Research in focus

Points of view – How to plan, construct, and run buildings

When major construction projects go wrong, they cease to be the sole concern of planners and officials and become matters of public debate. Notorious recent examples in Germany include the new airport in Berlin and the new philharmonic concert hall in Hamburg, where things have got so bad that people’s response to the latest reports of endlessly rising building costs and the constant pushing back of opening dates is likely to be a grim smile and a shake of the head. But many medium-scale building projects such as shopping malls, offices, and public buildings also create headlines due to planning deficiencies, construction errors, and exploding costs. Almost exactly three years ago, the German Construction Industry Federation (Hauptverband der Deutschen Bauindustrie e.V.) asked itself the fundamental question: "Over time and over budget – an inevitability in the construction industry?" and drafted a position paper on its conclusions.
Every building project is unique, and apart from incalculable risks – such as unforeseen archeological finds and munitions discoveries, raw material price rises, and unfavorable weather conditions – it is undoubtedly individual project planning and all its processes that pose the greatest challenge for everyone involved. It is hardly surprising, then, that many of the solutions put forward in the position paper call for better project management and tighter, more precise planning that includes coordination with all the parties involved. Happily, there is an effective way to achieve efficient, interdisciplinary planning and running of buildings. It is called building information modeling (BIM) and it is a field in which the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics IBP offers its scientific expertise.

