Managing buildings in many dimensions

Building information modelling (BIM) has changed how we deliver and manage buildings but could the next step, using augmented reality, bring it into more mainstream use?

By Neil Salisbury

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BIM adds additional “dimensions” to those 3D CAD models by attaching information to elements in the virtual building. Project managers have become increasingly adept at representing buildings as data-rich 3D models, including the integration of schedule (4D), cost (5D), and operations and maintenance information (6D) into their models.

BIM data, when utilised throughout the life cycle of a building: in design, to support visualisation and development of construction documentation; through construction, for coordination and planning; and into facilities maintenance and operation, for the working life of the building, provides significant opportunities for facility managers (FM). The integration of sustainable principles into BIM, whereby the environmental performance of buildings can be managed, is referred to as Green BIM. Green BIM can assist FMs determine how well a building is performing after they are commissioned. This includes the performance management of buildings, such as its energy and water consumption, worker health and safety, security, contamination, hazardous materials storage and management, hazardous releases and more importantly in building retrofits.

Studies in the US have indicated that there is significant time and money spent looking for, validating or recreating information that should be readily available, estimated at between $2.3 to $2.6 per sq. m (of managed facility space per year). This information is already captured in a BIM model and can be used in FM. This enables facility owners to leverage design and construction data to create greater efficiencies, such as having accurate as-built information to reduce the cost and time required for renovations or optimising the operation and maintenance of the building systems to reduce energy usage. BIM for FM can automate a number of functions that are currently quite manual, thereby reducing costs, time and redundancy in management systems.

Are we lacking the smarts? While a number of facility managers and building owners see the benefits of using BIM or Green BIM for FM, the uptake in Australia and around the world has been slow, to say the least.

The reasons are numerous, a recent survey in the UK indicated that over 35% of FM professionals do not know about BIM and its uses, and there is a significant lack of understanding of BIM and its associated benefits.

Other reasons for the lack of uptake includes, a lack of technical know-how to access and manipulate the BIM model, the cost of the software, in-sufficient time to evaluate BIM and its options and finally, they are not clear on how BIM integrates with facility management.

To overcome some of these real and or perceived barriers, BIM combined with Augmented Reality (AR) tools provides a tangible alternative for facility managers, where technical know-how, software costs or a lack of time no longer becomes an issue. AR first became popular in gaming and media entertainment, and is slowly being adopted into other sectors and areas including applications in the design, construction and facility management industry. An early example of AR, is the Terminator movie, where the physical, real-world is augmented by computer generated sensory inputs such as graphics and data.

AR has the potential to transform the FM environment, where users can access automated, on-demand, and inexpensive building and equipment information visually, which has significant potential to improve decision-making, reduce cost and time during facility management activities.

This is a huge step forward in bringing BIM to the jobsite and out of the office. Effectively, AR can enable the widespread adoption and uptake of BIM in Australia. It is becoming more and more important for the data that BIM produces to be transferable across different professions and stages of a building’s life-cycle.