The impact of modern technology in different sectors cannot be overemphasized. Many industries are taking advantage of current technologies to maximize their productivity and improve efficiency. Traditionally, construction industry is always slow to adopting new technologies (Busta, 2016). However, the industry cannot overlook the potentials of modern technologies and is now using these technologies to increase efficiency. Today, technology has significantly disrupted the construction industry in different ways and this trend is not stopping any soon (Halsey, 2016; Kavis, 2016). One of the technologies that has rapidly revolutionized the construction industry is Building Information Modelling (BIM) (Gonchar, 2007). By definition, BIM is an innovative approach of creating, storing and sharing integrated data among project team members so as to enhance the efficiency of how buildings are designed, constructed, operated/used, managed and maintained. According to Cho et al., (2011), BIM has modernized the way processes are performed at different phases of a construction project. This means that BIM is applicable and useful throughout the lifecycle of a building project (Hannele et al., 2012).
The idea of BIM was introduced in 1970s by Charles Eastman and it was until mid-2000s that its application in architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry started. Since then, different BIM tools have been developed and used in construction industry. Mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) contractors are among the top professionals using BIM. If properly used, BIM has numerous benefits when implementing MEP projects. Some of the potentials include: reduced design problems, reduced construction costs, improved project team coordination and collaboration, faster project completion, reduced wastes and risks, streamlined project implementation process, and improved quality of MEP design and construction, among others.
In general, BIM has facilitated digital design and documentation of MEP projects. This helps MEP designers, engineers, contractors and subcontractors to implement projects more effectively and efficiently because they can easily access the required data and information at any time anywhere. With BIM, MEP project team members are able to develop high quality designs and integrate all necessary details that enhance construction processes and also make it easier and efficient to operate and maintain the building. This increases the overall productivity of MEP project teams and the efficiency of project delivery.
Despite the numerous potentials of BIM in MEP, there are also several challenges and drawbacks of BIM implementation. Previously, most stakeholders in MEP preferred to use BIM when they were implementing complex and high risk projects. This was a major barrier for implementation of BIM by small and medium-sized MEP contractors and companies because they could not get the huge amount of resources that were needed for successful implementation of BIM. But as BIM awareness increases across the world, its usage has also improved. More stakeholders in MEP are now knowledgeable about available BIM tools, expected benefits of BIM, and approaches of overcoming BIM implementation challenges.
This report focuses on application of BIM in MEP for building projects. The report will also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of implementing BIM in construction industry; future development of BIM in cost control, data exchange, scheduling, and building maintenance. The report provides very useful information that promotes implementation of BIM in MEP projects.
Application of BIM in MEP Projects
One of the major reasons why BIM has been positively received in the construction industry is because it resolves the issue of fragmentation. Traditionally, construction industry is largely fragmented because of the separation of various phases of construction projects. For instance, the design, construction, use/operational, management and maintenance phases of a building are usually separated. This means that the teams responsible for completing each of these stages work independently, which makes their work to be costly and inefficient (Pringle, 2012). This fragmentation also hinders integration, coordination and sharing of knowledge among stakeholders in construction industry (Nawi, Hussain and Yusni, 2013). According to Scott (2014), fragmentation of construction industry is also because stakeholders from different fields are involved in executing a single construction project. For instance, an MEP project brings together different professionals including electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, plumbing specialists, MEP designers, manufacturers and suppliers, quantity surveyors, etc. These professionals have to work together for successful completion of the project, which is quite challenging. However, BIM enhances coordination of this kind of a team thus making it easier for them to complete the project with minimal delays, errors, clashes and reworks. In other words, BIM has the capacity to resolve the fragmentation issue that is very costly in construction industry.
Considering the potential benefits of BIM in construction industry, different countries have established unique strategies of promoting implementation of BIM. This includes increasing awareness and knowledge about BIM through regular conferences, training programs and workshops that focus on discussing issues about BIM. Some countries have also made it a requirement for contractors to use BIM when bidding for government projects. Some of the countries that have established policies and plans of promoting BIM implementation include the U.S., UK, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Finland, Denmark and Norway. In the U.S. for example, projects such as The Mansion on Peachtree and Aquarium Hilton Garden Inn projects are among those implemented using BIM (Azhar, 2011). In 2011, the UK government released a report that required all stakeholders involved in government construction projects to use BIM (Allison, 2015).
