Three Tech Trends Shifting the BIM Industry in 2016AECbytes Viewpoint #80 (July 21, 2016)

Dennis Williams
Technology Author and Consultant


BIM seems to be currently at the forefront of new technology in the AEC industry. As building information modeling continues to develop, other promising technologies have emerged to help to streamline the workflow for architects, design firms, and builders.

Some technology trends in the BIM industry have taken longer to come to fruition and others have quickly taken the market by storm. Experts agree that emerging technologies have led to better collaborative building designs, more efficient oversight, and eventually building automation in the near future. This article looks at how the Internet of Things, data management, and augmented reality are shaping the future of BIM.

The IoT Meets BIM

The Internet of Things (IoT ) is turning home automation into a flourishing market, but what about the possibilities when applied to commercial buildings? BIM systems are quickly being adopted, even by older infrastructures, as new firms also compete to secure contracts on forthcoming projects. Building information modeling software has added a never before seen insight and connectivity for facilities; still, when complemented with the IoT, the capabilities of future BIM systems will vastly improve day to day operations and facility management.

With BIM paired with the Internet of Things, building automation could become the next major development. Building engineers already have the software capable of estimating energy efficiency based on traffic flow throughout a building (Figure 1). Combining BIM with the Internet of Things will automate this practice based off of real aggregated data.

Figure 1. BIM system identifying where the HVAC unit is needed most throughout the office building in relation to the occupants.

The early marriage of BIM and the IoT is already active with smart thermostats, talking fridges, and reactive lighting units. At a larger scale, building automation will be integrated into BIM systems. Sensors and software will monitor people’s behavior in the building to control elements like heating levels that adjust throughout the day as more personnel fill into the office space. Using the GPS location in relation to the building, the lighting and air conditioning can shift automatically to save energy in those times when there’s an abundance of natural light on that side of the office. Building automation in relation to BIM can open avenues for big data and more sustainable systems that match that building’s particular circumstances for optimal performance.

The Internet of Things will also have a valuable impact in the early construction phase. Hilti is an innovative tool company in the construction field and they’re leading the way with network connected tools to help data and equipment communicate with one another. They’re using the IoT to power smart construction tools to create a much easier and more efficient workflow. Adaptive tools are vastly shortening the setup time for construction equipment. Such tools work via sensors and adjust their settings accordingly for the operator. Hilti reports that adaptive tools are turning days of work into hours because the tools themselves automate the setup process.

Hilti’s R&D team is also developing tools that automate the maintenance for their equipment as well. Layout Integration Tools reference data from the cloud network and use it to control the hardware elements of their tools. Tightening of bolts to a specific torque or measuring the correct depth for a fastener is all possible through the Hilti network, and this will soon be replicated by other manufacturers of construction equipment.

Ultimately, Hilti is a creating a way for contractors to manage their assets and help tool operators through technology. They’ve established a suite of “smart tools” of innovative construction equipment for assisting contractors (Figure 2). In a sense, their tools manage themselves because they can prepare themselves for operation and also track their own location allowing managerial insight that wasn’t possible before. Contractors can see which tools are being used where and which materials they’ll be used on.

Figure 2. Hilti's smart tools set. (Credit: Equipmentworld.com)

Innovative use of the Internet of Things is pushing the construction industry forward with smart tools in a project’s early stages and helping to expand the capabilities of BIM in the later stages of a build.

Cloud Data Management

As BIM and VDC managers expand their portfolio, managing multiple properties can be strenuous.  To ease data management, many software applications have implemented cloud-based collaboration. Panzura, an enterprise data storage service, uses a proprietary hardware controller to access project data, which is located in the user’s office for security purposes. The Panzura cloud storage system and setup helps consolidate information, archiving, collaboration, and security.

Autodesk’s BIM 360 Field is another construction field management software with cloud capabilities. This application combines mobile technology with efficient cloud-based collaboration. Autodesk is keen on helping teams collaborate seamlessly and their push behind BIM 360 Field only validates the need for cloud data management. Autodesk’s equipment easily makes field data accessible to off-site groups. It allows you to track the quality and progress of the construction build with easy, customizable templates. Adding work statuses and descriptions of construction issues is as easy as setting a pushpin marker (Figure 3).



