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Analysis

BIM Around the World: Standardising BIM in the US

27 June 2016 | By Roger Grant, Birgitta Foster

BIM is becoming standardised in the US, say members of  buildingSMART International's US chapter Roger Grant, program director, National Institute of Building Sciences, and Birgitta Foster, vice president of operations & facility integration at VDCO Tech.

How BIM is getting on in the US? What are the lessons learned there?

Grant: There is quite a bit of use of BIM in the US public and private sectors, at least at the level of using it to model buildings and their components and how they fit together. There is less use of BIM for simulation and for connecting and tracking other kinds of information that are used in the building process.

Definitely there is a lot of use for the physical representation of buildings, using models to do clash detection, visualisation, but less for project coordination, simulation, and optimisation, as well as asset and facility management or, in other words, connecting other processes to modeling.

So while there is value in these uses, I think we are also seeing the potential for more advanced uses and I think this will continue to develop and change over time.

So you think that the information, the I in BIM, still needs to be developed in the US? 

Grant: Definitely. There is more work to do to connect information to building models. If a building model is a digital representation of a building, then there are lots of different types of information that are used across a building’s lifecycle and required for a complete and accurate representation of a building.

These could all be connected to the building model directly or indirectly and used for planning, for design and then beyond that to help organise the construction process and also to manage the building/asset over its lifecycle.

I think in the US we are now beginning to define what is needed for the “I” in BIM to become a shared knowledge resource, efficiently connected to models and then used and consumed across the whole building lifecycle. 

What is the state of BIM standardisation in the US?

Foster: In the US right now we do have a national BIM effort – it is called a National BIM Standard (NBIMS-US). This is done by the National Institute of Building Sciences buildingSMART alliance in Washington, DC, which has also developed the United States National CAD standard so they are a well-established organisation to be handling the standards.

What is happening in federal agencies is that they are making specifications. For instance, the US Army Corps of Engineers are actually putting out their own BIM requirements specification and once it gets used it can become a standard. BIM requirements specification in the US is part of how standards come to life – they are made so they can be out there, be practiced, before they can become a standard.

In my work I see that we have a lot of private clients that want us to come in and help them develop their own BIM requirements, which could become best practice for them. At an industry level, or let’s say at the real-world level, we are looking at what is possible right now and how people are looking to optimise their workflows within a project.

The efforts of these individuals are coming together so organisations like buildingSMART can bring them to the standards level. I think that this is a slower process right now than it should be, but at the same time there is so much in flux, that we kind of want to let everybody go out and try BIM, see what does work, because if we want standards to be based on best practice, we need everybody to do it. This is how BIM will get standardised.

Is a lot of the US BIM effort centered around the actual BIM user? 

Foster: Yes, the users need to be bringing the problems up to be solved, not the other way around. It is not like “we are going to give you a standard that you will use and that is it”. This is also happening really nicely in buildingSMART International right now, they are also moving the focus from the technical perspective to the user.

Technical advances are supposed to support the users, not to push everything onto them. However, in the early stages of technology adoption this is inevitable, because the industry needs to step up and improve the way it worked before and start thinking about putting some standards in place.

Now that we have overcome this hurdle and the industry has really started to see the benefits of these standards in real-life, together with a better standardisation process that we have put together, I think we are going to get continuous improvement. It is crucial that the users come in the BIM arena with their feedback, so we can make better standards.

This interview was conducted as part of a series facilitated by coBuilder at the buildingSMART Standards Summit in Rotterdam earlier this year