Use of BIM in Different Areas of MEP Projects
As stated before, use of BIM in MEP and construction industry as a whole has significantly augmented (Ireland, 2010). This definitely means that there are various factors that are driving this increase. Some of these factors are: requirement of the client, requirement of the government, requirement of the contractor, special initiative by the MEP engineers and architects, strategic decision by the top management, to develop a competitive advantage, and to simplify and improve coordination, among others. In this regard, it is very important to analyze the performance of BIM in different areas of MEP projects. This simply entails discussing the specific uses of BIM when implementing an MEP project. Below are the key uses of BIM in MEP:
Cost estimating is a very important element of pre-construction stage of an MEP project and has huge impacts on design decisions made by stakeholders working on the building project. These stakeholders aim at ensuring that the requirements of the client are met within the stipulated budget limits. If cost estimation is not properly done, the design will have to be changed during the construction stage. This is very costly and it results into project delay. BIM enables creation of 3D building models that comprise of various elements of the MEP system being designed and constructed. The software contains cost estimation tools meant to facilitate accurate quantity takeoffs. The 3D models created also contain detailed information about building materials of each element. This includes 3D/spatial relationships, geographic data, and properties and quantities of the building elements. All this information is integrated in the 3D model created and MEP contractors can use it to accurately estimate the cost of the project. If the MEP contractors make any changes to the design, the same is reflected in the costs associated with procuring, fabricating, assembling/installing the building, including the labor costs. Once each component of the building is linked to costing, it makes it easier for MEP contractors to very accurate bids that account for both material and labor costs (Autodesk, Inc. 2014). Besides cost estimation, this also makes it easier for MEP professionals to control the cost of the project by changing the size or type of materials used, equipment purchased or leased, construction methods used, and the labor requirements, so as to remain within their budget limits. In other words, BIM enables stakeholders in MEP to adjust various elements of the building project, including materials, equipment, processes and labor, so as to control the overall cost of the project. The BIM software also makes it easier to accurately determine and control the cost of operating and maintaining the building. Therefore BIM is capable of estimating and control the cost of the building throughout its lifecycle (Sabol, 2008). As stated by Monteiro and Martins (2013), using BIM is one of the best ways of automating quantity takeoff. Cost and estimation is done by 5D aspect of BIM.
BIM is a great tool for facilitating data exchange among all stakeholders working on an MEP project. One key aspect of BIM is that it creates a platform where all team members can access and share information. If there are any changes made to these models, all stakeholders are able to see them. This means that BIM makes it easier for the MEP team to be more coordinated because they have equal access to all relevant files, can work on their specific areas without interference, and can seek help from other team members. Improved data exchange among the MEP team also reduces chances of design errors, work duplication, misinterpretation or reworks. It also increases the efficiency to fabricate and construct a high quality product through coordinated efforts (Autodesk, Inc., 2017).
Improved data exchange that is enabled by BIM also helps in detecting clashes. The first clash is between various elements of the building and the second class is among stakeholders involved in MEP project. BIM has effective tools of identify design clashes because the 3D models created contain all information necessary to determine whether various elements of the building are well-matched or not. According to Hanna, Boodai and Asmar (2013), clash detection is one of the key factors among MEP contractors. This is because if these clashes are not detected during design stage then it becomes very costly and time-consuming to rectify them during construction stage. A study by Hartmann, Gao and Fischer (2008) also found that clash detection by BIM minimizes request for information (RFI), which facilitates smooth workflow during construction stage of an MEP project. Findings from a study conducted by Khanzode (2008) also indicated that BIM was very effective in detecting conflicts among stakeholders working on an MPE project because they have access to all the information they need.
BIM is used for scheduling during design, construction and maintenance stages of a building project. During design stage, BIM is used to create 4D models that are specially designed to facilitate proper planning. The 4D models have the capability of creating a link between 3D models and the construction sequencing plans or schedules. In this case, MPE contractors can use the 4D models to identify the components of the project that have to be constructed at a particular time. This helps in establishing and preparing necessary resources to build these components. During construction stage, MEP contractors can use the 4D models to identify the components that have already been done and those that are currently being constructed. This helps the entire project team to know whether they are on the right track or not, and take appropriate actions.
