Building Information Modelling: Definition and Levels

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 9 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

In the construction industry, professionals use a wide range of tools during the planning, design and implementation stages of building projects. An important tool that's common across all the construction stages is building information modelling or building information management (BIM), which involves the use of 3D modelling to visualise every detail of a structure. Understanding what building information management is and how to use it can improve project planning and enhance collaboration between construction professionals and clients. In this article, we define what BIM is, discuss its different levels, explain how it works and answer other questions about the topic.

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What is building information modelling?

Building information modelling or BIM involves creating a 3D model of a building for planning, coordination, simulation, collaboration and documentation purposes. BIM creates an interactive 3D model of the different stages of a building from the plan, design, construction and delivery to the client. The 3D model shows the technical specifications and data of the proposed structure, and professionals can update the information as the project progresses. This makes it a tool that allows civil engineers, real estate developers, contractors, architects, mechanical electrical and plumbing MEP) engineers, structural engineers, builders, decorators and other parties to collaborate effectively on project implementation.

BIM provides technical, procurement, financial, geospatial, logistical and material information about a proposed structure or building, making it a source of data for governments, regulators, property managers and other interested parties who require deeper insights about a particular construction project. This data can help improve the efficiency and accuracy of execution, transfer knowledge amongst stakeholders and resolve coordination issues arising from the complexity of large construction projects.

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The different levels of BIM

There are six levels of BIM. The complexity, expertise, collaboration and knowledge transfer increase as you rise through the levels. Here are the six levels:

BIM level zero

At level zero, engineers use paper drawings and digital printouts, and collaboration doesn't exist amongst the different teams. If a model exists at this stage, the teams aren't sharing it with each other. Level zero applies to projects that don't require BIM. Such projects are typically small, and simple and don't require high-level collaboration among construction professionals.

BIM level one

At this level, project managers can use 3D modelling to conceptualise project specifications. Despite the use of 3D modelling, all the production information and technical documentation is in 2D. This means that project managers only share 2D formats of the structure with other team members or departments. At this level, collaboration is minimal, and each department produces and manages its data individually.

BIM level two

BIM level two is the stage where collaboration increases significantly amongst the different project teams and stakeholders. At this level, the teams start sharing project data via BIM software and 3D models. Note that each team might still use a different model of the project, but the intelligent nature of the BIM software allows different parties to update the data as they complete their work.

BIM level three

BIM level three is where all the team members use the same BIM software and 3D models to collaborate on the project. For seamless sharing of information, they store the model in a central database where every team member can gain access to it. At this level, the BIM software updates project data automatically, simplifying knowledge transfer and collaboration.

BIM level four

BIM level four increases the capabilities of the 3D model and software. Here, the team can include scheduling data so that different parties can assign estimated start and completion dates to specific parts of the project. This feature makes planning and collaboration more efficient and introduces more predictability to the team's work.

BIM level five

BIM level five includes budgetary data in the 3D modelling. This allows project teams to estimate costs, analyse budgets and track cost-to-work ratios. BIM level five provides project managers with a simplified cost analysis tool and allows them to visualise project costs in real time. At this level, project managers have a better understanding of how to manage costs to ensure the project stays within budget.

BIM level six

This is the most complex level of building information management and adds sustainability data to the 3D model. It provides project managers and other stakeholders with the tools to estimate the potential energy consumption of a building, which allows them to compare current developmental costs against future operational expenses. This capability gives stakeholders valuable insights into how to make the structure more energy efficient.

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How does BIM work?

While BIM relies on comprehensive 2D and 3D computer-aided design (CAD) models, it works differently. Unlike regular CAM software, BIM programs have intuitive capabilities that allow them to add detailed technical, geospatial, material and other broad-scope information about each of the systems in a structure to models. Thanks to their richer data visualisation capabilities, BIM software makes CAD drawings more dynamic. They're not only a design interface, but a powerful tool for collaboration, project management, cost analysis and decision-making.

For example, while a CAD design may show builders the layout of a space earmarked for remodelling, BIM allows an MEP engineer to include detailed specifications about the type, length and gauge of the electrical and plumbing pipes required for that part of a building. BIM can provide the visual and technical details of load-bearing walls, the routes of electrical cables and the quality of the plumbing materials required for HVAC systems based on the size of a room and the climate of a region.

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How is BIM software used in construction?

BIM software is used to document and visualise the designs behind the infrastructure. Project managers use BIM to model as many details as possible in a structure so that everyone can clearly understand it. With BIM models, ideas for a structure can undergo experimentation and general discussion. BIM software is useful for tracking the life cycle of a project, even through renovations. The process of BIM modelling is as follows:

  • Planning stage: During this phase, project planners who use the BIM software conceptualise the models for the building project. This means taking measurements to capture real data from existing structures to generate models for the BIM project.

  • Designing stage: Next, project participants use the BIM software to construct the model using the data gathered during the planning phase. They use BIM logistics to construct a model structure and plan a complete design that is, at this stage, without a rendered model or data.

  • Building stage: After designing the building plan, they construct models and give data specifications for each BIM object used. This is when they make the BIM representable to other members of the project, such as project leaders and add finishing touches to make the model ready for use and further editing.

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Elements of BIM

To function effectively, BIM requires the successful integration of the following five elements:

  • Information: BIM includes both model and document information. Models are digital data 3D representations of an object that are stored in file format. Documents are the digital data 2D papers, drawings, images and videos.

  • Processes: This is the specific schedule of work activities from start to finish, with a clear identification of project activities.

  • Policies: These are the guidelines and rules that guide any project decision-making.

  • Technologies: BIM includes a variety of software and hardware tools that are used to manage each stage.

  • People: The professionals involved in the project are vital to its success and important roles in BIM may include a BIM manager, BIM consultant and BIM technologist.

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Functions of a BIM object

The functions of a BIM object include:

  • Building: BIM objects store data from the entire model and reflect it into elements of a building. For example, if a manager chooses steel key bolts, the BIM software updates the model to reflect this choice.

  • Storing: All BIM objects contain information that's critical for the building process. By using the stored data for BIM objects, professionals can collaborate on planning and building successfully.

  • Updating: If any element of the BIM object changes, the BIM software can update that change to the BIM object's data, allowing for clients to stay up-to-date on the BIM's status.

  • Syncing: Project managers collect and share BIM information through a common data environment, which allows others access to the information they require to understand the model. They can later refer to any set point for comparison and building improvement.

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