A paperless construction based on the BIM model

Nikita Pospelov
Head of BIM Department at SIGNAX

The world is changing so rapidly that talking about paper at a construction site is no longer acceptable. Yes, they used to build on paper and built to last. But that was before. Now the speed is different. And Cloud-based Construction Software allows you to quickly implement Construction Project Control without paper documentation.

BIM project stages
BIM project stages
BIM project stages
fig.1 BIM project stages

Ultimately, the issue is not inherent in the paper but in the dispersed and irrelevant data accumulated within it. It is, after all, not always convenient to have Construction Documentation and a pen at hand on a construction site. Consequently, not all Construction Site Monitoring information is recorded and reaches decision-makers in a timely manner. So, what may one do to eliminate the “paper” problem?

Construction Documentation of New Era

The solution to this problem should be considered if the company is not below the second level of Building Information Modeling (BIM) maturity. Namely, project teams are using a common data environment (CDE), and any combination of 3D and 2D CAD drawings is excluded. Naturally, to completely abandon paper at a construction site, it will be imperative to address numerous concerns still in the design stage, including synchronizing specifications in the model with other systems, establishing formalized workflows for coordinating data in the BIM model with related departments, especially with the Quantity take-off department; dispensing data to the construction site.

Under certain conditions, it is feasible to segment the transition to paperless construction into three distinct phases:

  • 1. 2D PDF drawings

    All construction drawings are printed in electronic format (PDF) from the model without modification in third-party programs using two-dimensional tools.

  • 2. 2D views (projections)

    The construction is performed using two-dimensional projections drawn up in the BIM model.

  • 3. BIM model

    Augmented reality technology utilizing smartphones proves to be effective on a construction site, and the utilization of robotic total stations will enable the marking of a construction site in accordance with a model during installation and upon it. Next, the data from nature are loaded into a tablet, where an executive model of the structure is automatically built. This model is then compared with the BIM model. The installation's quality is checked, and the next steps can be adjusted if necessary. This eliminates the utilization of two-dimensional projections.

The drawback of the first and second stages is the risk of distortion, simplification, and partial loss of information when interpreting a three-dimensional prototype into a two-dimensional plane. On the contrary, it is undeniable that clicking on a structural element on a 2D plan, switching to a 3D representation of the structural assembly, and observing it from various angles is a significant advantage of utilizing 3D Modeling in Construction. The way out is seen in using the BIM model at the construction site.

All stages require the organization of the CDE mentioned above and the use of Mobile Apps for Construction with the appropriate level of immersion. Let's take a closer look at them.

CDE is integral to Virtual Design and Construction (VDC). The primary directories for data in CDE must be established in the contract, considering the distribution of access rights according to the roles in construction and project management. Access to data for builders should be convenient, and information should be structured. In this situation, smartphones can be used to fix a change or defect in a couple of minutes, attach a photo, and let decision-makers know. The contract itself, along with other agreements and documentation, must be located in a CDE with access for all participants.

Autodesk Common Data Environment
fig.2 Autodesk Common Data Environment

So, what are the technical possibilities currently available for this?

BIM software for construction

The necessary technologies for building without paper or with a minimum amount of it is already available today. If a complete transition to paperless format is not yet feasible, an alternative approach (1) may be to print the documentation (including PDF) directly from the information model in CDE, accompanied by a stamp (and, in certain instances, a watermark). The stamp must include information about the printing date, the name of the source model (fixed in the BIM Execution Plan, BEP), and the approval statuses of the main stakeholders (Project manager, BIM, and estimate department). Similar functionality is available in SIGNAX DOCS, which allows for the insertion of QR codes, stamps, and electronic digital signatures. Besides, SIGNAX TOOLS module helps to link and structure the as-built documentation with the model.

Issued for construction QR code
fig.3 Issued for construction QR code

Nonetheless, utilizing direct projections from model (2) presents us with additional opportunities to centralize information with the aid of BIM software for construction. For example, as a component of the Construction Workflow Automation within the overall system, SIGNAX INSPECTION facilitates the monitoring of construction progress, enabling the submission of comments and confirmation of the elimination of defects. All of them can be accompanied by photos linked to drawings.

CDE issue management system
fig 4. CDE issue management system

Therefore, to fully use the BIM model at the construction site, there must be all the tools needed to transfer data to the site, mark a construction according to a model during installation, and control the erected structure, as well as automated tools for the creation of as-built documentation (the executive model).

Moreover, the dissemination of data to the site the approaches may be different in each specific case: the formation of a separate construction model, the preliminary organization of the working model with related links in accordance with the stages of construction, and the issuance of the so-called grips. However, splitting the model (into floors, stair blocks, and others) may not always be convenient. With the SIGNAX TOOLS module, for example, it is possible to cut automatically working models into grips and work with the phased issuance of working documentation, which is especially important in parallel design and construction.

Construction stage BIM model
fig.5 Construction stage BIM model

It is worth noting that no ready-made solution on the market allows you to build structures using laser marking with a BIM model. The single tools that are currently available have yet to demonstrate their efficacy in practice, primarily due to the high expense of equipment.

Digital construction is available today

All the conditions for the transition to paperless construction are already present. You can go through the indicated stages sequentially or skip the first one. However, it is evident that there will be no need for paper documentation on the construction site shortly. Thus, the designers will eliminate the routine design of 2D drawings. The builders will eliminate their ambiguous interpretation, and the construction industry will move to the next level of maturity.

The trends in the field are obvious. It is worth noting that more software for the construction industry has appeared and that there are more successfully implemented projects. Consequently, many specialists possessing valuable expertise in this domain have been associated with the market, thereby establishing novel benchmarks in the comprehensive construction management system based on the “paperless” BIM model. The products mentioned above have been created by such professionals to facilitate the thorny path of construction and are as close to the current needs as possible in the design and construction industry. In such circumstances, the emergence of a revolutionary technology for comprehensive construction based on the BIM model without the utilization of two-dimensional projections is imminent. When the company is comfortable with the second stage, then the transition to the third peak will be painless.

1International standard PAS 1192 regulates the steps to reach the BIM level 2. “What is the PAS 1192 framework?”, NBS, September 11, 2017, https://www.thenbs.com/knowledge/what-is-the-pas-1192-framework

2“Common Data Environments”, NBS, April 5, 2019, https://www.thenbs.com/knowledge/common-data-environments

3“What Is Virtual Design and Construction?”, Trimble Construction, May 26, 2022, https://constructible.trimble.com/construction-industry/what-is-virtual-design-and-construction