It is very important to note that implementation of MEP projects entail different stakeholders and activities. These stakeholders include the client, main contractor, MEP manufacturers, consultants and other specialty contractors. Using BIM, MEP contractors are able to ensure efficient coordination of all these stakeholders. For instance, they are able to integrate ordering and fabrication of MEP components, the delivery schedules and installation sequences or plans. There are some MEP systems that require very precise installation sequences and BIM makes this possible and easier. Another very important aspect of BIM that facilitates scheduling is visualization, which enables MEP contractors to experiment with the models created in a virtual environment thus having a better understand on how to schedule for the construction works and probably identify potential problems (Avsatthi, 2016). Scheduling is done by 4D aspect of BIM.
BIM makes building maintenance easier mainly because it contains relevant information that building owners or MEP contractors can use to identify and resolve different kinds of maintenance needs or issues. Previously, as-built drawings and footprints could vanish a short period after the construction had been completed (Hounsell, 2012). This could make it very difficult for home owners, MEP contractors or maintenance managers to perform any maintenance operations on the building. Nevertheless, this has been reversed through use of BIM. This is an excellent tool that provides very useful information to facilitate facility planning, management, renovation and maintenance (Azhar, 2011; Goedert and Meadati, 2008). The BIM software contains comprehensive information about the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, doors, windows, plumbing fixtures and electrical components. The only way to ensure that the building performs as expected throughout its service life is to make sure that the building is properly maintained. BIM ensures this and also reduces the time and cost of maintain the building because relevant information will be readily available for the MEP contractors.
Besides normal maintenance works, BIM also helps facility managers and MEP contractors to make appropriate renovations when the purpose or use of the building and space requirements change (Facilitiesnet.com, 2011). These professionals are able to check the designs of the building directly on the BIM software and make appropriate changes on the original models. In general, BIM helps the following in building maintenance: better space management, efficient energy use, streamlined building maintenance, cost-effective renovations and retrofits, improved lifecycle management (Haines, 2016). This means that BIM is very useful in reducing the operational costs of the building throughout its entire lifecycle (Planon, 2011; Wolters Kluwer, 2014). Building maintenance and sustainability I done by 6D aspect of BIM.
The popularity of prefabrication and modularization has rapidly increased among MEP designers, engineers and contractors. Stakeholders in MEP are using these practices to enhance worksite safety, productivity and competitive advantage, reduce waste, and also increase their return on investment (ROI). BIM is one of the technological tools that are widely used by MEP fabricators to improve efficient workflows. MEP professionals use BIM to create integrated data that is used to convert 2D models to 3D models. These models are easy to measure, visualize, interpret and fabricate because they are prototypes of real-world products (Autodesk, Inc., 2014). Once the 3D models are created, they can be directly transferred to the fabrication machines that manufacture the actual elements (Kreider and Messner, 2013). Thus the key benefits of prefabrication using BIM are that the building components are created with the highest level of precision and within acceptable tolerances, and the process is done faster than traditional methods of building these components onsite (Sacks et al., 2010; Leite et al., 2011).
According to Crotty (2012), BIM is a computerized model that is used for creating 3D models of a proposed building in a virtual environment. 3D models allow MEP designers, engineers and contractors to create nearly any kind of building, including those with complex geometries. Above all, these models are accurately created thus eliminating errors and wastes. With BIM, the project team is able to visualize how the building will be able to be illuminated with sunlight during this day. This helps the design team to determine the most suitable orientation of the building and layout of various rooms. The information is also used to perform energy analysis of the building, which aids in making decisions on how to increase energy efficiency of the building. Visualization is also important in establishing possible problems that may be faced during construction stage, and also for the client and the entire team to have a feel of how the final product will look like even before it is built in real-life.
Advantages and Disadvantages of BIM
Advantages of BIM
There are numerous benefits of using BIM in construction industry. Some of these benefits include the following:
Faster and efficient processes
BIM is a more effective and faster process of designing, constructing and maintaining facilities (Masood, Kharal and Nasir, 2014). This is because it streamlines all processes from start to finish of the project, and also during use and maintenance. The stakeholders are also allowed to access the information, make changes and reuse it wherever they want.
