The lack of standardization and public coordination on a federal scale has slowed down the adoption of BIM technology in the USA, differently from other countries that are making progresses
BIM was developed in the United States in the early 70’s: the first description of a virtual model of a building was presented in a famous publication by Charles M. Eastman (today recognized as one of the world’s most competent authorities in this field) in 1974, based on a research developed at the Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh PA, titled “An outline of the building descrition system“.
We are usually led to consider the United States as the most advanced country in regards of BIM adoption, but in reality, it is not.
It is only in the last 3 years that the adoption of BIM has found its vigor spreading throughout the confederate states, but rather slowly, in the architectural, engineering and construction industry (AEC).
The 2016/2020 plan adopted by the United Kingdom, which requires a level 2 BIM use for all public works, shows how the USA have been left behind unlike other countries.
Other countries have adopted methods and technologies from the United States, while improving them and adapting their use to fit local needs and avoiding the mistakes made by the Americans, that were caused by the difference in regulations from state to state.
The origins of BIM in the USA and current issues
The introduction of BIM in the USA is dated back to the 70’s, but its first real implementation started in the 90’s. It is in 1997, with the first version of IFC files, that the US industry became fully aware of the importance of BIM technology in constructions.
The opening process of digital constructions in the United States has been slow and tortuous, because of its experimental form; long term solutions and improvements are still being experimented.
To fill the gap with other countries on the adoption of BIM, the United States needs to elaborate a strategy and a national policy valid for all the confederate States and public projects.
Without standard policies for the whole country, the diffusion of BIM technology will be strictly based on the relation between client and contractor, with different methods for each project.
The fact that many federal departments and agencies have created their own standards, publishing them on specific forums like the “national institute of building science”, have created an Institutional confusion, since those standards were created in an independent way and without relations between agencies.
Some might see this non-uniformity in the adoption of BIM technologies in the United States as an advantage, since , unlike what happens with other countries, this allows a faster solution to problems tied to standards which often risk to be seen as a limit.
Differently, in the United Kingdom public projects are solely delivered by one agency and, therefore, they can be perfectly planned and coordinated.
The gap between the highest and lowest level of BIM adoption in each American state has decreased from 18% in 2009 to only 11% in 2012, and, possibly, it could lower even more in the future.
The main initiative from a government agency was in 2003, when the “General Services Administration (GSA) “through the Public Building Services (PBS), has established a 3D/4D/BIM program publishing some guide lines for the construction industry.
GSA is now exploring the adoption of BIM throughout the complete project life cycle, publishing the following guide lines in different sectors:
- series 1 – 3d/4d BIM overview
- series 2 – spatial program validation
- series 3 – 3d laser scanning
- series 4 – 4d phasing
- series 5 – energy performance and operations
- series 6 – circulation and security validation
- series 7 – building element
- series 8 – facility managment
BIM keywords in the USA: standardization and collaboration
The 2 basic aspects that helped improving productivity in the US construction industry have been standardization and collaboration.
Construction standards have led to improved ROI – Return on Investment – both for contractors and engineers. The main innovations are being obtained by big companies, that operate through various offices, cities and various contexts using those digital processes to unify their operating methods and to better coordinate their work.
American engineering faculties, that converted to BIM only in the last few years, have started to become familiar with these processes and they are adapting themselves faster than American architects have done in the past. The contractor’s community instead, unlike the technical community, has already understood how to use BIM technology and its application, being able also to test and add new technologies and methods on site.
The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) is a non-profit organization that gathers technical associations and construction companies meant to protect their interests. Its target is to identify and solve potential problems that can slow down the adoption of BIM in the USA.
The NBIMS- US project committee, that depends directly on NIBS, draw up a document that aims to improve and analyze the whole construction chain using a standardized informative model.
Particularly, this document has pointed out how, thanks to BIM, we have:
- a 5% reduction of the final construction costs
- a 5% increase of speed for project completion
- a 25% increase of AEC sector’s productivity
- a 25% decrease of manpower use
This document underlines how AEC companies are obtaining a remarkable increase of ROI thanks to the adoption of BIM. Therefore, BIM is considered an indispensable methodology for achieving innovation in the constructions processes.