Figure 1. Annotation through photos on the building property and uploading them to the online database through Autodesk BIM 360 Field. 

Cloud collaboration is the vehicle from on-site information to off-site accessibility. Web-based reporting for field management has just gotten that much easier, turning field data into an insight tool to ultimately minimize risk for the contractor. With the increase of mobile devices on the field, Autodesk BIM 360 Field allows you to automatically locate equipment in a model using your iPad or iPhone. Members of the building team can then mark issues directly on the 3D model to catch them before any production happens.

Cloud data storage, in relation to BIM, does much more than allowing multiple teams to collaborate. Imagine models being worked on simultaneously by field agents and the off-site project managers looking to catch any underlying issues before the build is set. With BIM and cloud collaboration, the end result is a much higher quality project with fewer needs for “back-and-forth” ‒ fewer requests for on-site information, construction change orders, and other issues caught in the later stages. The digital platform allows for many issues to be discovered through real-time information analysis and helps with working through 3D model previews, which will be a common practice soon.

Previously, this part of the workflow would usually require a collection of hard drives and storage banks. Cloud data management allows for different teams to work through one central location, managing, archiving, and sharing project data which becomes critical when multiple properties are involved, as in any AEC project.

Augmented Reality

3D models have been commonly used by architects to show future building projects and design capabilities to potential clients. Augmented reality (AR) has provided another way to use 3D models. Though AR is still considered to be in its infancy, AEC professionals are quickly adopting this solution to help both architects secure design contracts and real estate for sales through real-time property visualization.

Virtual reality (VR) has already found its niche in the architecture and construction industry. Mainly used by construction professionals in the design development stage, virtual reality creates a great shortcut when it comes to visualizing entire environments. (See this Augment blog post for more information.) As architectural firms begin to adopt this technology, their internal building design becomes much easier to portray to potential clients. Architects and engineers are already using VR headsets for architectural walk-throughs of virtual buildings. Software products like 3ds Max and SketchUp enable such capabilities, and it becomes a much easier selling process because the visualization feels immersive and real, far beyond any prior solution.

However, augmented reality is an advancement that is much more practical, with more uses in AEC. AR integrated with BIM has brought changes that streamline the process for designers, engineers, and builders. Architects can actually interact with their virtual models, making “what if” design scenarios much easier to manipulate rather than a physical model that has to be remanufactured/remodeled if any construction changes are needed. Project stakeholders can use AR to interact with ongoing builds. Augmented reality headsets are already being used by project managers for on-site walkthroughs to see virtual BIM overlays. They can see the infrastructure of the BIM system through augmented reality and catch any issues before it’s too late.

Augmented reality also helps power design visualization. An AR mobile solution allows designers to visualize how building elements will appear when constructed. This added dimension of visualization gives life-like insight into the design details which can’t be achieved through a 2D image or even the current uses of 3D models. Overall, designers and builders have found a greater ROI when using augmented reality to streamline the modeling stage. Augment is an example of a mobile solution that seamlessly integrates with Revit and SketchUp, allowing developers to easily launch their 3D models right before them at true scale (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Visualizing a real estate property through the Augment app.

Using 3D models through augmented reality gives the builders an exact idea of the dimensions, size, texture, and shape of a particular building element such as a wall or ventilation system, for example. This will make it much easier to determine the amount of raw material needed to manufacture this element throughout the building, allowing for accurate estimations and avoiding unnecessary waste of resources.

Augmented reality may become the biggest influence in the coming year in the architecture and building design industry.

Conclusion

The bridge between the Internet of Things and BIM has opened doors for cloud data storage and augmented reality in the construction phase of architecture and real estate. Prior to BIM, innovation in these areas didn’t do much to streamline the process and promote stable communication in AEC. However, BIM is an advancement that has brought much more property insight for building management. When paired with other technologies, as AEC professionals continue to adopt innovation, these technology trends will help the AEC industry to get the most out of BIM.

About the Author

Dennis Williams is an innovation enthusiast, analyzing how technology impacts B2B industries. He has helped various other startups with their go-to-market strategy with substantial content strategy and user acquisition experience. He currently manages content for Augment, the leading augmented reality mobile solution, and also contributes to the Huffington Post, Funny or Die, and YSF Magazine.

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