BIM makes it possible and easier for MEP designers to analyze building proposals thoroughly, perform quick simulations and benchmark performance. This enables creation of innovative and improved solutions.
Reduced project delivery time
When using traditional design and construction approaches, a lot of time is wasted when members conduct each other requesting for information or when they have to convene a meeting to discuss any changes made to the original documents or specification. In addition, most construction processes get delayed due to improper sequencing of activities. All these challenges are overcome by BIM thus reducing the total time taken to complete construction projects.
Improved coordination and collaboration
This is largely because BIM creates a platform where all stakeholders working on the project can access the information they need at any time using their devices. Besides easy access to the required information, the stakeholders can also discuss any issues arising from this single platform. Also, BIM facilitates efficient updating of all stakeholders including the architect, MEP engineer, project manager, structural engineer, contractor, suppliers, etc. about any chances or progress made (Ball, 2014). All these allow improved coordination and collaboration among stakeholders.
BIM has a wide range of simulation features that allow MEP designers and engineers to visualize different elements of the building. This includes how the building will look like in terms of size, orientation, shape, colors, etc., the layout of rooms, the final product, and performance of the building during different weather conditions, among others. With this kind of information, stakeholders are able to visualize all processes and products created from start to finish. There are several advantages of visualization such as: helping stakeholders to identifying potential problems that may be faced at different stages of the project, making changes so as to meet the specific needs of the client, and motivating the stakeholders to create a high quality final product.
Reduced design errors
BIM eliminates nearly all design errors. This is because BIM software has advanced and specialized tools for performing very precise analyses. For instance, there are specific tools for designing structural elements of a building and others for analyzing these elements. These tools ensure that every element is designed as per the specifications in the contract documents. BIM also allows the designs created by MEP designer to be analyzed and checked by other stakeholders, who can identify if there are any mistakes making it easier to rectify them. The benefits of reduced design errors are many, including preventing project delay, avoiding reworks, reducing project delivery time and preventing budget overruns.
Improved clash detection
BIM has the capacity to detect any clashes during design and construction stages. During design, BIM will clearly show if there is any clashes between various elements of the building that are being designed. This helps MEP designers to make necessary changes so as to resolve the clashes. During construction, BIM is used to ensure that all activities are properly planned to ensure that each component is built at the right time to prevent confusion or delays.
Most of the conflicts that arise during implementation of construction projects are as a result of misunderstanding and ineffective communication among stakeholders. BIM prevents this kind of conflicts because it enables seamless flow of information among all stakeholders involved (Rodriguez, 2016). Through use of BIM, all stakeholders get updated on any new changes made, can discuss issues immediately they arise and are allowed unlimited access all information. All these reduces chances of conflicts and also facilitates speedy resolution of conflicts if they arise.
Reduced project cost
BIM reduces the overall cost of the project in different ways. Some of these ways include: reducing wastes, preventing reworks, avoiding overestimation, preventing delays, and avoiding duplication of work. The software reduces waste and avoids overestimation by facilitating accurate quantity takeoffs using specially design cost estimation tools. Delays and reworks are avoided through accurate designs and counterchecking by different project team members. All these enables MEP projects implemented using BIM to be completed faster and below or within budget estimates. The reduction in cost is also as a result of proper planning that is enabled by BIMImproved quality of final product
When the building is accurately designed and constructed as planned, the final product will definitely be of very high quality. Most importantly is that stakeholders are able to use various BIM tools to measure, monitor and control the quality of works done at each stage of the project. When the quality of final product is improved, the satisfaction level of the client and all other stakeholders also goes up.
Disadvantages of BIM
Some of the disadvantages of using BIM in construction industry are:
One of the major disadvantages of using BIM is lack of determination on who owns the BIM data and the requirement of protecting this ownership through legal channels such as copyright laws. All members of the project team contributes to the BIM data thus making it very difficult to determine the owner of the entire BIM data. If this issue arises then it becomes almost impossible to realize the benefits of using BIM. This issue can be resolved by defining the BIM data ownership responsibilities and rights in the contract documents (Azhar, 2011
Data entry control issues and responsibility for mistakes
This is also a major disadvantage of using BIM because there is always a problem on who controls how data is entered into the building information model and who will be accountable for mistakes. Being accountable for how data is updated and the accuracy of this data is always a big risk. Those who take this responsibility usually carry huge risks that cost them a lot.
