BIM and Lean Construction – A clear Synergy

BIM and Lean Construction – a clear synergy

Lauri Koskela, University of Huddersfield, explains how BIM feeds into the principles of Lean Construction creating a common ground of improvement

BIM & Lean Construction

Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Lean Construction have now existed as independent initiatives for two decades or more. Both have had an origin deriving from academic studies, with the focus gradually shifting to industrial application. Initially, these two initiatives had their own separate networks of supporters, and the general understanding was that they offered mutually competing agendas.

However, less than ten years ago, practitioners trying to implement both Lean and BIM made a surprising insight: there is considerable synergy between these two initiatives – they fit together like hand and glove. Since then, this synergy has been increasingly been utilised in practice and explored in academic research.

It can be claimed that there are four major linkages between Lean and BIM. Firstly, BIM contributes directly to Lean principles. An example is provided by clash detection. The BIM software usually allows for the elimination of clashes between different design disciplines. This reduces delay and rework on site. In studies done in the era of two-dimensional drawings, design inconsistencies were identified as the single most important cause of problems on site. Thus, Building Information Modelling, as such, is reducing unnecessary effort and waste. This impact will be realised even without any efforts to implement other Lean principles.

Secondly, Lean principles and methods can be supported or facilitated through BIM. In this case, the existing BIM functionalities are used in a systematic manner for enabling Lean procedures and principles. For example, a computer simulation of a construction sequence is added as an essential part of collaborative planning of site tasks. Also in many other ways, illustrations and views derived from BIM can be used as tools of visual management, a cornerstone of Lean, to create a common ground between different participants in a design or construction process.

Thirdly, BIM based methods and tools can be developed and used for realising Lean principles. In this case, BIM functionalities are extended or augmented for the sake of realisation of Lean principles and methods. Rapid iteration cycles are at the heart of Lean. Cost or carbon footprint calculation models, taking their input data directly from a building information model, support this Lean principle. But there are many more opportunities. Rapidly evolving mobile computing is creating new possibilities for delivering BIM information directly to the work-face. Also, new software functionalities are currently being developed to allow viewing relevant parts of the building model during a collaborative planning session.

However, the relation between Lean and BIM is not a one-way road. Fourthly, it is argued that Lean principles facilitate the introduction of BIM. In Lean Construction, the emphasis is on predictability, discipline and collaboration. These are features which will support the introduction and implementation of BIM based technologies, especially the commercial solutions (sharing of gains and pains), and organisational solutions (integrated working, big room) developed for creating a collaborative environment for Lean implementation, seem to be suitable also for getting all benefits out of BIM.

These linkages have important managerial implications for both construction project management and management in firms participating in such projects. The incremental preparation of the building model should be careful, comprehensive and systematic, for realising the direct positive impacts to their full extent. However, for realising the full potential, the implementation of Lean in parallel to BIM should be considered. Then, the question arises how Lean processes can best be supported through BIM functionalities. On the other hand, it needs to be explored which auxiliary models would be useful and how they could leverage Lean processes. It is clear that relevant skills and capabilities have to be created as a long-term effort in the various firms of the construction industry – they cannot be created from scratch in the timeframe of an ordinary construction project.

In the area of computer-integrated manufacturing, there has been the saying that computer integration is like a magnifying glass: it makes a good system even better, but makes a poor system even worse. This insight seems to be true again in the context of Building Information Modelling, where computer integration is raised to a new unprecedented level.

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