Steel is an essential material for the construction industry; as a result, its consumption and production per capita have grown considerably, owing to population growth and increasing demands for industrialization in developing countries, among other factors [1
]. Steel offers certain advantages over other construction materials, such as low weight, adequate structural behaviors, a high degree of prefabrication, and increased construction speed [2
]. Steel construction can be divided into two categories: (1) “concrete building,” which is realized using concrete and steel bars (reinforced concrete); and (2) “steel building,” where steel is considered the primary construction material [4
]. Steel construction involves a wide variety of projects, such as industrial, housing, and non-housing projects, which have lower costs and greater social values than those associated with reinforced concrete [2
]. A steel building project comprises factory-made components or units transported and assembled in the shop or on-site [5
]. The work phases involved are (1) planning, (2) design, (3) fabrication, (4) transport, (5) construction planning, and (6) erection of the structure [5
]. The efficient completion of these steps maximizes the benefits of working with steel [7
]. However, the use of steel as a construction material has increased the complexity of projects, particularly in terms of information management, because it is imperative to ensure quality and timely information for the different actors involved in the workflow. Thus, redoing processes can be avoided, and, consequently, the associated costs and construction time can be reduced. The inefficient use of information results in fragmentation during construction [8
]. To cope with such fragmentation, it is necessary to include building information technologies that facilitate collaboration between the different actors involved in the building life cycle [9
Building information modeling (BIM) refers to a set of processes that improve the deliverables, relationships, and roles of stakeholders in the construction industry [10
]. These deliverables are framed under the concept of the level of development, which is a reference tool that is aimed at improving the quality of communication between the users of building information models and provides guidelines pertaining to the characteristics and details of the elements in the 3D models. [13
]. BIM reduces costs and improves management efficiency [18
], prioritizing the needs of the project, among other things, above each specialty or process. Some of the benefits of using this technology for each actor are as follows:
Principal/Owner: Enables efficient information exchange, streamlines project communications, and generates options that allow for effective changes to achieve the project objective, without sacrificing cost control, budget management, and schedule.
Engineers/Designers: Enables designers to improve their long-term relationship with different stakeholders, owing to better understanding of the different sub-processes for the materialization of the construction project.
Enables the contribution of their knowledge during the design process, or updating of the model during different stages of construction, thereby improving pre-execution and on-site planning, and affording a better understanding of design and building [22
Over recent years, other technologies have been complemented by BIM, such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), digital twins, and the Internet of Things (IoT) [24
This computer technology can provide a highly immersive construction experience to different stakeholders, or be used to monitor the construction process [13
Contrary to AR, VR is mainly used for planning and simulation in the different phases of construction projects. This technology can be used to reveal limitations from a contractor’s perspective because it is considered more akin to an animation, rather than an actual construction representation [26
This concept aims to bridge the actual and digital worlds by employing sensor technology for monitoring and analysis, in order to adapt to actual construction or digital plans. Similar to BIM, it can be used across different project stages [27
Internet of Things:
The IoT facilitates interconnect physical entities (such as humans, equipment, devices, and workstations) and collects all data from different processes [13
Combining BIM, AR/VR, digital twins, and IoT with actual data from a construction project enables stakeholders to obtain information regarding the predicted state of construction. However, many challenges exist in transferring data between the different software packages to allow for smooth and seamless utilization [25
BIM has been associated with improved productivity and cooperation among teams and different phases; accordingly, BIM has been employed in many applications, such as urban management and navigation [31
]. However, the benefits of using BIM in the steel building process have not been explored comprehensively [33
]. Hence, the objective of this study was to identify the uses of BIM and its benefits pertaining to steel building processes. To this end, a systematic literature review (SLR) related to BIM in steel buildings was conducted.
2. Materials and Methods
Traditional literature reviews lack a transparent and reproducible process that enables others to determine the accuracy of the results [34
]. By contrast, systematic reviews of the literature are more informative and scientific when conducted rigorously and are, therefore, well justified [35
]. Thus, in this work, a systematic review was designed to locate, analyze, and synthesize the evidence available in literature to answer the aforementioned research question [37
]. Systematic reviews follow well-defined and transparent steps and always require the following: precision of the question, identification of the available scientific documentation, and summary of the findings [38
]. Therefore, an SLR was used to achieve the research objectives, according to the approach suggested by Tanfield [39
]. The structure of this research entails three phases: (1) planning, (2) execution, and (3) reporting [40
]; this is illustrated in Figure 1
Protocol establishes searching and evaluating processes regarding information to answer questions and to achieve the objective [42
], that is, to identify BIM practices in the steel building project. Subsequently, research questions were formulated based on the provisions of the population, the phenomenon of interest, and context (PIC) elements for qualitative reviews. PIC elements can aid in defining the question, and the inclusion, and exclusion, criteria used to select studies for systematic review [38
]. Therefore, the following question was formulated.