Substantial initial capital
The initial capital required to start using BIM is usually huge, which hinders many companies and individuals from using BIM. The capital is required for purchasing the BIM software and necessary information technology (IT) infrastructure, training employees and hire BIM experts.
Disruptive and time consuming
Implementing BIM does not only require resources but also proper planning. Substantial amount of time is used planning on where and how to purchase the BIM software, the process of setting up the BIM system, training employees and getting them familiarized with the system. This is also a new approach and it will disrupt normal operations of the company. People who implement BIM always have to change their technological and cultural values, which are likely to affect the employees’ productivity and company’s performance. Therefore those using BIM should be prepared for the changes that will come along.
It is common for some stakeholders working on the same project to resist use of BIM for different reasons. Some of the reasons include: lack of knowledge and experience about BIM, complexity of using BIM, satisfaction of current approaches delivering expected results, etc. This is a big disadvantage because if any of the team members lacks adequate knowledge to use BIM or does not support it then realizing full potentials of BIM becomes unrealistic.
Future development of BIM
The future of BIM in construction industry is both challenging and interesting. This creates the need for further development so as to increase usage of BIM and make it more beneficial to the construction industry. One of the areas that require further development is creation of different BIM methodologies that are designed for specific analyses of various elements of a building such as electrical systems, water distribution systems, indoor air distribution systems, thermal systems, lighting systems, etc. (Pezeshki and Ivari, 2016; Bahar et al., 2013; Kumar, 2008; Haymaker and Welle, 2007). This will provide users with unlimited options on the methodologies to choose instead of being confined to use one of the few that are available. This means that BIM developers need to focus on creating more BIM tools and methodologies that focus on design and analysis of a specific element of the building. This kind of narrowing down will increase the accuracy and reliability of BIM tools and methodologies.
Another future development of BIM is to shorten BIM trainees’ learning curve. Currently, it is relatively time consuming for one to go through complete BIM training. This has been a major barrier to implementation of BIM because individuals and companies cannot afford to sacrifice this time. As a result of this, the number of BIM experts has remained low. Therefore it is very important for professionals involved in developing BIM to establish BIM training programs that are shorter but effective. This will encourage make stakeholders in the construction industry to enroll for BIM training because they know that they will acquire adequate knowledge within a short period of time. If BIM training programs can be designed to take a few weeks then several people are likely to enroll for these programs, which will increase the number of BIM experts and those with sufficient knowledge to implement BIM.
There is also the need to ensure standardization of BIM process and formulation of guidelines on how BIM should be implemented. Currently, there are no international standards, codes and guidelines that provide a framework on how BIM process should be developed and implemented. This has been a major factor hindering implementation of BIM in the construction industry because some parties are not sure whether the activities completed using BIM or the BIM software used meet the international requirements r standards. Construction industry is very keen and specific on engineering codes and standards that should be used. Through standardization of BIM process and formulation of guidelines on BIM implementation procedures of BIM, many stakeholders will accept BIM as a process that meets the international standards. This boost in confidence will also increase usage of BIM in construction industry. Another future development related to this is providing a guideline on persons responsible for developing building information models. Use of BIM has a great impact on how a construction project is executed and the quality of final product. Users of BIM rely on it heavily and therefore building information models or BIM tools should be developed by persons who have the right knowledge and expertise. For this reason, there should be guidelines on qualifications of BIM developers, the environment or conditions under which BIM process or software should be developed, and the procedures or checklist for developing BIM process, tools or software.
It is also important to develop a distribution plan of costs associated with the development and operation of BIM. Currently, it is not clear on how these costs are distributed among developers, vendors and users of BIM. Developing a clear cost distribution plan will be very important in making every party involved to be more responsible for their roles. For instance, developers will ensure that they create more effective BIM tools knowing that they carry huge cost risks if the tools does not perform to the expected levels. This is also likely to increase the quality and reliability of BIM tools developed and boost the confidence of BIM users.
