Seven ways to get BIM working for FM teams

If a facilities management (FM) team is to use asset data, derived from the construction stage model, for the management of a building, it’s important that all parties collaborate efficiently at the beginning of a project, to ensure that all of the relevant information and requirements are detailed. Gerard van der Wijngaard at Trimble MEP discusses how FM requirements can be defined and achieved using Mechanical Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) as an example.

The use of BIM is continuing to grow within the industry, with people moving away from thinking it’s just a tool to design and visualise a building. Instead, they are realising the benefits it can provide to not only all of the parties involved in the construction process, but also for the building’s asset management team once built.

With the chance to gain BIM data from contractors throughout a building’s construction, or in fact when any building change happens, missing this opportunity simply means paying for the collection of that data again in the future.

More advanced pro-BIM clients are now experiencing the real benefits of the 3D model, with the latest BIM applications including the implementation of workplace management processes such as modelling virtual emergency drills or, more recently, initiatives to support the post Covid-19 or social distancing economy.

So, where do you start?

1. See everyone in your building as a potential customer for your BIM data 

Anyone requesting information from an FM department is a possible customer of your BIM. Likewise, consider them as someone who can add data to your BIM, especially if it is constructed well. Position BIM as a ‘service’ that provides and requires data.

Traditionally, a draughtsperson would provide 2D MEP drawings for different projects at varying levels of detail. A technical maintenance job would need a greater level of MEP detail for example, than an FM project that involves moving one department from one part of the building to another. There are many people who will need access to these kinds of drawings and plans at different levels of detail.

Whether you’re developing a BIM from 2D drawings for an existing building or embarking on a new build project, the starting point is to think about how the model will be used from an FM perspective; how the people who work on and in your building need to use the MEP drawings. Measuring how many times a day these drawing requests are made and for what, will help you establish how the model could be used. 

Here are a few examples of possible BIM model uses for FM: 

Briefing MEP contractors when building components need to be replaced or modified

2D and 3D drawings can be accessed and shared, schedules managed and, once the work is complete the model updated for future reference.

Livestream monitoring

The Building Management System (BMS) that controls heating and ventilation, and may include access control, CCTV, fire and security alarm sensors for example, can all be linked to the BIM and monitored through a digital 3D layer.

Zero carbon or sustainability reporting

Data can be harvested for environmental stewardship purposes or, the model might also provide the necessary information about reusable materials within a building. For instance, if you want to place solar panels on an existing roof you’ll need to calculate energy input. With ‘good’ data available you can see what’s in your ceilings and whether any existing systems can be reused for the new system.

In an ideal BIM world, you’re looking to achieve the building’s digital twin; one that clients can use as a ‘consultant’ for their building and building management systems, including accurate plans of the building and its assets that hold the necessary data for its operation and management.

2. Establish good information protocols and agree data deliverables

If you want the BIM model to be used for FM this needs to be specified as a BIM deliverable in the EIR (Exchange Information Requirements) and ILS (ILS is the Dutch BIM Basic Information Delivery Specifications referred to as Basic-ILS). In a successful BIM project, measurable digital deliverables will be outlined at the start.

A project leader and the building’s data archivers will be able to assist in establishing what data should be captured and how it needs to be viewed; how it can be transferred into a usable format for the model, and how the data will be archived and used long term. Think, literally decades.

Data deliverables for MEP could include:

Consistent structured model – EMCS based

Uniform object classification optimises collaboration. Standards such as ETIM and GTIN references in the Netherlands, similar to Uniclass 2015 in the UK, may provide the output of one stage and the input for the next project phase, all the way through management and maintenance.

To establish a good information leverage protocol, parameters need to be outlined in the EIR/ ILS – at the very least describe what you want as a minimum, this can always be enriched in the future. For example, state that the MEP requirements should be produced in Extended MEPcontent Standard (EMCS). EMCS complies as much as possible with existing standards and guidelines, both from platform-specific guidelines and European standardisation organisations (e.g. ETIM, COBie, RVB BIM, VDI 3805, ISO 16757). This industry standard is one that manufacturers can also work to and building owners can use.

Generic, specific or detailed?

Create an inventory of the content you will need in your BIM. This includes thinking about the requested levels of detail and information in the BIM protocol. It will provide the right detail for design and clash control, installation and ‘as built’ asset data for equipment recording purposes and future maintenance reference. You could for example, design to ‘Generic’, ‘Specific’ (this is the one that is required for MEP work) or ‘Detailed’. However, the deepest level of detail isn’t always required as it may make the model too large and difficult to work with.

Actual mechanical diagrams and electrical schematics

Besides all the information in the 3D environment, don’t forget the schematic presentations. For troubleshooting purposes a simplified presentation is still necessary – see Image 1. Schematic drawings can also contain information. For example, design specifications and the element code of a pump. This is also model information. A good start for a BIM can be to update and register these drawings in a way that connects the information with the 3D model.

