The past decade has seen building information modeling (BIM) grow in the architecture, engineering, construction, and operation (AECO) markets in many countries. However, the pace of adoption has varied from country to country, and, within countries, BIM adoption has also been higher in some disciplines or market sectors than others.
For example, BIM was initially seen as something mainly used by architects and engineers for design-related processes. However, over time, contractors and subcontractors also began to see the value of coordinating design and construction sequences (the phrase virtual design and construction [VDC] is sometimes used in this context). And some clients—major public sector clients in the UK and other countries, for example—have mandated BIM as a key step towards accurate as-built information about new assets.
However, other owner-operators have sometimes ignored or questioned the relevance or value of BIM. This is particularly true for organizations where a high proportion of their AEC activity is not new construction. Particularly in more developed economies, existing buildings and infrastructure vastly outnumber new additions. Many large owner-operator clients are therefore much more focused on repair, maintenance, improvement, extension and continued operation of existing asset portfolios. However, BIM—redefined as “better information management”—can really help such businesses to digitize their asset base and streamline activities relating to both current and future management of their facilities.
Digital Reality Capture
Core to this is the adoption and use of digital reality capture technologies such as laser-scanning and photogrammetry, and then the sophisticated use of visualization techniques including scan-to-BIM. These processes efficiently translate raw 3D survey imagery into context-specific information that can be used by the facility owner. For instance, a point cloud scan-to-BIM process might be used to help populate a computer-aided facilities management (CAFM) platform within a millimeter-accurate depiction of existing structures and systems.
However, this is not an instant process. The point clouds derived from a laser-scan create images that are formed from millions of data points; adding scans taken from different positions to build an accurate 3D rendition multiplies this data challenge. Files can range in size from a few to 100s of gigabytes. They may therefore require proprietary software applications run on high-powered computers to access, process, and store them.
Some companies “meshing” technology combines points about individual objects, creating numerous geometric shapes or polygons that can be rapidly assembled, viewed, and explored. By using data from BIM databases or other information sources, objects or groups of objects can be individually labelled and classified by system type and location (for example, room, floor, or zone). These mesh files, being application-agnostic, can also be viewed and shared via commonly available industry software solutions.
Professionals working within owner-operator organizations can then use their familiarity with the facilities to accurately document a detailed information model of the asset. This can then be used to provide structured data for ongoing facilities management or for future refurbishment, extension, or improvement works affecting the facility.
Creating an accurate model of what building structures and equipment already exists is hugely beneficial when it comes to designing and installing new systems—avoiding “clashes” between existing and new elements. Facility management teams will know what access, operational, maintenance needs, and clash detection software they need to satisfy, and so can exploit the 3D models to advise on how new building elements or systems might be constructed to ensure continued efficient operation.
For the facilities manager or for repair and maintenance contractors, outputs from the scan-to-BIM process can be quickly explored at good levels of fidelity using applications on existing desktop and laptop machines. Moreover, because facility management often requires in-situ access to asset data by remote or mobile users, BIM outputs can also be explored via CAFM apps on tablets or smartphone apps. Objects can also be coordinated by type, location or trade, speeding up team workflows.
Point cloud meshes therefore deliver major time, cost, and quality benefits to facilities managers and their suppliers. Constantly challenged to ensure safe, healthy, and energy-efficient operation of buildings or other legacy assets, they can capture structured data that can then be maintained alongside the assets themselves. Safety-critical “Golden Thread” data, for example, can be captured with initial scans, and then updated following any repair, maintenance, or new-build works via new scans of the as-built conditions. Through scan-to-BIM software, point cloud data can be efficiently exploited to safeguard those who live in, work in, or otherwise rely on today’s buildings and infrastructure.