Basics of 4D BIM

What is 4D BIM?

The construction industry is moving towards the BIM revolution at a global scale. The reasons for a worldwide adoption is clear, improved visualization and communication of design concept, detailed and clearer construction elements, faster quantity take offs, improved coordination and clash detection, cost savings, time savings and many other improved outputs.

However, many AEC companies relegate BIM capabilities to the above mentioned pre-construction and prefabrication activities without much application on field and construction work.

Unlike 3D BIM, adding time, cost and other factors creates a “chasm” in the form of unexpected variables that hinders the technology from being adopted widely in the AEC industry. Moore states that the reason for this is because the technology enthusiasts (early adopters) and pragmatists (early majority) have very different expectation.


In order to cross this “chasm”, it is essential to identify these key knowledge gaps so that BIM technology can be tapped to unlock opportunities in productivity and work flow improvements in the AEC industry.

As such, higher levels of BIM integration have been proposed by technology and research institutions. Consequently these unchartered BIM territories have been explored by some companies around the world, from 4D (time) to 5D (cost) and 6D (facility management).

On the surface level, 4D BIM will include time as a variable to the model element, thereby making construction simulations possible. At the organizational level, 4D BIM will be affected by many other variables that are involved with the concept of time. Companies that embrace 4D BIM will be poised to revolutionize planning schedules, critical construction sequences, material delivery, site space utilization, project progress reporting, look ahead programs and more.



Difference between Project Planning and 4D BIM

Project planning captures the logic of construction sequences and ties in critical factors such as contractual obligations, time, money and resources together so that the project can be delivered in a controlled and cost effective manner. However, large projects typically have short submission periods, so there is limited time and effort invested to create a well-defined baseline program. Consequently, the actual construction sequences reveal gaping differences and conflicts against the baseline program due to the combined effect of uncertainties in work flow, material, labor, location and other circumstances.

Since most construction projects utilize 3D Models to harness the benefits of BIM, the next step to explore the advantage that BIM offers is to combine different disciplines together. 4D BIM alters the planning landscape and improves project management by increasing the visibility of work flows and creates a unified platform for information exchange. Visual representations of hastily drafted programs allow the project team and planners to identify critical areas and unforeseen conflicts early in the construction phase. Having identified these issues, the baseline program can be revised to create a solid evidence to support the construction plan. Such a program can also be used for the purpose of claiming for unforeseen construction delays.

The utility of 4D BIM goes beyond the initial planning stages. In order to harness the benefits of BIM, companies have to integrate BIM into their business functions at a gradual yet continuous pace or risk falling behind their competitors. One of the key challenges of 4D BIM is in applying the tools to obtain tangible benefits that expedite or improve MEP coordination in complex projects. Simulation of congested building areas or critical activities related to MEP services will create opportunities to identify clashes, installation problems and other unforeseen issues that can be resolved at a lower cost.


How to use 4D BIM effectively on your projects

Verify Program Integrity and Construction Sequences

Simulating the baseline program enables planners and the construction team to verify that the planned construction sequence on critical or constrained sites can occur without creating conflicts. Project teams should utilize simulations to identify problems well in advance of construction activities where such issues are easier and less costly to resolve.



Site Utilization Planning

4D construction simulation will help project teams in evaluating the utilization of space, such as the location of temporary and permanent facilities on site during different construction phases. This is made possible by generating a visual overview of the construction process, heavy machinery deployment, vehicle and pedestrian routes, material delivery and storage locations, support staging construction, site access, multiple trades stacking and safety plans.

Materials Planning and Management

Once the building models and associated task schedules have been linked, the approval of materials and instruction to fabricate materials can be implemented as visual tools to clearly communicate their relationship and impact on construction progress. Prerequisites such as structural construction, material delivery, storage location or other reasons such as water tightness can be clearly indicated in the simulation to highlight that these preconditions have to go according to plan for construction activities to proceed as planned.



Clear Reporting of Project Progress and Projection

The project management team can integrate project progress reporting with 3D BIM, 4D time based simulations and 5D cost based S curves or progress S curves. A snap shot or short simulation can also be used as a forecasting tool to complement the look ahead program, thereby providing visual representations on top of multiple pages of bar charts in traditional look ahead programs.


Visualization of Impact Analysis

Change and uncertainties define the construction industry. Therefore, impacted program and as built programs are commonly used to resolve disputes. 4D visualizations will act as additional sources of support for construction changes and delays. These sources of information can be presented to building owners and also further analysed to a greater detail.


Implement progressive 4D BIM protocols in phases

Just as 3D BIM technology is being implemented progressively to change the way designers, engineers and coordinators work, 4D BIM also requires a strategy to be incorporated into the company’s work process in phases. Each phase should involve different stakeholders so as tocreate opportunities for 4D BIM to enhance the entire construction process. Key protocols have to be set up to establish a common understanding among managers, planners, engineers and site supervisors.