Tag-code for the most important mechanical components

Code your MEP elements efficiently. Accurate digital asset tagging will deliver accurate data. This can then be used for a variety of different applications including anything from clash detection reports to generating schedules to linking into other systems such as climate control. 

3. Transform your 2D drawings to 3D BIM

Valuable BIM data can be taken from 2D drawings and converted into a BIM model. Take a large hospital as an example and your first BIM project involves the installation of a new operating theatre.

The existing 2D drawing available shows square metre coordinates as annotations. This provides the base information required to model in 3D. Using a model-sharing platform like Trimble Connect, the 2D plans can be combined with the 3D model. See Image 2:

Bringing the space to life, the BIM can be used to identify electrical circuits for lighting; power connections and their location within the space, as can the mechanical equipment available for heating and ventilation.

Dependent on capacity, the 3D modelling can be done internally or by an external company who may have more specialist expertise.

There are other tools to help collect the data faster too, such as 3D laser scanning equipment like the Trimble X7. This is especially useful for existing buildings. Ceiling tiles are removed, the scanner is raised above into the cavity where all the MEP elements are. The as-built data collected can then be modelled and migrated into Trimble Connect for collaborative use.

4. Check and validate the delivered information 

When a 2D drawing or BIM is created at the design and specification stage, detailing can often change at the build phase. This is why it’s vital that the deliverables are checked and validated so that they are recorded in the model ‘as built’.

Accurate digital asset tagging is essential at this point too so that the BIM model can ‘talk’ to the FM system seamlessly. For instance, an air conditioning unit might be the element tagged, and then ‘pointed’ to the FM software system to manage component elements such as filters – the tagging needs to be exact for it to work smoothly.

To explain this to clients, we use the example of the ‘citizen service number’ (BSN) in the Netherlands. Everyone has one and it is used as a unique identifier to help with contact between different government organisations, and between individuals and government, without making errors (similar to National Insurance numbers in the UK).

5. Ensure the BIM is maintained and updated continually 

Just as the BIM should be checked and validated at the end of a build, this practice also needs to be applied at the operations and maintenance stage. Examples might include, when a part is replaced, or when a water supply is removed where a space has been reconfigured.

The BIM needs to be updated. This can be done either as a request to an external supplier, or internally. A BIM manager or someone responsible for the quality of information would update the BIM. Alternatively, it could be outsourced to a specialist consulting company.

6. If building owners have never taken a BIM approach – encourage them to start with one BIM project

Today, a lot of FM handover is still done in 2D but things are changing. Even starting one BIM project is worth the investment.

Most building owners who have embarked on a BIM are still in a hybrid situation, for instance all the electrical parts may be in one 3D model, which can be a challenge when multiple contractors are working in different parts of the building at the same time while it is in use. However, there are ways round this with software tools that allow information to be viewed, shared and the model updated in real-time.

Once, BIM is being used, the data can be analysed to measure how many people are using it daily, who they are, why and how it is being used. Operational efficiency benefits can be identified and a well-supported business case presented to key decisions makers to promote the development of a BIM strategy.

7. Finally… share your BIM success with your stakeholders 

This is important, yet often forgotten. Share your BIM successes within your business. Communicate how the BIM data is being used to achieve results, use and develop the data and keep growing the BIM in your business. 

To find out how you can make the move from 2D to BIM and a 3D environment, visit https://mep.trimble.co.uk/

Story for BIM+? Get in touch via email: [email protected]


  1. Gerard, excellent article, nice to see some real thought being put into this!
    Sadly, from my experience working across the various lifecycle disciplines for many years BIM has been all too focussed on the Capital Delivery phase with limited thought given to the Asset Owners and Operators, by their own admission I must add . . . the disconnect between BIM and Asset Management has been clear for many years with both the disciplines and respective platforms rarely ‘playing nicely’ and Design and Construction focussed BIM seemingly driving another wedge into the divide.
    Ive sat in so many Design meetings, and countless Asset Management meetings, but hardly any where the two are discussed side-by-side as two pieces of the same BIM puzzle, likely because theyre traditionally seen as such separate entities, forced apart by a chasm of Project time, deliverables and finance. This is no doubt propagated by the fact that although workflows exist that facilitate the flow of information between the Capital and Operational realms i.e BIM to CMMS, CAFM or EAM systems…it isn’t as streamlined as it should be given the value of what is being handed over…so the disconnect between Design, Build and Operations exists at both the technological and disciplinary levels. So the real challenge in my view is engaging Asset Owners, Operators and Investors in conversations about BIM that aren’t focussed on the design and build aspect, but of BIM as a function of their Business and Operational Requirements.
    Asset Owners and Operators are arguably concerned with leveraging the Asset to support and enhance the Business and Operational Models, but when we really boil it down its just about WORK, enhancing and facilitating whatever type of ‘work’ occurs within the Asset, and how data is used to capture, manage & carry out that work, and this is where BIM can really play its part. Moving away from the D&B centric idea of BIM may necessitate moving away from Building Information Modelling mentality to simply Better Information Management to better engage with Asset Owners, Operators and Investors.

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