BIM (Building Information Modelling) is one of the biggest opportunities that surveyors have had presented to them in many years. The model-based approach combines both processes and technologies to support the efficient creation and use of information for construction and building operations.

Add to this its strong use of spatial information, and you can see why many believe BIM offers rich possibilities for surveyors as well as other geospatial professionals.

The possibilities that BIM opens up to surveyors are thanks to a growing acceptance of BIM within the world of architects, engineers and other traditional surveying clients. If surveyors work to gain a basic understanding of BIM and how the skills and tools involved can contribute to a more BIM-based approach to construction, then they will be able to position themselves better to serve their clients needs.

It is important to remember, however, that the use of BIM will vary with each project, as while spatial information is key to many BIM processes, it is only a small bit of the information needed to be able to move from the design model to actual construction and then the operation of the building. Additional information of the individual components of the structure, such as asset management, descriptions, installation and so on, will be used by multiple disciplines. On top of this, BIM processes usually include some project management and 4D/5D costing and scheduling components as well.

Surveyors who are working on BIM projects, therefore, need to be flexible and understand the role that spatial information plays in the many BIM processes. They must also be able to use their skills to ensure this spatial data is accurate and used in an efficient way. In fact, Surveyors who really want to be successful in their field should become highly skilled in BIM concepts and the associated technologies that rely on spatial information so they can provide a valuable service throughout a construction project’s lifecycle.

Automation and Construction

BIM tends to start with a digital approach to the processes within a project with automation and digital technology proving their value across a wide variety of industries recently. CAD (computer-aided design) and CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) have transformed many industrial processes already and reduced costs due to an increase in capacity, productivity and quality. As automation tends to make business competitive and profitable, then we foresee that automated processes and equipment will continue to be pushed into new applications and arenas, especially in the world of surveying.

However, the construction industry as a whole has been slow to adapt to new technologies, and so there is still a great opportunity for improved efficiency and productivity.  As more and more architects, engineers and project owners catch on to using BIM and how it can improve quality and reduce costs, surveyors will start to benefit from the use of BIM as well.

The geospatial information that surveyors tend to deal with, is essential information for the whole contractor team during the planning and design stages of a project. But there are bigger opportunities for surveyors that come into play when BIM is carried into the subsequent stages of the project lifecycle – such as the actual construction, inspection, financial control and project management stages. Surveyors can play a key part in these processes through the collection and management of as-built and inspection data. As-built information is relied on by many project managers as they use it to inform their decisions about upgrades and modifications over the life of the building.

Geospatial Information and BIM

As we have mentioned above, geospatial data from both aerial and ground resources is one of the most important first layers of a construction project. The presence of this data in the BIM model helps to streamline the collaborative process of analysis, permitting and planning by helping to prevent any surprises from occurring during the main building work.

Surveyors can provide a valuable service to ensure all stakeholders are working from a common understanding by managing the horizontal and vertical datum transformation between the various building and site design models in order to establish a single, consistent 3D reference frame.

Many other measuring tasks are also commonly performed by subcontractors and tradespeople throughout a construction project, and surveyors can help to ensure this key data is maintained and developed throughout the project as well.

In essence, surveyors should think of BIM as being a niche opportunity – although you may say it is a very big niche! Surveyors are well-positioned to become trusted participants in BIM-based construction projects due to their expertise with spatial information. They should also leverage their skills in 3D data management, modelling and visualisation to support the design and build processes that lie at the core of BIM.