Transforming construction: The power of active 4D BIM

The concept of 4D BIM isn’t exactly breaking news in the world of digital construction. Its ability to sharpen construction timelines and cut down financial risks is already well-known among business leaders and planning teams.

But even with all this awareness, the way 4D BIM is used today is still pretty flawed. Many teams are stuck on old ‘2D’ processes and may not completely understand how effective 3D models can be for planning. Because of this, 4D BIM hasn’t been traditionally seen to add much value to construction projects.

Mark Chapman Mark Chapman, head of innovation at Elecsoft (Photo: Elecosoft)

But that’s about to change. Project teams are starting to use 4D models more actively to plan and forecast, updating them as things evolve, instead of ‘passively’ using them as visualisation tools. This shift in approach is fundamentally different from the usual way 4D BIM has been used and makes data 10x more valuable. And even though it may be slightly unconventional, it is proving to be a real game-changer for project outcomes—cutting down risks and project overruns, whilst boosting profits.

2D Tools in a 4D World

To understand why passive 4D BIM needs a makeover, let’s look at how the industry currently handles project forecasting and 4D BIM. Currently, construction teams are still clinging to outdated planning methods. They start with ‘2D’ Gantt chart-style formats, which then form the basis of 3D models. 4D BIM comes into play when you integrate project scheduling info, turning those 3D models into detailed planning tools.

The problem is that as projects move forward, 4D BIM is often tossed aside in favour of the familiar but flawed ‘2D’ format. If a client asks for an updated 4D model later on, planning teams may scramble to put together a revised version. This has been a costly, time-consuming, and frankly, frustrating process.

This also means that 4D BIM is reduced to ‘just a fancy’ visualisation tool. This creates unnecessary expenses for stakeholders and ignores 4D’s potential to manage construction timelines and calculate risks. It’s 4D for the sake of it—or as I like to call it, ‘Hollywood 4D.’

Creating 2D Gantt charts can take months, especially for big infrastructure projects like airports or nuclear power stations. These projects require hundreds of data fields, each filled with specific details. This ‘2D’ approach also demands a lot of manual input from various teams—architects, engineers, contractors, you name it. This outdated method fails to capture the detailed nuances needed at each stage of construction. Regular scheduling builds hidden problems and lost opportunity into the schedule, which often only appear when Passive 4D is used at the end of the process to visualise them.

Staying active

This is where what we at Elecosoft call “Active 4D®” comes into play.

By thinking in terms of ‘passive’ versus ‘active,’ we can flip 4D BIM on its head. Passive use is just visualising plans once data is manually entered - active use, on the other hand, is much more dynamic and fundamentally different.

Active 4D works by using the 3D model throughout the entire planning process to make sure the programme is accurate from the start. It also allows for a deeper level of information to be attached to design plans, using data linked to digital objects for better oversight and future planning.

In the end, this means greater precision around risk and cost calculations, as well as a more informed client who understands the necessary timeframes for completion. Time to first programme can be 75% of a tender period with regular planning and 20% with Active 4D, giving more time to optimise and find smart ways to win and build a project. Additionally, time to first 4D can be 85-90% of a tender period with passive 4D and 20% with Active 4D.

Both estimating and planning can use the same quantities and codes from day one of the planning process, which streamlines workflows and ensures consistency. Active 4D planning reduces risk and builds opportunity into the schedule from day one, leading to better outcomes for the project overall. Cross-correlation of data between time, cost, safety, and quality can be achieved far more accurately and efficiently using model-based workflows.

The root of the issue

Considering the industry’s approach to project planning and scheduling hasn’t changed much in the past decade, it’s no surprise that project overruns are now standard practice.

A study by Cornerstone Projects, an underground utility provider, found that poor original planning and unrealistic scheduling were the main causes of project overruns in 2022. On top of that, nine out of ten construction professionals experienced project delays last year—a 6% increase since 2016. If the industry wants to fix its productivity problems, it should wholeheartedly embrace methods like Active 4D. In addition, when planning processes are continually specified without alteration in successive contracts for new projects, this hurts innovation in a critical area of project delivery.

This also presents a great opportunity for construction leaders to become early adopters and lead this innovative approach. By doing so, businesses might find the key to solving the time, money, and risk issues that are holding back construction growth. In an era of razor-thin profit margins, 4D BIM, or more specifically, ‘Active 4D,’ could be the tech they’re looking for.


Receive the information you need when you need it through our world-leading magazines, newsletters and daily briefings.

Sign up

Andy Brown Editor, Editorial, UK - Wadhurst Tel: +44 (0) 1892 786224 E-mail: [email protected]
Neil Gerrard Senior Editor, Editorial, UK - Wadhurst Tel: +44 (0) 7355 092 771 E-mail: [email protected]
Catrin Jones Deputy Editor, Editorial, UK – Wadhurst Tel: +44 (0) 791 2298 133 E-mail: [email protected]
Eleanor Shefford Brand Manager Tel: +44 (0) 1892 786 236 E-mail: [email protected]