By Donna Laquidara-Carr, Ph.D., LEED AP
For many years, the water sector has lagged significantly in the use of building information modeling (BIM) behind the vertical building sector. However, a new study published in The Business Value of BIM for Water Projects SmartMarket Report demonstrates that the tide is turning as owners and project teams begin to experience the benefits of BIM.
In the landmark 2012 study, The Business Value of BIM for Infrastructure SmartMarket Report, Dodge Data & Analytics looked at the emergence of BIM use in the infrastructure sector. While the sector lagged in BIM use behind the building sector at that time, water was particularly slow to embrace BIM — with only 30 percent of respondents reporting that they implement BIM on over half of their water projects — significantly fewer than those in other infrastructure sectors.
However, the new Business Value of BIM for Water Projects SmartMarket Report (www.construction.com/toolkit/reports/business-value-bim-water-projects), published in spring 2018 by Dodge Data & Analytics in partnership with Autodesk and Black & Veatch, with additional support from e-Builder and Pinnacle Infotech, reveals that high BIM implementation is now quite common for at least two types of projects: water/wastewater treatment facilities and mining/industrial projects. In fact, nearly half of engineers, contractors, and owners using BIM for these two project types do so on the majority of these projects (more than 75 percent). In addition, water/wastewater treatment facilities will see even higher levels of implementation within two years, with almost two thirds (61 percent) of those using BIM on these facilities expecting to use it on more than 75 percent of these projects.
This high level of BIM implementation, though, is not universal across the water sector. Tunneling, linear infrastructure, and hydroelectric projects lag significantly behind water/wastewater treatment facilities and mining/industrial projects, both in terms of BIM use in general and in levels of high implementation. However, those using BIM in these lagging project types expect to dramatically ramp up their level of BIM use within the next two years.
To be clear, these findings are not an indication of the level of adoption of BIM in this sector; they only represent the responses of those already using BIM for water projects. However, understanding the degree to which those currently using BIM for water projects find that it adds value is particularly helpful, given the challenges this sector has faced in embracing BIM. The findings reveal that BIM users in this sector are deeply committed to completing water projects with BIM, a commitment that grows as they are exposed to the benefits of working with BIM.
The study also demonstrates that BIM users report a lot of project and business benefits from using BIM for water projects. The top business benefit is the way that BIM enhances the ability for teams to work collaboratively, and the study shows that this enables benefits such as better design solutions, reduced errors and omissions, better ability to maintain quality, and increased client satisfaction.
One surprising finding in this study is the degree to which owners of water facilities are already interested in the ways in which they can capitalize on the 3D model during the operations phase, even though BIM use is still maturing in this sector. The use of BIM in the operations phase of these facilities suggests that facility owners may be the most important drivers of wider BIM adoption for water projects in the future. Right now, its appeal to owners means that BIM can offer a competitive advantage to engineers and contractors in the water sector. Eventually, it may become increasingly necessary to do work in this sector at all.
Donna Laquidara-Carr, Ph.D., LEED AP, is Industry Insights research director, Dodge Data & Analytics (www.construction.com), North America’s leading provider of analytics and software-based workflow integration solutions for the construction industry.