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The forgotten fifth dimension holds the key to BIM’s future

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Jason Ruddle of Elecosoft explains the critical role 5D planning will play in achieving BIM goals and improving construction project margins.

In all the discussion about BIM and the inexorable march towards digital construction, 5D BIM is an acronym that often slips by, almost unnoticed. This is, perhaps, unsurprising since the concerns of policy-drivers is firmly on the future economic benefits, while construction leaders remain focused on BIM business-readiness.

Most are yet to fully realise the savings and margin benefits that BIM can deliver. As the recent Farmer Report highlighted: the industry needs to embrace improvements and modernise fast, to drive efficiency and improve margins that lie far below ideal levels.

The question of how to better manage cost is very much front-of-mind. 5D planning, which brings in the element of cost, is part of the answer. At present 5D seems to be a poor relative of 3D within the debate.

3D is important, of course, and a fundamental part of BIM. 3D design and its use in driving construction mark a paradigm shift away from the flat, two-dimensional designing, planning and process management of the past. 3D tools enabled that shift and, today, building designs are routinely envisaged, modelled and sold to clients in three dimensions. However, that was only the start.

3D thinking alone won’t take us to the holy grail of BIM: to create the smart, fully data-managed assets that are maximally sustainable throughout their lifecycle. Other dimensions are required for that.

Many contractors, and many of our customers, have already taken the next step. They are now connecting that 3D design world to their own time-based activity planning. A year or two ago 4D construction was only just emerging and yet we are now seeing it in active use on numerous early BIM projects.

This fourth dimension is helping buildings in progress to be seen in three dimensions over time, changing and evolving, and even viewed in future scenarios for the purposes of making decisions about construction activities and finding optimal practical paths to delivery. But contractors must look further ahead than that.

5D planning is an essential next step on the path to BIM. Only with 5D planning can contractors fully integrate project cost plans with programmes – and keep them in step throughout the build. The potential is growing to show clients not just what a build looks like in different futures and how deadlines can be impacted, but how cost will be affected too.

It is just a short step to being able to produce not just buildings that meet deadline goals, but those which far more easily meet budgetary ones. From cost estimates and quantity take-offs, integrating financial plans is a vital enabler to visualise ongoing operational costs and making smarter decisions during building which have financial impacts for the future.

It means moving from thinking mostly about the CapEx cost of building to an OpEx-centric model, and for contractors to take some responsibility for producing buildings that are cheaper to run and maintain, in perpetuity. None of this is possible without integrating the financial dynamic into construction programmes from the start.

The fifth dimension is the stepping stone to the future, and toward the goal of a sixth dimension, which will bring long-term lifecycle and maintenance management factors to life. The goal of main contractors today is partly stuck in the analogue world: they think first and foremost about the delivery of a bricks and mortar asset, with digital models a secondary concern. BIM delivery now depends on delivering a rich asset consisting of data as well as bricks.

Delivery of a 3D model of the building is now always part of that deal, and sometimes 4D – but now it’s time to ensure that 5D becomes central too.

5D planning is an essential next step on the path to BIM. Only with 5D planning can contractors fully integrate project cost plans with programmes – and keep them in step throughout the build. – Jason Ruddle