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The future of building and construction lies in project simulation

After decades of slow productivity growth, the building and construction industry is ready for major developments thanks to digital  technology. The simulation of design and all its complexities is fundamental. BIM (Building Information Modelling) is defined by the National Institute of Building Science as the “digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of an object”.

The future of building and construction lies in project simulation
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BIM is neither a product nor a software but a “building information container” in which one inserts graphic data (such as drawings) and specific technical attributes (such as technical data sheets and characteristics) as well as information relating to the expected life cycle. When designing objects such as windows, floors or walls, it is possible to associate graphic information (wall thickness, height, etc.) with information such as thermal transmittance, sound insulation, etc.

Collaborative design
As is the case for CAD projects, inside   which CAD objects (2D or 3D) already made in a serial manner can be used without having to draw them every time, BIM projects can use previously created BIM objects in every elaboration.
While CAD design processes a project using 2D or 3D drawings, BIM design is not limited to visual information or rendering but specifies the functionality and performance of each BIM object present in the project or the elaborate building interior. In fact, it is a collaborative design method as it makes it possible to integrate useful information into a single model at each stage of the design: architectural, structural, plant engineering, energy and management. For this, it can be used by installers, structural engineers, architects, builders, fitters, testers, etc.
Therefore, the three-dimensional model contains information about volume and size, material, appearance, etc.; technical characteristics that are not lost when shared with other studies and other IT platforms.
Moreover, a BIM project gives the client the opportunity to have a virtual elaboration of the building’s life cycle, even after the design phase. This way, it is easier to monitor the age of the materials and better plan maintenance.

BIM design with Buildingsus, 3D of the Tree of Life – EXPO 2015, architectural design and concept by Marco Balich, Studio Giò Forma

BIM design with Buildingsus, 3D of the Tree of Life – Expo 2015, architectural design and concept by Marco Balich, Studio Giò Forma

Becoming a standard process
BIM will become the standard process for all buildings and is being integrated into public contract legislation across Europe. In fact, the 2014/24/EU Directive on public procurement clearly expresses the indication to introduce Building Information Modelling within the procurement procedures of the Member States.
BIM has spread mainly to countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, South Korea and some Nordic countries, where its use is mandatory in public projects. BIM is valuable for managing the complexities of large buildings and infrastructures, especially in light of the trend towards life cycle management. It is also useful for small projects, but the initial investment and the need to train staff are slowing down its use by design studios and small businesses. However, it is expected that by 2025, BIM will be advanced enough in the B&C sector to generate productivity gains of 15 to 25%.
Currently, the sector’s companies can be divided into two groups. In the “traditional” one, the companies carry out the basic design work for a project using 3D CAD software while, for more advanced companies, the use of BIM allows to integrate everyone’s work by bringing together real-time skills to solve problems in collaborative hubs that can include the users and owners of a structure.

Transforming the construction sector
By promoting full collaboration, BIM will transform the construction sector. The projects include precise sequencing so that everyone knows what materials must arrive on the site and when and how they will enter the structure. Design, production and logistics are closely integrated with real construction. BIM can be further expanded to include cost dimensions, sustainability and facility management.
For example, the new Dubai Future Museum adopted an innovative approach and is considered one of the most com-plex projects ever. Performed entirely with a parametric approach and developed thanks to thousands of data and variables, it is so complex that it would have been impossible to design without BIM. The museum exterior, perfectly smooth and without joints, is made up of 890 stainless steel and GFRP panels. Even the interior, designed without pillars, posed several challenges, including the design of a self-supporting double-helix staircase that was created through BIM.
Designed by Killa Design and BuroHappold Engineering and commissioned by the Dubai Future Foundation, the museum occupies an area of 30,000 m² and is currently under construction by BAM International.

The Dubai Future Museum

The museum exterior, perfectly smooth and without joints, is made up of 890 stainless steel and GFRP panels. 

BIM and seismic design in Italy
In Italy, BIM is widely used by civil engineers and architects to design structures and infrastructures. However, geological and geotechnical data are not used at all in the BIM design process, despite the fact that, on a large part of the Italian territory, most of the risks and  uncertainties of a construction derive from the characteris-tic of a seismic risk territory. Recently, an application of the BIM design process in geotechnical engineering was presented by the University of Naples Federico II, through the case study of the Sant’Agata de’Goti historic centre in southern Italy. The data from the numerous boreholes drilled on site was imported into the BIM software to create the interfaces between the soil layers and the 3D geometry of the entire hill. The advantages of geotechnical design in the BIM process were highlighted, including model accuracy, easy retrieval and management of complex information and interoperability between the software used in the various design phases.
The cost and time saving benefits were developed to optimize digital models and improve interoperability between the different skills involved in the design process and its realization, due to the reduction of unforeseen problems and the easier updating of the digital model. At the same time, slower progress has been made in recent years in the application of the BIM process in the geotechnical field, although many civil engineering problems arise from unknown soil conditions. Only a few examples of geotechnical constructions were designed adopting a BIM-based approach and, in most cases, they consisted in archiving and updating geological and geotechnical data. Of course, data sharing is the core of BIM, but it is possible to take advantage of multiple aspects of the geotechnical field.
It was shown that the BIM approach to the entire design process is possible and the advantages of modelling the complex geometry of the hill and its layered terrain, as well as interoperability with adopted 2D and 3D numerical software, were highlighted.
Building Information Modelling (BIM) is becoming an important civil engineering project approach for infrastructure, construction, operational and process management. Most often, many structure and infrastructure projects with significant geotechnical aspects seem overlooked in the BIM approach.
In this case, the original design and reinforcement interventions were reproduced in the BIM environment, highlighting the advantages of geotechnical design in the process. Once the hill reinforcement project was completed, it was possible to estimate the material quantities and costs.

