Over the past decade we’ve seen significant digital transformation in the construction industry, with companies investing in new IT software to make project planning and communications more efficient.
One of widest adopted solutions has been Building Information Modelling (BIM) to manage construction projects online from beginning to end.
But while BIM software is streamlining key elements of the construction process, it’s not always delivering full value at every stage of the project lifecycle. And this is predominantly due to who is using BIM and why.
Architects and contractors: a tale of two BIM users
The biggest BIM user group is architects. According to Dodge Data & Analytics, 61% of architects incorporate BIM software into at least half their projects, with 89% stating they plan to increase their usage of BIM over the next 2-3 years.
For architects, BIM is an authoring technology; software for testing the limits of design, in conjunction with structural engineers. It’s a digital solution for developing ideas and creating a detailed vision at the start of each project, which can be shared with clients and contractors to support smooth-running, accurate construction.
The other key BIM user group is contractors. 44% of general contractors rely on BIM for at least half of their projects, which will rise to 69% within three years. But their key objectives are very different to architects.
Contractors are more likely to use BIM software for facilities management and as a Common Data Environment (CDE), ensuring projects are built to specification and meet industry governance, before handing over a detailed digital record at the end of the project to support future asset management.
There’s a clear, established value case for BIM at the beginning and conclusion of construction work. But its value proposition is less defined during project execution – and this is where BIM software with built-in 4D planning has the power to unlock new value.
4D planning creates a clear vision for project execution
At the moment, most construction companies rely on verbal communication and complex written timelines to plan and manage projects. Digital transformation has taken these online so they can be seamlessly adjusted, updated and shared, but this way of communicating can still lead to gaps in understanding..
4D planning brings a completely different approach to construction project management. It extends current 3D visualisation capabilities to add the fourth dimension of time, sequencing work and creating chronological videos that demonstrate how projects will be executed.
The advancement of 4D construction modelling is exciting for many reasons. First, it creates an opportunity to combine design and execution in an easy-to-interpret format. Architects and contractors can have practical conversations early on, testing assumptions and identifying opportunities to introduce smarter, safer working practices.
Second, 4D planning enables construction companies to identify operational efficiencies – reducing project operational costs. In the current climate of material shortages and rising prices, reducing build time or labour requirements is invaluable. As Deloitte notes in its 2022 Engineering and Construction Industry Outlook, “contractors should be proactive in managing processes and operations that contribute to margins and profitability, adding efficiencies and optimisation where possible.”
Finally, the value of 4D planning is delivered not just through what it can do, but in how it presents information. A visual demonstration can help contractors to grasp what’s required of them in seconds, which improves productivity. And throughout project execution, all stakeholders have complete visibility of not only their own sequence but everyone else’s – to see how changes to their workload impact the overall build.
Increasing customer engagement using 4D modelling
The mainstream introduction of 4D modelling is also transforming customer relationships, empowering digitally-savvy construction companies to win more tenders.
Incorporating 4D planning into project tenders improves upstream engagement, as potential customers are being given more than the fully realised vision; they are seeing the construction process leading up to it.
4D planning software can also be used to present a stronger business case for tender wins. For example, construction companies can use it to validate timelines and prove that they can build a project faster than other competitors.
It’s also a valuable way to demonstrate emerging or progressive construction techniques. Even in traditional bricks-and-mortar markets, we’re seeing a significant increase in the number of prefabricated and modular buildings being constructed; the global modular construction market is set to reach £82.6 billion by 2025.
4D modelling visualises how each prefabricated asset is installed on-site, giving customers the confidence to back construction methods that they may have not otherwise considered.
Construction companies are already using 4D planning to win business
While 4D is still an under-utilised technology, there are some construction companies already using the fourth dimension to great effect – like CIMIC Group.
The company has introduced an active 4D planning service from tender stage, to help its construction teams model multiple sequences and explore safe, sustainable solutions. By making data-driven decisions and visualising them in 4D, CIMIC can share reliable, high-value information with its stakeholders across the project lifecycle.
“Connectivity improves the solution, lifts performance and supports our client partnerships,” CIMIC’s CPB Contractors Manager Planning and Controls, Chris Priestland, mentioned in a recent interview. “We can work faster and smarter, as one team, toward the same project outcomes.”
CIMIC isn’t the only organisation leveraging the value of 4D. Another Australian construction company, Hansen Yuncken, has been using 4D construction sequencing since 2016, including using it on the delivery of the New Royal Adelaide Hospital – in one of the country’s biggest BIM projects.
We’re also seeing examples of 4D planning being utilised in other global regions. For example, it was pivotal to the construction of Minsur SA’s new tailings processing plant in San Rafael, Peru.
4D modelling is the future of digital construction management
If a picture paints a thousand words, then a video paints a million. 4D planning is providing construction companies with an opportunity to show colleagues, customers and contractors the best way to run future projects with much greater clarity and understanding.
As more companies develop their digital transformation strategy, the use of 4D technology will only increase, until it becomes the de facto approach for construction planning and management.
Construction companies that adopt 4D early can enhance tendering and strengthen their project execution and differentiate themselves from competitors – before the rest of the market catches up.