Building Information Modelling (BIM) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are two popular technologies that have either changed or are set to change the architecture and construction industries in profound ways.

The former allows architects, contractors and engineers to collaboratively plan, design, build and manage the physical and functional characteristic of a building using digital 3D models; the latter encompasses devices and sensors that have built-in wireless connectivity and are increasingly being deployed in the built environment.

Now some researchers and professionals are considering the benefits of integrating them together. The start-up company VisuaLynk, for example, has developed a software-as-a-service solution that collects, connects and presents visual data from both IoT devices and BIM.

To understand how the two technologies might work together, we spoke with Seppo Torma, CEO of VisuaLynk, Vishal Singh, an assistant professor at Aalto University and Steve Cooper, vice president, Europe at Oracle Construction & Engineering. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Patrick Kingsland: How has BIM evolved as a platform over the past few years?

Steve Cooper: I think it is fair to say that BIM is not what it used to be. At first people thought BIM was a 3D model. While that was quite useful in the early days, to get people hooked in and interested, a lot of the work that has been going on for the last few years doesn’t even reference BIM really: it focuses instead on integrated data.

The idea is that BIM is a process and that underlying it – and this is what the industry is trying to do and what governments and the big owners are trying to get sorted out – is helping everybody to have an integrated data set around projects, processes and assets.

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PK: What would be the advantage of combining IoT with BIM?

Seppo Torma: IoT systems just contain a list of sensors and sensor values. You need to have some context to understand where the sensor is located and what is the significance of these values. The BIM model is a natural way to give meaning and context to these sensor values and to also relate the values to each other.

What we have done in several projects is to visualise these sensor values on a BIM model. I think there are a lot of future possibilities where we could use BIM models for more careful analysis of values, taking into account the characteristics of a building that relate to energy efficiency and contrasting that with temperature values, energy consumption values and so on.

Vishal Singh: One way to look at BIM is to look at it as an aggregation platform. Typically, in most construction projects, designers are using BIM. That means data is already there in a structured format and it would make sense to augment that data with the additional data that is going to be added to the building.

SC: IoT is ultimately about capturing things like real-time data collection. If we can attach a sensor to a piece of equipment that either monitors the behaviour of that equipment or knows something about it, like where it is located, then ultimately we can build applications that give us either some proactive positioning around that component or can respond if we undertake an inquiry.

If you link that together with BIM then what we have is an understanding of the component itself and a view of what is happening to that component linked to the data we have captured.

PK: Can you offer some examples of how combining the two might be useful?

SC: We have a mobile workforce and these mobile individuals are making decisions all the time. Let’s say you are in a building and you have a boiler. You can either physically go see the boiler or you can look at it on your mobile device as either an image or in a 3D view that shows where you got it from; how it is connected to the main heating system; flow rates, everything.

In the past that probably couldn’t happen. You would spot something that was wrong and you would spend hours trying to get the piece of information you wanted. Ultimately now with BIM, and potentially IoT, you can do that either through a mobile device or remotely.

ST: Say you detect an issue with a building from your sensor data, the BIM models – especially if they are linked together – may provide a lot of value in analysis and diagnosis of the problem.

Perhaps the temperature is too low in a certain space and you would like to know how this space is connected to the ventilation or other building systems, to be able to figure out what the cause of the issue is. BIM models provide a lot of this kind of data that is directly usable in analysis and diagnosis of issues in the building.

PK: Is there any advantage to having IoT data in BIM rather than some other application?

VS: The important thing is ensuring that the data is coming from your BIM applications in a standard format, that the IoT data is also coming in, and that it is all put together in the same place.

On how would you visualise it or how would you use it, I don’t think there is any necessary reason to do it within BIM – it could be an external environment which allows you to visualise the BIM model.

PK: Are there any challenges you face integrating these two technologies together?

VS: There are things that need to be addressed. There are many different IoT standards and a lot of the building data, besides BIM, is also done in many different ways. Most companies have their own structures.

But generally I would say the technology isn’t much of a challenge. I think the solutions exist. It’s currently more a question of market maturity.