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As the push for greater productivity intensifies in the construction industry, it’s becoming increasingly important for contractors and their many project delivery partners to see building information modeling in a new light. Traditionally regarded primarily as a design function, BIM must instead be the center of a broader delivery methodology centered around project collaboration and data management that unlocks greater levels of visibility and efficiency across design, delivery and even maintenance activities.

As it stands, effective and comprehensive model management can be challenging not just because of mindset but also due to limited collaboration, a reliance on multiple applications, missing integrations and other factors. This leads to uncertainty, misunderstandings and inadequate access to accurate models, which increases the risk of costly errors and project delays.

One critical key to addressing such challenges and expanding the role of models is the use of a true common data environment (CDE) for project participants, enabling everyone to easily and collaboratively manage up-to-date models. Project-wide model coordination drives productivity with faster processes and cycle times, enabling a single source of truth for project information and the ability to deliver a comprehensive and fully connected data set at handover for asset operation. This approach adds multiple dimensions of project information and intelligence to models as activities unfold in real time, improving project execution and communication. For example, a model-centric delivery approach enables seamless class and design issue management and resolution.

This is not an abstract vision. Many forward-thinking contractors are already embracing these strategies, so expect the industry to continue heading in this direction in the long term. 

BIM—the Enabler for the Digital Twin

The model-oriented methodology working within a CDE enables project managers and participants to create a digital twin – a compiled, virtual digital copy of a physical construction site or asset. A digital twin typically contains 3D models, which then link to relevant data such as products, descriptions, maintenance information, etc. This data collection can contain information from all stages—including plan, bid, design and construction. This is the prerequisite for a high-quality digital twin for handover to operations.

Increased emphasis on using cameras, laser scanning, mobile applications and other technology to capture data and visualize a construction site model will further enable digital twin capabilities. The consideration of 4D (scheduling data), 5D (cost data) and 6D (project lifecycle information) BIM enable new areas of optimization. This is especially the case with 6D, and the use of sensors for energy regulation and consumption, assessment of room and working place availabilities, and preventive maintenance, enabling a required continuous link between the digital and physical asset. These opportunities will bring new solutions to light that will help to further mitigate risk, reduce errors, improve quality, increase productivity and manage budget and cost issues. New services not even imagined today will become reality.

There are three key steps to creating a digital twin for a BIM project:

  • Define data consumers. Identify who will consume information that is contained or associated with the model, including cost, schedule and dynamic asset information. Contracts, third-party agreement (TPA) approvals and configurable workflows are an important part of this stage, as are materials tracking and management, equipment utilization, earthwork, safety monitoring from site photo analysis and worker sensors. This will consider interfaces between human to machine, but also machine to machine use cases.
  • Create intelligent models. Advanced modeling strategies begin with planning—especially the question of purpose. It can then continue across the life cycle in the form of advanced work packaging, workface planning, handover and operations, and maintenance. This process involves efficiently performing, maintaining and storing all communication, review, and deliverable processes associated with the model throughout the project lifespan. 
  • Handover. Handover between and within the design, build, and operate phases tends to be an immense and complicated task. This changes frequently and demands hundreds of hours of administration, as scanned assets may not include the design or construction information. The future of BIM will see self-serve and dynamic delivery to the consumer integrated as part of the deliverable.

The concept of the digital twin has been discussed for nearly 20 years, but what owners truly desire—the dynamic exchange of data and information bidirectionally between the physical and virtual space—has only recently been implemented. These approaches ensure the value of the created data because it’s always current and as such can deliver a substantial return on investment over time if executed properly.  

Standards Driving the Future of BIM

To continue the evolution of the BIM methodology, it’s critical to develop standards across the industry’s entire supply chain. Wider adoption will enable higher collaboration, productivity and creativity for all stakeholders, but this will only happen when BIM is open to everyone relevant to a project and it is focused on data and delivery, not just design. Standards and open formats (i.e. openCDE) are critical for improving interoperability. The use of a true CDE will be key to efficient and effective model management as part of the next generation of BIM project delivery for a high-quality digital twin.


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