Saturday, March 01, 2008

Building Information Modeling & Green Technology Opportunities

I have been working on BIM (Building Information Modeling) strategy for the past month, and have also had the chance to interview a number of leading professionals in the green building technology area, as to how BIM might be leveraged to drive growth of green building technologies. A summary of this overview is provided here, with follow up posts on specific market opportunities.(A column covering these topics will be published in early March on a leading green technology web site).

The terms ‘cleantech’ or ‘green technologies’ have been applied to a wide array of processes, technologies, and services. Within this overall market space, there exist a number of specific target market segments such as transportation, energy development, and manufacturing, as examples. The buildings & facilities segment is a large target market segment for green technologies, given the size and projected growth around the world and opportunity to leverage a disruptive new technology for adoption of green technologies.

The building & facility industry is undergoing radical change today, as owners are demanding more project visibility; lower costs, better risk management (scheduling & costs), and increased use of technologies that will allow for less waste, more efficient energy consumption, and ultimately lower costs over the lifecycle of the facility (from design and construction to operations).

What is Building Information Modeling (“BIM”)

The rapid (but uneven) adoption of BIM in the buildings industry has changed the way facilities are designed, constructed, and even operated. The National Institute of Building Sciences (NBIS) defines BIM as “a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility, serving as a shared knowledge resource of information”. This knowledge or database contains the ‘intelligent objects” of a structure; not just lines and arcs typically associated with traditional CAD or drawing tools. As such, BIM can represent multiple, dynamic, and collaborative views of information such as spatial data (3D), un-structured data (text), and structured data (databases, spreadsheets), as well as new views including scheduling and cost information (termed ‘4D’ and ‘5D’, respectively).

This type of technology, with its associated benefits of visualization, built – in intelligence, and simulation is a dramatic step forward from the current technology used for design and construction: 2D CAD (computer assisted drawings). Patrick Suermann is a Testing Team Leader for NBIMS (National Building Information Modeling Standards Committee, a part of NBIS), and has led a number of BIM deployments for the US Army Corp of Engineers (USACE). “BIM is the next evolution of CAD maps, and allows for the design of a virtual model” states Suermann.

Why is the BIM adoption trend important for green technology companies to understand and incorporate into their market strategies? The use of BIM (both the technology and changes in increased collaboration) allows for significant exchange of data & information by all stakeholders involved over the lifecycle of the facility: owners, architects, engineers, contractors, and operators. This information includes that associated with green technology adoption: efficiencies in energy use; increased emphasis on environmental health; and the drive to generate less waste.

BIM and GreenTech Benefits to Owners & Operators

BIM allows provides the following benefits to stakeholders, with opportunities for green technology to add value:

Risk Management: BIM may provide more visibility into projects, and allow owners to manage risk through a collaborative and inclusive process. The inclusion of green technologies allows stakeholders to collaborate as well in this process.

Materials Management: Developing bid quantities and verifying them in a BIM process allows for more efficient material use, as well as opening opportunities to use more energy efficient and environmentally friendly materials. BIM may align scheduling and material quantities for better cash flow analysis as well.

Marketing & Branding: BIM provides a visual representation of a facility, and encourages collaborative review and discussion by stakeholders and public alike. Inclusion of greentech furthers the visual representation, by illustrating energy saving concepts and adherence to key green certifications, such as LEED. Green branding is thus improved as well

Portfolio Management: For owners of multiple facilities or enterprise level owners, BIM allows for the re-use and purposing of models to standardize design and construction; thus driving down material use & costs, as well as technology applications across a portfolio.

Optimization of Building Performance: BIM allows for integrated facility management, so that energy use, occupant health & comfort, and space planning may be monitored and improved upon.

“Not only can BIM optimize building performance via less waste generation during construction, and improved energy management during operation, it can accelerate certification for LEED status”, said Buddy Cleveland, SVP of Applied Research at Bentley Systems ( , a leading technology provider in the architecture, engineering & construction (AEC) market. LEED (‘Leadership in Environmental and Engineering Design’) is a highly accepted rating system for the design and construction of green buildings.

According the 2007 Green Index Study (conducted by Autodesk and the American Institute of Architects), 44% of architects surveyed are using BIM currently. The report went on to state that architects adopting BIM are more likely to adopt green building design software practices such as HVAC energy analysis, energy modeling, and also the evaluation of more environmentally - friendly building materials.

But across the AEC industry, the general interpretation, use, and even terminology of BIM are still in an early phase. “People are defining BIM as whatever they want it to be” commented Buddy Cleveland. BIM training, cultural acceptance (in the AEC sector), and business process modifications are all unique challenges that must be overcome for continued adoption in the marketplace.

Green Technologies in the Buildings & Facilities Industry

General categories of green technologies that apply to the buildings and facility market have been documented in many periodicals; for the building & facility industry, the key technologies of interest are:

Energy & Resource Efficiency (HVAC systems, day-lighting, water management & re-use)

Alternative Energy Development (self - contained solar, wind, and other power sources)

Advance Material Use (for insulation, walls, windows, structural)

Information Management (energy modeling, sensors, life cycle assessment)

Environmental / Health (occupant health & comfort, waste reduction, carbon emissions management)

Next up: the role of federal owners in driving BIM & Greentech growth, and some recommended strategies for greentech start ups.

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