There is also need to develop proper guidelines on how to deal with liability and legal issues that are associated with BIM. Some of these issues include parties that are responsible for ownership of BIM system, entry of data in building information models, mistakes made in the data entered in BIM system, etc. Up to date, there is no clarity on the specific party that owns the building information model being used or the one responsible for entry and mistakes made in building information model. This creates room for irresponsible use of BIM because parties know that they are not solely responsible for mistakes made and they can blame others for their mistakes.
Another very important aspect of BIM that has to be developed in the future is sustainability. The 7D of BIM, which deals with the issue of sustainability should be developed further so as to make it more relevant and effective. The main focus here should be to ensure that the development process and use of BIM are sustainable based on the aspects of ecology, economy and social/culture. These aspects should be thoroughly analyzed because they have direct impacts on human life and the whole environment. In other words, developers and users of BIM should ensure that all processes associated with BIM are sustainable.
Last but not least, it is expected that both public and private parties will develop policies and strategies of promoting use of BIM. This includes use of incentives, establishing legal frameworks that create an enabling environment for development and use of BIM, providing tax reliefs for BIM developers and users, and making it a fundamental requirement for individuals or companies bidding for construction projects to incorporate BIM in their project execution approach.
It is expected that these developments will improve the effectiveness of BIM and promote its use in the construction industry. As a result, all stakeholders in the construction industry, including owners/clients, developers, architects, MEP engineers, structural engineers, project or construction managers, manufacturers, fabricators, contractors and suppliers will benefit.
BIM is one of the recent technologies that have significantly revolutionized the construction industry. The potentials of this new technological process are so great that the construction industry, which is usually slow to adopting new technologies, cannot overlook them. As a result, BIM has become very popular in the construction industry across the world.
BIM has enabled digitalization and automation of creating design and documentation of MEP projects. This makes it easier for team members working on an MEP project to access necessary information, coordinate and collaborate effectively and complete the project seamlessly and within stipulated time and budget. All these leave every party involved in the project fully satisfied when the project is completed. After completion, BIM also facilitates efficient use and maintenance of the building by providing the essential data and information that occupants, house managers and MEP contractors may need.
Based on the current statistics, awareness and usage of BIM in the construction industry is increasing in all parts of the world. Different stakeholders in the construction industry are using BIM to improve their work efficiency. For example, MEP designers, engineers and contractors are now using BIM to create models that enhance the efficiency of their work.
The key areas where BIM is applied in MEP projects are cost control, data exchange, scheduling and building maintenance. In cost control, BIM is used to ensure accurate quantity takeoffs and estimation. This helps to keep the project within the stipulated budget limits. For data exchange, BIM is an innovative process that makes it easier for all stakeholders involved in a project to access data from wherever they are. This promotes collaboration, reduces conflicts and improves the overall efficiency of project delivery. In terms of scheduling, BIM helps in ensuring that every process is allocated appropriate time and resources, and is planned for executing at the right time. This prevents clashes and conflicts between designers, fabricators, contractors and other stakeholders. Last but not least, BIM enhances building maintenance by providing important data and information that may be needed by the occupants, building manager or renovation companies. All these show that BIM is applicable and important during pre-construction phase, construction phase, and post-construction phase of an MEP project. It is for this reason that all stakeholders working on an MEP project in construction industry need to acquire knowledge about BIM.
Implementation of BIM has numerous advantages. Some of these are: improved coordination and collaboration; faster and efficient processes; better visualization; reduced design errors; improved design; improved clash detection; reduced conflicts; reduced project delivery time, reduced project cost; and improved quality of final product. However, there are some disadvantages associated with implementation of BIM. These include: issues to do with ownership of BIM; substantial amount of initial capital needed; disruptive and time consuming and inconsistency in terms of compatibility and varied levels of BIM knowledge among team members working on the same project.
In general, use of BIM in MEP and the entire construction industry is expected to reduce fragmentation in the industry. This will improve collaboration thus improving performance and reducing costs of implementing construction projects. This will benefit all stakeholders involved in the construction industry. There are also several future developments that are expected including: creation of more specific BIM methodologies and processes; shorten BIM trainees’ learning curve; standardization of BIM process and formulation of guidelines on BIM implementation; development of a distribution plan for BIM development and operational costs; development of proper guidelines on how to resolve liability and legal issues that are associated with BIM; sustainability issue of BIM; and development of policies and strategies by public and private stakeholders to promote implementation of BIM.
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