Paul Brennan describes how building information modelling is revolutionising design processes by creating new workflows that are changing the way projects are planned, designed, analysed and constructed and subsequently facilities are managed


Author: Paul Brennan, virtual design & construction manager, BAM Contractors

The construction industry is continuing to suffer, mainly due to the banking crisis here compounded by the ongoing global economic crisis. Money and credit is not readily available. Many construction specialists are unemployed and are being lost to other sectors and foreign markets. Some house-hold named construction companies have been consigned to the history books. For the rest of us left in the construction sector in Ireland, times remain challenging; or in other words it’s akin to trading inside a warzone.

Notwithstanding this, the reality of the construction industry is that it has needed modernisation for many years. We presumably can agree that the wheels have come off in recent times, as they did during the difficult 1980s. A closer look at our industry reveals a story of little progress in improving methods and processes.

Higgins & Jessop (1965) described the then construction industry: “The basic decisions of construction control are often incomplete or unduly rushed because necessary information is not available sufficiently ahead of time, or is not complete enough. On many occasions, members of the construction team could, but do not, ease this problem by supplying the data that would facilitate the preparation of fuller and more useful information by others. Building construction is remarkable among industrial activities for the lack of detailed information about how it proceeds. Until more is known, there can be no basis for improvement.”

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Unfortunately, this point is as true today as it was in 1965. Where the automotive industry, for example, underwent a total transformation of its processes, construction remains much the same. Construction companies use some of the largest plant equipment ever manufactured and can position buildings and roads to zero millimetre  accuracy, but the truth remains that construction is probably the least efficient industry in the world – and has been for the last half a century.

Forward thinking in construction worldwide currently centres on building information modelling, or BIM for short. This is the cultural revolution that the construction sector has been waiting for. To improve the descriptive narrative of the acronym, it is best to describe BIM as building information management.


3D design image of a containment laboratory using BIM design software (click to enlarge)

The National Building Service in the UK describes BIM as “the process of generating and managing data about the building, during its life cycle. Typically, BIM uses three-dimensional, real-time, dynamic building modelling software to increase productivity in the design and construction stages.”

This definition for BIM reflects a practice that is initiated by the 3D design process. A geometric 3D model is the simple starting point of a fully BIM-enabled project. Once a 3D model exists, the design and construction teams can commence the data enrichment process of adding traditional data and the more technical meta-data. This strategic generating, gathering and storing of important data/information is what makes BIM projects more valuable and more successful than those using the traditional approach.

In truth, BIM is many things to many people. Designers, constructors, facilities managers and building owners can all view BIM as a way of improving traditional practices. Michael Smith from the National Building Specification writes, “BIM is a co-ordinated set of processes, supported by technology, that add value by creating, managing and sharing the properties of an asset throughout its lifecycle. BIM incorporates data – physical, commercial, environmental, and operational – on every element of a development’s design.”

BIM is a digital representation of both physical and functional characteristics of a facility. This shared knowledge resource provides information which can be used as a reliable base for future decisions made relating to this facility throughout its life-cycle. Autodesk describes BIM as “an intelligent model-based process that provides insight for creating and managing building and infrastructure projects faster, more economically and with less environmental impact”.

Simply, BIM has revolutionised the design processes by creating new workflows that are fundamentally changing the way projects are planned, designed, analysed and constructed and subsequently how facilities are managed.

The BIM design process demands front-loading the design on a project, which ultimately reduces the cost impact of any necessary or desired design changes. Traditional methods usually mean the design process does not peak until mid-way during a project, therefore allowing a significant cost impact with many design changes. The benefits of an efficient design process save money, avoid conflict and generally keep the peace.

BIM involves: producing an initial 3D geometric model; adding time-scheduling and design data to it; linking it to cost data; producing analysis simulations; further enriching the model with as-installed information; and finally, producing a detailed FM data source for the new facility. Throughout the build process, the federated model can be used for multiple activities such as traffic management simulations, temporary works, health and safety, snagging and commissioning. There is no end to the limits for which this valuable information source can be used. Collaboration between the many different stakeholders is the key to BIM success.