The German construction industry is characterized by cooperation between many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which reconfigure into brand new consortia for every new building project, where they have to coordinate their separate business processes with the other partners. In addition, the construction industry is facing the challenge internationally of constantly increasing specialization. This goes hand in hand with a progressive fragmentation of planning and a resulting increase in building project complexity, with many mutual dependencies and interrelationships. Moreover, all this is taking place against the backdrop of constantly rising deadline and cost pressures. "Traditional planning methods based on 2D plans are less and less able to master the growing requirements for building projects," explains Fraunhofer IBP scientist Peter Noisten, who heads the BIMiD funding project. Fraunhofer IBP acts as the project coordinator and is responsible for ensuring that the project goals and time and cost schedules are met as well as for coordinating all the partners. BIMiD is part of the "eStandards: Standardizing business processes, securing success" funding initiative within the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy’s "SME Digital" priority funding category. The project is designed to demonstrate BIM in action using concrete sample building projects and to benefit the German construction and real estate industry through its findings.
Many experts now see BIM as a promising solution that can also deliver a huge boost to the competitiveness of the German construction and real estate industry. This is because BIM focuses on consistent business processes that work across different companies and media without disruptions, and because it uses open, manufacturer-neutral e-business standards when planning, constructing, and managing buildings and other structures. "An effective process is contingent on having a shared language – in other words, the definition of technical requirements in the form of processes and the information to be exchanged, a formal description of interfaces and/or modeling on existing standards, the creation of supplementary documentation, and the furnishing of examples," says Noisten and adds: "Whereas these methods are already widely used in places such as the United States, England, and Scandinavia, we’ve a lot of catching up to do here in Germany."
The "BIMiD" funding project
Three goals were defined by the partners at the outset of the funding project. As an important prerequisite for use of the BIM method, the first step is to develop a process-oriented method of working in the planning and construction phases – one that is based on reference processes from other economic sectors and adapted to the specific building projects. In a second step, the project partners want to identify the reservations of potential users who have opposed the successful use and spread of BIM before now and to take their concerns duly into account. Finally, the results obtained are to be shaped into educational content in order to improve further training in BIM and to facilitate the development of courses of study specifically designed around BIM. This means the target group that will benefit from the project’s findings is broad.
First of all, this naturally includes all experts along the entire value chain in the construction and real estate industry, in particular architects, construction engineers, specialist planners, construction and real estate companies, facility managers, and trade businesses. However, it also includes public and private building contractors and owners, as they also stand to benefit from the potential increases in efficiency from BIM and play an important role in the use and dissemination of the approach. In addition, the expected research results will be useful to everyone involved in BIM education and further training.
What makes BIM so controversial?
At the first BIM conference organized by the German architecture magazine DETAIL in Munich at the end of November 2014, for which Fraunhofer IBP was a cooperation partner, the advantages and disadvantages of BIM were debated and possible ways forward sketched. A lot of explanation and persuasion work was required, as quite a few of the relevant players in Germany remain to be convinced of the method. What some people view as a ready-made solution for all future requirements is a source of anxiety and concern to others. Until now, the chief advocates of the BIM method have tended to be large companies and architecture firms that plan and build at an international level. However, this is set to change, and the advantages that lie dormant in the system are clear and unequivocal: better coordination between specialist planners and the individual trades, fewer planning errors, and the elimination of data entry repetition are all factors that will increase cost and time efficiencies. The creation of 3D models in the planning phase reveals at an early stage problems such as clashes between building service lines and structural components, and computer-aided simulations based on the models can supply important information about the building’s stability and energy requirements before construction work begins. However, there are also valid concerns that need to be answered: How might occupations and organizational forms change in the construction sector? Will there be a shift in roles, responsibilities, and the kinds of services offered? And above all, how is data exchange supposed to work between the various companies and operators when they all use different software?
This important issue is the main focus of one of the six work packages to be processed in the course of the BIMiD funding project, which deals with the standardization of business processes, data requirements, and interfaces. The tasks in this package also help to prepare the training concepts that are a necessary part of giving the reference project an educational framework, and they form the basis for the comparison between traditional and BIM-based construction in the "Preparing and supporting the construction project" work package, for which Fraunhofer IBP is responsible. The method developed by Fraunhofer IBP’s scientists is used effectively here.
Reference objects in Braunschweig and Ingolstadt
At the heart of the BIMiD joint project is a specific building project for which these processes and standards will be applied, further developed, and scientifically evaluated right from the planning and construction phase. In addition to technical aspects such as interface definition and issues relating to application methodology, BIMiD will also focus on work organization and user acceptance.
Following a selection process among almost 100 applicants that lasted several months, the BIMiD consortium chose the new construction project "House H" – a five-story office building – by Volkswagen Financial Services AG (VWFS) in Braunschweig. "The building contractor itself was behind the 'House H' application, and was able to convincingly persuade us of its firm intention to systematically use the BIM method during planning and construction in the future – that was a crucial factor that swung our decision in its favor," explains Peter Noisten. Another strength of the application was the fact that VWFS will run and use the finished building and its 400 ultra-modern and flexible workstations itself. "This ensures that the data model will be used during the entire lifecycle of the building and, for example, that VWFS’s facility management can be integrated at an early planning stage," says Noisten.
In the meantime, the construction documentation for the virtual building model has been completed. In this phase, the building contractor was particularly impressed by the transparency and the high degree of flexibility in terms of modifications afforded by the BIM method. "Because the model identified any clashes between individual building trades at an early stage, we were able to avoid them. Alternative solutions were available much faster than is usual for such large construction projects," summarizes Sabine Burkert from VWFS’s real estate management unit. VWFS received the construction permit at the start of July. After the building site had been set up at Käferweg in Braunschweig, the diggers rolled in to start the groundwork. Despite the difficult local conditions and the challenging building site logistics they presented, it was possible to commence carcassing work in mid-August.
A further building project that the BIMiD consortium selected to scientifically accompany as an associated BIM reference object during the planning and building processes is the "OfficeCenter Pionierkaserne" on the site of a former military engineer barracks in Ingolstadt. The private building contractor and the pbb Planung + Projektsteuerung GmbH design office are currently in the construction document phase for the new four-story building, which will cover a total of 12,000 square meters and feature an underground parking garage, retail stores and restaurants on the ground floor, and offices and medical practices on the upper floors. Start of construction is scheduled for the fall of 2015 and work is due to be completed one year later.
Raising public awareness of BIM
"The BIMiD funding project will facilitate entry to the world of integrated planning and will help the SME-heavy German construction and real estate industry to gain access to this field internationally in the medium term. Building information modeling allows significant increases in efficiency and quality along the entire value chain," says Klaus Peter Sedlbauer, director of Fraunhofer IBP and Professor of Building Physics at Technische Universität München. In order to bring these advantages increasingly into public focus, the BIMiD project’s sixth work package deals with public relations. Objectives include raising awareness in the construction and real estate industry for BIM issues and the need to establish relevant e‐business standards, reporting about the funding project, documentation of the process, and effective communication to the general public of the project’s progress and results and of cooperation with various industry associations. In addition, there will be regular BIM events , such as the free symposium on October 28 in the Bavarian city of Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz. Anyone who is interested can subscribe to the newsletter to stay regularly informed about current developments and progress in the BIMiD project.
Even in Germany, the question "to BIM or not to BIM" is simply no longer on the table for many large design offices and companies. However, the method also offers many benefits for SMEs who want to remain competitive and bring flexibility and a focus on users’ needs to the planning and execution of building projects.