Tech briefing: How will BIM evolve in 2021?

The disruption experienced by the construction industry last year was unprecedented, and ranged from ongoing projects being paused, to project starts being delayed, to stalled progress around the evolution of some construction practices such as Building Information Modelling (BIM).

So, what does 2021 hold for BIM?

We believe a focus on BIM will be around data relevance. There will be increased effort to think about data and information exchange requirements, with organisations identifying what project information they most need and why. This relevance-based approach will be a key use of digital information to, say, speed up an automated cost estimation or for benchmarking.

The industry will look to identify the actual benefits of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) to the organisation and/or project. Some organisations will move quicker than others because the industry is so fragmented. Either way, data relevance will be key, with employers (or exchange) information requirements (EIR) taking on even more importance in 2021.

Data quality and digital twins

Digitisation will expand how we’re currently working with BIM, common data environments (CDEs), and digital twins, bringing a greater appreciation of the value of digitising the physical world. In construction, this means creating digital representations of physical assets to continually improve how we’re developing those assets.

Digital twins will become more pervasive in 2021. However, assets need to be captured in their context alongside 4D simulation and time elements added to information in BIM to be sufficient to develop a digital twin.

In 2021, the success of digital twins will depend on improving the quality of data we capture, store, share, and analyse. This will require two categories of solutions/platforms:

  • Those focused on operations, maintenance, asset management and/or facilities management; and
  • Those focused on architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) solutions.

Modern platforms will use filters to enhance the quality of uploaded data and also apply rules for data that has already been captured. Such technology will also add criteria to the schedule and zoning of the data, as well as engage in more consistency checks. We’ll even see model clashes being resolved in a cloud environment.

Standardisation and openness

Standardisation advanced in 2020, with the digital twin working group within buildingSMART producing a positioning paper, entitled "Enabling an ecosystem of digital twins".

The next step will be to move to the "activity stage," where the group will define activities or prototypes of digital twins in 2021.

We’ll also see moves to standardise across information exchanges with BIM Collaboration Format (BCF) 3.0 – supporting communication of model-based issues between BIM applications; and Industry Foundation Class (IFC) 4.3 – depicting infrastructure constructions within Railways, Roads, Ports and Waterways.

The areas of deployment, transparency, and predictability of the standardisation processes initiated by buildingSMART will continue in 2021. With tightening project budgets, the benefits of BIM such as cost reduction and optimisation of processes and resources will see BIM utilised for better designs as well as operations and maintenance. A greater enablement of open-source software will see BIM become more open around movement and accessibility of data.

Finally, non-proprietary data standards will be given a growing push from asset owners and regulatory bodies that see open data as a much better way forward.

Overall, BIM in 2021 could see a growing push for a more open and accessible environment based on industry-agreed standards, with a greater focus on data relevance and quality. Such changes should lead to broader adoption of BIM across project teams and pave the way for greater use of digital twins.

  • Frank Weiss is senior director of new products, BIM and innovation, at Oracle Construction and Engineering; Léon van Berlo and Aidan Mercer are, respectively, technical and marketing directors at buildingSMART International

Image: Motherboard, by Michael Dziedzic/Unsplash

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