How 4D BIM Improves Construction Modeling and Projects


The visualization that BIM modeling provides for AEC firms is invaluable. Gorgeous, detailed building models help every stakeholder—be it the designer, contractor, or client—better understand the nature of the project and what can be expected when it comes time to prepare the deliverables. Things get complicated, however, when it’s time to actually start building. What happens when the timeline isn’t right? What is your backup plan for discovering problem areas during construction? How will you account for any workplace injuries?

3D is great for visualization, but the perfect model takes into account any potential conflicts that a project might run into. That’s when 4D BIM comes in handy. It creates tighter and more efficient construction project outcomes.

construction site

4D BIM Visualizes the Project From Start to Finish

Time is that fourth dimension, and it is the true differentiator. 4D pairs the visual component of the model with a timeline derived from several factors:

  • Construction sequencing: the actual animation of the structure as it moves through the established phases of design and building.
  • Construction scheduling: The estimated time it will take the project to be completed (which can be modified)

This combination of factors enables the team to do more than just visualize what the finished project looks like: It lets you see what it looks like at each phase of the construction period, both the building itself and the site as a whole. This sets the stage for more strategic planning and budgeting on the team’s part before anything is set in stone. Entire construction sites can be curated early in the planning phase.

Most importantly, this establishes the time constraints of the project. The manual way of estimating the time needed to complete a project is fraught with uncertainty and instability. 4D BIM provides much more accurate estimations, setting the course for timely deliverables. The data takes into consideration a number of factors:

  • The scope and scale of the project
  • The amount of resources used
  • The surrounding environment

All of these factors together equate to a timeline that is as close to being perfect as you are bound to get. It will set the pace and planning for the rest of the project. This changes the construction scheduling aspect of the model and modifies it based on the new timeframe.

4D Identifies Problems Before They Happen

As nuanced as 3D building models, are, they still don’t tell the entire story of the project. And more traditional methods of design are imprecise and inevitably lead to hassles down the road when the project is already being constructed. One of the best parts about having a visual of the entire project’s lifecycle is that you can catch risks and potential danger zones before they ever actually happen. As you watch the project’s various steps animate, these problem areas will arise, depending on the design of the structure and the surrounding environment.

Identifying those problem areas opens the chance to correct them early in the process. All of this data lets designers come together to redistribute the assets of the structure and fix risks before a worker ever steps foot on the site of the project. Even minute details like an inappropriate distance between two objects and the imprecise square feet of a structure are all caught and pinpointed in 4D.

As with everything else in 4D, it is all relative to time. Site problems inevitably slow down progress and throw the schedule off its axis. Catching those issues before they prevent the next important step in the actual building phase will save lots of working hours and preserve the integrity of the determine timeline.

construction forklift

4D Helps Plans for Safer Work Sites

As suggested previously, construction can be a dangerous environment for workers. The numbers don’t paint a nice picture: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 937 fatal injuries on construction sites in 2015. While this number isn’t as high as it has been in the past, it’s also an increase from 839 fatal injuries in 2014. These fatalities stem from oversights and poor planning for construction sites. The truth is, manual safety inspections just don’t cut it anymore when other options exist for more exact hazard prevention.

The extra dimension provides data that can be implemented for prevention through design, which is factored into prefabrication and preassembly methods. This makes safety an integral part of all design requirements. New features may be added to construction sites to eliminate hazards for workers, such as larger areas to walk, rails to hold onto, and zones specifically designated to keep clear of tools or debris.

Injuries and fatalities are costly to swallow and a drain on morale. Designing in ways lessen the likelihood of an accident in advance has the ability to save lives and thousands of dollars.

The point of construction modeling is to provide exhaustive visualization for increased communication among everyone on the project team and efficiently and accurately build the structure. Data is the glue that holds it all together, and 4D BIM provides all of the data necessary to guarantee a safe, intelligent execution of the project. Planning is the most important part of construction, and the fourth dimension equips everyone with a comprehensive understanding of everything that needs to happen before a drill is put to the ground or a shovel digs into the dirt.

Zander Buel is the marketing communications coordinator at CADsoft Consulting.