Research Question: What are the use cases of bim in steel building projects?
To address the issue of article quality, it was decided to primarily include content from peer-reviewed journals, such as the Web of Science (WOS) and Scopus. Between 2012 and 2022, see Table 1
, the search strings used were: (a) “Steel”, (b) “Building Information Modeling”, (c) “Detailing”, (d) “Construction”, (e) “Manufacturing”, (f) “Prefabrication,” (g) “Impact business”, (h) “Innovation industry”, (i) “Structures”, and (j) “Projects performance”, see Table 2
The execution process began with a documentation search of the selected databases. Duplicate articles (present in different databases) were only considered once to avoid counting a previously found article twice. The selected articles were positioned as relevant or irrelevant, according to the magnitude of their titles and abstracts to respond to the research questions [37
]. Categorization was performed independently by each author [28
]. Articles were evaluated using an article quality checklist. This quality checklist form was adapted from PRISMA 2020 and contained 12 items. The most relevant ones are the locality of the research, steel building project description, BIM use name, BIM use description, and performance indicators [44
]. Table 3
summarizes the SLR that resulted in a total of 47 articles.
Once the relevant articles were identified, the “Quality assessment” activity was conducted. In this activity, the authors conducted a comprehensive analysis of the relevant articles to select those related to BIM utilization in steel building projects. As in the previous process, a crosscheck of the documentation found was performed [45
]. Subsequently, the “Data extraction” activity commenced, which consisted of obtaining information directly related to the question of this work. The systematic classification and evaluation of the evidence in the articles were conducted using the methodological principles of the grounded data theory (TFD); in other words, through constant comparisons, the evidence is collected, coded, and analyzed to generate concepts and groups to discover the relationships between these articles and, thus, obtain decisive evidence pertaining to the questions posed and construct explanations [46
]. To minimize errors in the analysis and interpretation of the extracted information, the authors held periodic online meetings to resolve inconsistencies in the interpretation of the results.
In the reporting stage, the results of the research were recorded. In the first stage, we mapped the main elements of the literature, that is, tabulated the results to visualize how many studies met the inclusion criteria. The next step was to combine the BIM use cases into one of the three groups: 1. Project collaboration: Geometric Semantic; 2. Transfer information, visualization API, AR, and VR; 3. Management, sustainability, and site organization. The information/uses analyzed, due to the complexity, were grouped into the following project phases [5
]: (1) planning, (2) design, (3) fabrication, (4) transport, (5) planning for construction, and (6) erection; this helps explain its application and its relationship with the other phases of the steel building project.
The bibliographic review was analyzed and grouped into three sections: 1. Project collaboration: Geometric Semantic; 2. Transfer information, visualization API, AR, VR; and 3. Management, Sustainable, and Site Organization. This discussion section includes observations of the BIM utilization results (BU).
BIM utilization descriptions:
BU#1: One of the main applications of 3D BIM models is the visualization and improvement of steel processes. This has been the focus of literature to date [33
], highlighting 3D BIM as a comprehensive project engine that will replace 2D drawings with a communication channel that principally works through a 3D model [20
]. The visualization and comprehension benefits of 3D BIM models can be used by people fulfilling various roles in the steel building process, such as owners, welders in the factory, and workers installing structural bolts during the erection stage [51
]. Conversely, the exclusion of BIM can impact the level of understanding and stakeholder expectations of the project [47
]. Should a 3D BIM model be executed only in certain phases of a project, these phases alone will benefit from the visualization and comprehension provided by the 3D model [52
]. Furthermore, excluding 3D BIM models from steel construction will prevent detection of interferences with other mechanical engineering and plumbing MEP disciplines. [50
]. BIM use applies to the planning, design, manufacturing, construction planning, and erection phases. This use is not applicable to the transportation phase.
