A BIM dimensional rift

Coming from a technology industry, Building Information Modelling (BIM) has a large amount of technical lingo, acronyms and abbreviations. But the poor use of language is increasingly causing confusion and poor outcomes.

4D, 5D, 6D & 7D: When software vendors jumped on the BIM bandwagon, their marketing teams went into overdrive creating wording to excite customers. Flowing on from 2 dimensional (2D) drawings and 3-dimensional modelling (3D), they came up with 4th (time) and 5th (cost) dimensions. Snowballing down the BIM hill, enthusiasts decided the 6th and 7th dimensions were an obvious addition. In further digging, I've come across BIM titles up to the 11th dimension!!!!!

So what does 4D, 5D, 6D and 7D mean? How is it defined………..?

The first problem; depending on what source you read, the meaning is slightly different!!!!!

is linking a construction programme (work schedule) to the model (or part model), to generate a construction programme (time) simulation. These simulations may be very simple (just showing basic staging) or extremely detailed (including all work tasks). 4D “may” include Clash Detection of the construction programme (including temporary works), and it may also be used to help in construction scenario planning.

5D is adding cost on top of 4D, i.e. integrating costs into the construction programme simulation,
or it may be the extraction of quantities from the model, and link them a costing table;
or potentially, a combination of both. There are other uses of the BIM for assisting in cost management (e.g. value engineering, temporary works costing and construction scenario costings).

6D is using the model for ongoing facility management (Life-cycle management),
or it may be using the model to analyse sustainability and/or environmental impacts. The use of this term depends on which source you look at. Some web examples: 

Link 1
Link 2

7D is facility management, and/or asset management. However again, precisely how it is used in facility / asset management is not defined. It may be simply as a record model for future construction works, or it may be directly integrated into one of many facility / asset management applications, to track ongoing facility operations and maintenance. Potentially, there are many ways a facility/asset manager could use the BIM.
So, are you confused now? There’s more!

Introducing Physics; it seems BIM enthusiasts have little grounding in physics. 4D to 10D has been already allocated:

4D is space-time. I'm not a theoretical physicist, but in my understanding 4D is a key item in the Theory of Relativity (Einstein 1915). In this theory, time is not a constant, and can be altered by velocity (i.e. travelling the speed of light). When your velocity is close to the speed of light, time slows down. Travel faster than the speed of light and you start to go backwards in time.

5D to 10D, are used within String Theory (1969), to explain physics before the Big Bang (i.e. the universe creation). It includes multi-universes and the potential of travelling between them.

Utter Confusion: Thus, when we add up all the above, if people are to use the BIM terms; 4D, 5D, 6D & 7D, they are unknowingly; regurgitating  software vendors marketing teams, calling up deliverables with little to no definition, and using words which have already been taken by the science world.

The Point: One of the greatest challenges our industry has, is a clear understanding of BIM; how it can be leveraged and how it can be requested/specified. Even if we ignore all of the above; using words which are vague, un-defined and technically incorrect is not helping anyone. In moving forward, BIM language should be clear, concise and understood by all parties. After all, a key philosophy of BIM, is better communication. 

Collaborative BIM – Planting the seed

BIM Marketing: In the Building Information Modelling (BIM) realm, there are many buzz words and unfortunately “Collaboration” is one of them. It is as if the meaning has been lost in the hype to an extent, in reading text abstracts you would assume there was no collaboration before BIM. Let’s start from basics. In simple words;
Collaboration: is the act of working with another or others, to achieve something.
So building owners, builders and designers have collaborated since humanity moved out of naturally made shelters into man-made structures. Thus, the bigger question is; what “degree” of collaboration construction project teams are achieving! Don’t assume just because BIM is used, there is good collaboration. During my time in the industry, I have seen projects with a strong collaborative environment, despite the project being delivered in non-BIM capable software*. Yet, today on some “BIM projects” I have seen, the collaborative outcomes are questionable. Don’t fall into the trap to think if you are sharing “the BIM**” you are collaborating.

Definition: To share my understanding of “collaboration” in a typical project team, it may include vocabulary such as:
  • team players
  • concise communication / dialogue
  •  team cohesion
  • cooperative environment
  • Problem-solving and foresight
  • shared objective
  • team perspective
  • roles and responsibility execution

Team Building: If there is one example of a secret agenda all team leaders (and thus BIM Project Managers) should have when starting a project is Team Building.  Bringing together a new team for the first time may include personality conflicts, egos, lack of trust and suspicion. Collaboration cannot take place in such an environment.
When working in Ireland, the significance of team building appeared to be understood, and Team Building activities (outings including social activities) were just part of project establishment (the major project I partook in).  It made real differences to professional relationships and dynamics within the team.
At project start-up, team building outings may not always be available; however the concepts of its function can be explored.
  • Nobody knows everything. Everyone has the right to contribute
  • Listen and understand. Ensure full comprehension of an idea before decision-making
  •  Process feedback. When proposing new processes, offer a comments and feedback period. If the process is shot down the condemning party must give a documented alternative process to meet the goal. (Note: all parties should thoroughly test new processes before rollout.)
  • Simple communication. Avoid acronyms and technical jargon
  • Don’t assume knowledge. Define and scope concepts before implementation
  •  Establish project outcomes. Comprehension of project goals will help focus people
  •  Task delegation. Sharing tasks are far better for team building

Success: When it comes to “collaboration”, BIM is a technology led process, which can help greater understanding/communication. However, unless the project team collaborative environment is established up front, BIM outcomes and deliverables can be affected. Scheduled, recurring and well organised/run BIM coordination meetings offer a stage for productive collaboration to take place. From that, regular electronic communication, telecommunications and shared desktop informal meetings add an extra forum to collaborate.
In moving forward I see far greater challenge in process change, and not technology change. We also need to ensure the technology does not get in the way of collaboration. When it comes down to it, a balanced approach will result in the greatest success.

* BIM capable software is and application which has the potential (if executed appropriately) to take part in BIM Processes. The software would typically include some of the following characteristics:  Spatial, Metadata, Object based and/or Parametric.

** The BIM. The BIM is the digital Building Information Model. It can refer to part of the model (e.g. a discipline specific model) or the aggregated models (Federated model).

A new BIM Blog

Back in 2008, I start a Revit Blog site called “Revit Fix”. I had used Autodesk’s Revit Architecture for a few years by then, and blogging about an application is a great way to better understand it (when blogging, any incorrect statements are typically flagged very quickly, by our wider community).  The blog was thus a fantastic way to master an application.
At the time is very fascinated with the application and it was a way of sharing my “Fixation”, thus the name. However, I’m will aware all technologies have some shortcomings. The blog logged any bugs or “issues” I could reproduce. Following over 100 post entries, time commitment to progress the blog further became difficult. I also outlived the original passion. Revit is a building design and construction model-authoring tool (one of many). It can carry out some great functions, but it is a small part of the bigger solution.

I hope in moving forward, my new blog “BIM Fix” will question processes, workflows, assumptions and legacy deliverables which limit and restrict progress. BIM (Building Information Modeling) is only ever as good as the weakest link.