Using Building Information Modeling (BIM) as a Structural Engineer:Looking at BIM through Case Studies

BIM is a trending digital phenomenon that is built for the multidisciplinary coordination of all project parties and the systematic integration of databases and information throughout the design, construction, and operational maintenance of a structure. By integrating elements of different disciplines and utilizing the various software and hardware technologies that BIM has to offer, various information can be centralized for the basis of enhancing decision making, problem solving, and productivity.

Recent developments in BIM help us structural engineers in the constructability and feasibility of our designs and construction methods. We will explore the use of BIM for our integrated structural designs and the BIM approaches in solving complex structural and construction challenges.

Building Information Modeling

​Abu Dhabi International Airport 
This project was a new airport terminal, called the Midfield Terminal that houses 65 aircrafts, 136 screening lanes, and 22 kM conveyor belts.

A Common Data Environment (CDE), Bentley’s ProjectWise, was used to organize and centralize information and resources for the project team. ProjectWise made sharing BIM data within the project team much more efficiently, which saved cost and time and enhanced project performance. With the BIM information stored in the cloud via ProjectWise, the team could implement the following tasks at ease:

  1. Forecasting construction schedules
  2. Cross checking designs and detecting clashes
  3. Confirming and managing resource allocation
  4. Analyzing data files produced by other consultants in the team
  5. Monitor costs and risks via dashboards

Since management and project coordination were enhanced, structural clashes and interference were then discovered during design stages and were prevented during actual construction, which reduced abortive works. Thanks to BIM, the design team saved over USD$1M and 51,000 working hours due to early stages of clash resolutions between the facade and other trades. 

Abu Dhabi Airport Midfield Terminal BIM

Gensler’s Shanghai Tower

The Shanghai Tower is the tallest building in China and second tallest in the world. In order to achieve its height, the geometry of the tower had to be optimized to resist lateral loads.

The cross sectional geometry is a spiral equilateral triangle with each floor rotated slightly from below, creating a 120 degree angle between the topmost floor and the lowest level.

The spiral geometry actually increases lateral resistance by 24%, as opposed to tapered box geometry. This saved $58 million in materials and construction procedures. There are over 7000 different geometries and 20000 dual-skinned curtain wall panels that make up the structural geometry.

Due to its complexity, it is quite difficult to utilize AutoCAD and other traditional 2D modeling methods to present and to analyze the spiral geometry. However, with Autodesk Revit Structure, the design team can design the geometry in 3D. Structural engineers can use this BIM model to analyze how the wind and seismic loads affect the spiral geometry. They were able to optimize both building materials and the structural framing system, by producing and choosing from more than 20 options of structural geometries.

Eventually, the design team chose the structural spiral geometry frame with super columns, outrigger trusses, and an inner concrete core due to its combined strong lateral resistance.

Revit and Naviswork were used for BIM clash detection. During the design of the tower’s basement, the team found seven design clashes using those BIM software. During construction, there were no more clashes and they focused their BIM efforts in combining Revit models and fabrication models in Navisworks for coordination. 

Shanghai Tower BIM

Springfield Primary School in Greater Manchester

Kier was the main contractor for this project. The contractor implemented BIMXtra, which was their own BIM management system to increase collaboration and integration within the team. The BIM software is a CDE, which consolidates information and data via a cloud based subscription service. Kier provided BIMXtra software free of charge in this project, which eliminated the need for expensive servers and systems. In BIMXtra, all information of the project was used for clash detection and coordination. Information from the BIM model was available directly to all subcontractors and fabricators for costing in an organized manner, which reduced double pricing or missing tasks.

Structural design changes were also done by BIM modeling. Structural engineers found out that the steel beams that were supporting the edge protection were not enough. They had to amend the design and construction process by fabricating the edge protection to be pre-installed to the steel beams before erection. Luckily, this was planned out during the design stage to avoid abortive works during construction.

Springfield Primary School BIM


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here