Improve Workflow and Productivity

New 3D and 4D BIM software requires new workflows and protocols so that they can be implemented seamlessly across all projects. A simple yet dynamic system has to be implemented early in the project so that 4D BIM can be integrated easily and efficiently by various departments. In this way, subtle changes can be swiftly incorporated and simulated for immediate analysis and review. This effort also goes in line with the Singapore’s government support and emphasis on productivity improvement.


Why using 4D BIM will set you apart from your competition


A carefully planned baseline program can only be recognized by experienced planners, project managers and professionals. However, a visual representation of the baseline program will clearly show owners, consultants and competitors that the project team has the experience to plan, foresight to predict the flow of events, management skill to mitigate risks and deliver the project in a timely and cost effective manner. 4D simulations create a projection of expected milestones, events and key contractual obligations that builds owner confidence and assures them of the intended outcome.



Integration among Project Departments

Various project teams can discuss and coordinate plans according to real time visualizations instead of looking through countless pages of bar or gantt charts. Simulations will become a powerful tool of communication that highlights key project milestones, clearly illustrates construction plans and sequences and enables the team to focus on critical construction activities to deliver the project within the stipulated timeframe.

Improved Work Processes through Integration of BIM Technology

New construction processes can be proposed and simulated to provide stronger grounds to convince owners and consultants of the visible, tangible benefits instead of countless pages of reports and traditional step by step construction sequences. According to lean construction philosophy, simplification reduces waste, whereas complexity increases the costs beyond the sum of the individual parts.

Improved Progress Report and Delivery

4D BIM can be utilized to show the overall construction progress and actual simulations enable the owners and construction team to grasp the difference between planned and actual construction status

4D BIM can also be utilized to simulate the construction of critical construction areas to build owner confidence on project delivery and increase collaboration among various disciplines and sub contractors.



Marketing and Advertisement

Change is the only constant in the 21st century. It may not be easy, but it is essential to sustained success. By showing potential clients that the company has embraced and harnessed the benefits of new technology, you will set the standard for your competitors to follow. These visual outputs not only serve as direct marketing tools for clients, but they attract talents from the industry and tertiary institutions to join your company.


A Glimpse of 4D Application




Collaboration & Communication


Verify planned construction sequence.

Identify construction clashes.

Different departments communicate through a common platform.

Focus on critical activities that drives construction progress.

Track space utilization and material storage.

Able to determine if prerequisites are required.

Facilitate trade discussion and coordination.

Resolve conflicts and issues early.

Understanding Trade process.

Site safety consideration.

Drives discussion of planned work assignment.

Reduces cost and time spent in rework.

Understand weekly work scope.

Act as supporting documents for potential delays

Clear progress reporting.

Clear direct method of reporting progress reduces redundant or traditional work.

Displays clear construction intent for laymen.


Visual illustration of projected work scope.



Softwares that can be used to achieve 4D



User Interface

Training / Forum

File Interoperability



Navisworks Simulation

(10) Ribbon is widely used since Microsoft words 2007, Revit and other new softwares making it easy for new users.

(10) Widely used and adopted. Various training videos, forums, research papers and tutorials.

(8) Navisworks is owned by Autodesk which controls a majority of the AEC modeling software. Navisworks freedom can be downloaded for free. Cannot import WBS.

(8) Need to establish protocols with proper coordination to create an efficient workflow with search sets and automatic links. Requires significant time to debug.

(9) Can add properties. Cannot split elements. Can divide projects into smaller zones and combine into an overall large scale project simulation. Can create animations which have to be attached to dedicated tasks.

Synchro 4D

USD2500 - 1 year

USD6500 - perpetual

(8) The toolbar interface may be old, but it is the second most widely used interface for softwares.

(8) Synchro E training. 58 Youtube videos. Some users with positive experience over Navisworks.

(8) Synchro offers an Open Viewer that can be downloaded for free. Can import WBS and other scheduling options such as calendar and resources.

(9) Geared towards simulation as the simulation focus time is consistently on, making it easy to identify whether elements are attached.

(9) Can add properties. Can split elements. Can create animations and assign to tasks. Difficult to manipulate exact animations.

Bentley Navigator

(7) Practice makes perfect, but new users, including modeling veterans find the toolbar cum button interface different from the norm.

(6) Bentley Website. Non existent forum support. Few Youtube videos (2 years old). Few users.

(6) Autodesk and Bentley are competitors that develop software running on different file formats. File imports will certainly result in data losses.

(8) Need to establish protocols with proper coordination to create an efficient workflow with selection expression.

(7) Add-on to Bentley software makes it easy to split elements. Can create animations.


(10) Ribbon is widely used since Microsoft words 2007, Revit and other new softwares making it easy for new users.

(8) VicosofwareWebsite. 50+ Youtube videos (1 year old). Non existent forum support. Few users.

(6) Modeling software competitor that is able to import Revit, Tekla and other modeling softwares.

(8) Need to establish protocols, proper coordination to create an optimized and efficient workflow at a company wide, functional (department) level.

(9) Fully integrated solution.Location based management system (flow line) vs critical path method. Can split elements. Can take up quantities. Can include project costs. Can view resource loading.


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