allegations of financial mismanagement and a surge in traffic accidents” before the state’s most recent public-private deal ultimately collapsed.


Accessibility

In order for BIM to take over whole cities, however, it may need to become more accessible. Chapus, from DassaultSystèmes, suggested that, now that BIM has become widespread for larger businesses, it will need to also be available for smaller firms. 

“One of the challenges is to switch to what we call a marketplace approach,” Chapus said.“BIM for large construction companies is almost done. They have it. They know how to do it. It’s going to be mainstream. In construction, you’ve got plenty of very small companies, and for them, it’s still a challenge. So, we have to rise up to improve the level of BIM for these smaller companies so that they are able to use it.”

Chantale Pitts, director for Cadsoft Corporation, echoed Chapus’ sentiments. “For almost 20 years now, there has been a drive to have BIM be the engine to innovate our industry and it has stalled,” Pitts said. “We have finally come to the realization that BIM can only be a driving force for change and innovation if everyone from the homeowner to the painter can collaborate on BIM models and their projects easily.”

For Pitts, the issue lies in how difficult most BIM platforms are to use. This inherent difficulty means that it is harder for multiple stakeholders to collaborate on a project. “Collaborating in an environment that is simple, so everyone can get involved, is the true key for BIM to be at the center of the change in our industry moving forward,” Pitts said.“A BIM model doesn’t have to be a large complex monster, but must be capable of easy manipulation of relevant content, that takes advantage of artificial intelligence, and must be in an online environment, so that everyone can get involved at any stage.”

To overcome these challenges, Pitts sees new web-based technologies merging with BIM so that BIM will not just provide intelligent models “but [serve] as the hub of residential projects.” Simplicity and web-based technologies will further drive millennials to push the industry forward “by encouraging, if not demanding, that users share and contribute to designs and confirm decisions in an online environment.”


Interoperability, Integration and Collaboration

Perhaps also hindering the evolution of BIM is interoperability and integration. Some tools may be less adept at importing data from other solutions, while others may feature numerous different pieces of software that aren’t well connected.

Speaking to the first point, Broome highlighted developments in analysis and design (A&D) software in BIM. Because structural engineers may require specific solutions to perform structural A&D, interoperability between BIM and structural design software will become increasingly necessary. Naturally, Broome pointed to Trimble’s A&D solution, Tekla Structural Designer, which has a physical model and a wire frame model work together, making it easier to incorporate into traditional BIM tools.

Lynch focused on integration. He believes that, in 2018, there will be a greater demand for integrating the various pieces of software used at different points in the design in the construction process.

“There is this idea of having one app for cost management, another disconnected app for project management and another disconnected app for model management,” Lynch said.“We think there’s going to be a strong demand that these things are all integrated more tightly together.”

Autodesk is attempting to address this with the BIM 360 platform, which will connect the various BIM 360 apps in a single, common data layer. The software will be available in limited beta before going live next year. Ultimately, the software company also aims to integrate its other AEC apps, like Revit, with BIM 360 as well.

Mercer discussed the issues of disparate data, as well. “All the large volumes of created data are often siloed and, in many cases, unusable,” Mercer said. “Infrastructure projects are multilayered and vary in complexity. We see it particularly with collaborating disciplines, where the work is interconnected with thousands of asynchronous decisions and changes for material choices, design, aesthetics, structural integrity, safety, rework and operations, just to name a few.”

Mercer argued that attempts to create a “single source of truth” in the world of BIM is not sufficient “because the data would soon become dark.” Mercer explained, “The future resides over the potential of a BIM model that can manage change and synchronize work in infrastructure projects. In the simplest terms, users of a BIM model don’t necessarily want to know why something is the way it is; they need to know how it got there.”

Bentley aims to address this problem with the iModelHub, a cloud service that stores the timeline of a project’s changes. As a result, the history of a project is managed through digital engineering models.

The ability to connect software solutions or BIM data leads to improved collaboration. Bentley’s vision for collaboration involves ProjectWise CONNECT Edition, a work-sharing solution that connects partners and team members to everything necessary, from the planning through the construction and operations handover phases of a project.


Conclusions

Reviewing the numerous developments occurring in BIM and AEC technology, you can feel the nitty-gritty of these software companies introducing novel technologies such as reality capture and VR or addressing such concerns as accessibility and interoperability. The goals are, of course, to make better software and meet client needs.

We might hope that, while this is happening on a business-to-business basis, these developments are contributing to something larger than, say, the construction of an individual building or the expansion of a single software company’s product line.

Lynch often points out, when talking about the AEC industry, that humanity is expected to grow by another 2 billion people in the next 20 years. Most of those people will be living in urban environments, meaning that the infrastructure of cities will need to grow quickly to meet that demand.

Adding to Lynch’s point is the fact that climate scientists are now warning that we have until 2050 to solve climate change or else the atmosphere will face irreversible changes that make the planet uninhabitable to animal life. Christiana Figueres, the former United Nations climate chief who oversaw the creation of the Paris Agreement, estimates that, to reach that goal, we have to start lowering global temperatures by 2020.

If humanity hopes to support 2 billion more people, while simultaneously lowering global temperatures and generating net-zero energy by 2020 and 2050, respectively, our AEC industry will need to change and quickly.

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