Wasp-Crane 3D printed earth house, living

3D printing can achieve great results from the use of BIM. Hereupper the TECLA which is a new circular housing model, created using entirely reusable, recyclable materials taken from the local terrain.

An opportunity for the composites industry
The building materials industry produces materials of all types: structural, decorative, traditional or modern, from clay to iron to composite materials. In the construction industry, companies generally produce one type of material or another and work through distributors, so they are not very interested in BIM if not as a library of objects from various standards and formats to give customers a complete service. In Italy, small professional studios are focused on developing basic digital skills and not yet interested in BIM because they don’t see it as an opportunity. Instead, the larger studios that deal with complex projects are obviously very interested and use BIM.
By providing real-time information on what a project needs in each area, BIM enables material companies to offer products and services that were previously technically impossible. The opportunities are enormous, for example for the on-site assembly of components produced elsewhere and transported to the construction site. Using BIM, manufacturers can get components that can be quickly assembled on the construction site.
In the specific case of composites, the possibility of having pre-assembled modules arrive on site is a great advantage. BIM guarantees rigorous design and improves site planning so that the modules arrive only when necessary. The system is already widely used for large projects in Europe and the rest of the world.

Tecla is the first habitat built using multiple Crane WASP collaborative printers simultaneously

TECLA represents a step-change in the move towards eco-housing. It is also the first habitat built using multiple Crane WASP collaborative printers simultaneously.

3D printing
Even 3D printing can achieve great results from the use of BIM as material companies may be able to use it for parts of complex buildings and even entire structures. In this case, BIM can generate printer-ready object files that exactly match what is specified in the project. 3D-printed houses are already a reality in China.
Some Italian manufacturers have already developed 3D printing materials for construction. Since 2012, WASP (World’s Advanced Saving Project) has been developing construction processes based on the principles of the circular economy, capable of creating 3D-printed homes in the shortest possible time and in the most sustainable way. Tecla is the first habitat built using multiple Crane WASP collaborative printers simultaneously, offering the opportunity for a new architectural scenario. In the context of a larger settlement, Tecla has the potential to become a construction model for completely self-sufficient eco-districts.
The collaboration between Mario Cucinella Architects (MC A) and WASP is supported by Mapei, which studied the clay materials and identified the key components within the raw earth mixture to create the highly-optimized final printable product. Structural tests were carried out by Milan Ingegneria, a Milan-based engineering consultancy that worked on the optimization of the shape in order to create a self-supporting structure. The customized and highly-efficient frames were engineered and produced by Capoferri, a company that specializes in architectural frames and is always at the forefront of technological advances, while the landscaping was curated by Frassinago, a multidisciplinary company that includes a design studio dealing with landscape architecture, and a firm specialized in the gardening and outdoor sector. RiceHouse provided technical consultancy about bio-materials deriving from rice cultivation waste, which enhanced the thermal performance and living comfort of the building envelope. The lighting project was developed both internally and externally with the aim of achieving maximum flexibility and sustainability.

Printed wall section with TECLA

Printed wall section with TECLA

In the traditional construction process, when many different specialists contribute to the project in their own sector of pertinence, each contributor works on what he receives from his predecessor, missing the overview. In a complex case such as the Tecla project, the advantage that can be obtained with a BIM model, thanks to which all the interested parties can work in the same model simultaneously, is remarkable. In fact, BIM is also a workflow, a process that requires many collaborating parties and goes beyond simple software. This means that all parties can understand and implement the entire workflow.

Innovation leads to the development of new building materials.
There have been major changes in the building and construction sector recently and composite materials have played an essential role. Building information modelling (BIM) software will help the B&C industry to use these materials more effectively while improving productivity and reducing costs.

This article has been edited by JEC Editorial team with the publication entitled “Building Information Modelling (BIM) standardization” (Poljansek, M., Building Information Modelling (BIM) standardization, EUR 28977 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2017, ISBN 978-92-79-77206-1, doi:10.2760/36471, JRC109656)

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