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Briefing sheet

As-is Building Information Modelling

01 July 2016

This briefing written by Dr. Ioannis Brilakis for the ICE Information Systems Panel, discusses how As-is modelling is the key to virtualizing our infrastructure. This is a necessary pre-requisite to unlocking the full potential of Level 3 BIM.

As-is Building Information Modelling
As-Is Modelling of the James Dyson Building at the University of Cambridge.

Just the start for accurate as-is geometric models of infrastructure…

BIM is envisaged by its very definition to be the digital version of our infrastructure both as a product and process, and act as a resilient repository for all its properties throughout the life-cycle. The existence and robustness of such a repository for all infrastructure (including existing structures) is of paramount importance to maximizing the potential of the next IT wave.

Cloud / mobile computing will need it to make data transactions, participatory sensing and smart infrastructure will need it to store data, and big data will need the existence of "big data" in the format of millions of rich, updated BIM models, which is well beyond the scope of a single firm's history of past projects, to generate the knowledge needed to assist decision making.

The proliferation of up-to-date, as-is BIM within the construction industry is not a new concept, however the uptake remains low due to the costs associated with keeping the models current. Industrial facilities construction has made the most progress due to the significantly increase value of the models in highly complex structures with a significant amount of mechanical and electrical work.

The market in now full of Scan-to-BIM applications that help modellers convert point cloud data into as-is geometric models. Most of these applications have been designed well with intuitive tools to help modellers replace points with objects and relationships. However, the modelling task remains a highly manual and repetitive task especially on facilities with hundreds of thousands of objects. It is often said in the industry that "for every 1 day of laser scanning, 10 days of modelling work is needed" at the office.

On the surface as-is modelling technology seems like a suitable solution for fully virtualizing the construction industry products and processes and achieving the potential of BIM. The real challenge arises when the value of as-is models is perceived to be less than the investment needed to build or update them. This is the result of technology that has not matured, matched with an unwillingness to change from a risk adverse construction industry.

Breaking down the barriers…

The pace of innovation in devising new technologies to further automate as-is modelling is increasing rapidly thanks to the growing attention paid to this area by software suppliers and universities. The increasing value of BIM and the opportunities for growth towards existing infrastructure is indicating that there is an untapped market for the software industry that will only get more lucrative as our infrastructure ages further and the proliferation of smart infrastructure and big data tools.

As with other technologies, the industry still has to overcome its lack of interoperability and reliable data exchange between different systems. While the proliferation of as-is models will help this goal, it will not be possible to fully utilize them without proper Level 3 BIM standards and common-core data models. This is a critical issue across the construction supply chain. The trend occurring in the industry is a general reluctance to integrate. Major software providers are still striving to provide a complete, closed-access service solution to protect their market share. The smaller, ambitious software vendors are the only ones exhibiting willingness to be flexible and collaborative.

As-is modelling is the key to virtualizing our infrastructure. This is a necessary pre-requisite to unlocking the full potential of Level 3 BIM, managing smart infrastructure data, and learning through bid data mining. This will unlock a plethora of opportunities to the construction industry. Those who share the 'BIM' vision of an open and collaborative environment will be at the forefront of this step change, ensuring the industry is positioned to fully benefit from the upcoming IT waves.

Further Reading

Author Biography

Dr. Ioannis Brilakis is a Laing O'Rourke Lecturer of Construction Engineering at the Division of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering of the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge. He completed his PhD in Civil Engineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. He is the director of the Construction Information Technology (CIT) laboratory, and a recipient of the NSF CAREER award, the 2012 Georgia Tech Outreach Award and the 2009 ASCE Associate Editor Award.

  • Dr. Ioannis Brilakis, professor of construction engineering at University of Cambridge