A real-life photo of the same containment laboratory (click to enlarge)

When it comes to BIM, there is a science behind the vision. The UK Government is a big endorser of BIM and sees it as a way of reducing costs on new builds, refurbishments and estates management. The BIM Task Group, established as a UK Government initiative, is progressing BIM implementation on projects across the UK by 2016. The task group is essential for the promotion and uptake of BIM.

The good news this task group is promoting is reaching many parts of the world, including Hong Kong and Ireland. It is essential that good information is available and the BIM Task Group’s website is a great starting point for anybody interested in the uptake of BIM.

The British Standards Institution has released PAS1192-2:2013, which is essential for the implementation of BIM to Level 2. The AEC UK (Architectural, Engineering and Construction sector) and the UK Construction Industry Council are other important sources of information for BIM protocols and standards.

Here in Ireland, the Construction IT Alliance is involved in much of the good work associated with BIM promotion and training. The Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland is developing a generic BIM Execution Plan, which hopefully will be published shortly. The Construction Industry Federation (CIF) is actively promoting BIM and training its members.

BAM Contractors in Ireland has recognised the valuable importance of adapting the BIM process. The challenging environment that construction faces means that companies who want to survive and grow need to be innovative and increase efficiency. Not since drawing boards were replaced by AutoCAD or electronic mail was introduced has there being such a cultural revolution affecting the complete construction process. Construction professionals have recognised the need for change and at BAM we are no different.

Much of BAM’s business now relates to cradle-to-grave solutions with more public-private partnerships (PPP) and design-and-build (D&B) contracts being tendered and won. Facilities management and the management of mechanical, electrical and plumbing installation works are growing areas of our current business. Strategically increasing our share of the PPP and D&B markets is paramount to growth and our success.

Clients demand value. BIM processes allow BAM to offer this from the pre-design stage right through to managing the facility. Value engineering solutions, cost saving options, programme certainty, logistics certainty can all be simulated and proved using BIM technology. The BIM way is the key to a modern construction industry with greater efficiency.


A lot of what has been described above refers to construction-based technology. ICT is important, but it comes second to the importance of people. BIM is often referred to as 80% people and 20% technology. BAM has invested heavily in its staff in recent times to develop BIM-capable personnel. Employees hold positions such as BIM managers, coordinators and technicians. The company employs Revit and Navisworks specialists. BAM provides a “Problem-Solving Desk” for design consultants, specialist suppliers and sub-contractors; this provides assistance on projects regarding technical issues and solutions.

BAM’s strategic plan for the coming years has BIM embedded within it. BIM is the future and BAM is committed to its full adoption across all sections of its business.

BAM is completing a D&B project for the Health Service Executive on the Cork University Hospital campus. This new building is the acute adult mental-health facility. The project is full BIM to Level 2, which means that all project participants will be providing defined outputs using a BIM and that the federated BIM itself will be managed as a series of self-contained models.

The project is in its infancy, but regular updates on the project teams’ trials and successes with using BIM will be provided over the coming months through a series of articles for Watch this space.

Paul Brennan completed his degree in construction management & engineering from Waterford Institute of Technology before joining John Sisk & Son’s project engineering department, where he worked on large-scale healthcare and pharmaceutical projects. Following time in Sydney working with Laing O’Rourke as a project engineer, he returned to Ireland where he joined BAM Contractors. Since then, Brennan has been a key team member in delivering projects for the retail, education, healthcare and aviation sectors. He currently heads BAM’s BIM Department and is the virtual design & construction manager for BAM in Ireland. Brennan is presently completing a masters degree in construction informatics, provided by CITA and Dublin Institute of Technology. O'RiordanCivil3D,construction,United Kingdom
  Author: Paul Brennan, virtual design & construction manager, BAM Contractors The construction industry is continuing to suffer, mainly due to the banking crisis here compounded by the ongoing global economic crisis. Money and credit is not readily available. Many construction specialists are unemployed and are being lost to other...