BU#2: From a structural engineering perspective, BIM collaboration in structural engineering, and level of detail (L.O.D), permits interoperability and aims to maximize building model information collaboration to improve work efficiency and structural quality [20
]. To implement this, the level of information detail that will be transferred between the different stakeholders must initially be agreed upon [53
]. The literature review showed that this utilization was not applied in three of the six building project construction phases: planning, transport, and erection phases were excluded. For example, by not applying this utilization in the planning phase, it would be impossible to determine the steel tonnage to be processed by the manufacturer and assembler, which is essential information for a correct estimate of the project costs by stakeholders, especially the owner [54
]. In addition, a lack of guidelines that clearly state the L.O.D required in the BIM models for the erection stage could result in misunderstandings and delays.
BU#3: The early integration between design, manufacture, and assembly, based on BIM models, is a critical utilization in this section, although there is no evidence of it in the transportation process. It is evident from this literature review that the incorporation of BIM models to ensure early integration between the designer, manufacturer, and erector reduces the cost and time of steel building projects [54
]. This ensures that the resources available to the fabricator and erector are considered in the design process. [54
]. In addition, the stakeholder is encouraged to work toward a common, and not an individual, objective [60
]. Conversely, insufficient information is available to show the beneficial effects of early integration in the transport phase.
BU#4: The creation of BIM models before manufacturing positively impacts the following phases of transportation, planning for construction, and erection. Before manufacturing, the utilization of BIM models primarily takes advantage of the ability of BIM to detail steel structures and automatically generate the 2D drawings required for fabrication [33
]. In addition, the steel detailing software can transfer information from the BIM model to the factory’s computer numerical control machinery to optimize cutting, bending, and punching [56
]. The exclusion of BIM from the stages preceding fabrication results in delays and a lack of accuracy in the documentation necessary for manufacturing, as these processes are done manually by a draftsman, rather than by BIM software algorithms [62
]. The 3D BIM model increases the reliability and precision of the results, or deliverables, of each phase of the project.
BU#5: The traceability of the manufacture and assembly processes using BIM models is primarily utilized in the design, manufacture, and erection processes. Similar to the previous BIM utilization (BU#4), the BIM model includes detailing software rich in information with graphical and non-graphical examples of the primary and secondary steel elements. [58
]. This information is transferred to the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software to implement production control, and can be directed to a common data environment to share the manufacturing or assembly statuses with the stakeholders [64
]. The exclusion of BIM utilization necessitates the manual input of information for fabrication control and assembly, which decelerates the process and exposes it to greater errors because of human interactions and the transfer of information [64
Utilization of BIM information in steel building projects: Transfer information, visualization API, AR, and VR.
This group of BIM uses facilitates communication and comprehension for defining deliverables, stakeholder decisions, and the coordination between phases and construction professionals. However, the absence of this group of BIM uses in the planning and transportation phases can generate errors in defining the product (building) and a lack of coordination or control between the manufacturing, transportation, and assembly phases.
BU#6: BIM and virtual/augmented reality are notable developments in this section. Combining BIM models with augmented and virtual realities improves the comprehension of stakeholders, such as owners and investors, who are unfamiliar with construction language [64
]. It has also been incorporated into manufacturing to check the quality of steel components, such as welds and holes, and simulate complex assemblies. This BIM utilization is present in all phases, except planning and transportation.
BU#7: IoT is one of the rarest, but most disruptive, utilization of BIM. The primary purpose of this utilization is to optimize steel construction information by applying data-driven methods and analytics to perform real-time collaborative management, and control of steel elements, manufacturing, and assembly activities [66
]. The information obtained from IoT tags and sensors is fed into a centralized database where the average performance of steel activities can be recorded [66
]. This information allows for faster decision making when deviations or project reorganizations occur. Notably, this utilization is found in the design, fabrication, and erection phases.
BU#8: An API is used for non-geometric information transfer. Programming interfaces (APIs) are useful links that run plugins between the different software involved in the design and manufacturing processes to customize interoperability between BIM models [68
]. In addition, it saves time for repetitive tasks within known scenarios related to design [56
], and it can be programmed to exchange information from the BIM model to the design phase and ERP. This is possible as long as the BIM and ERP software have open API. This BIM utilization occurs primarily in the design and fabrication phases.
BU#9: Controlled installation through BIM is used to monitor and control the erection of steel structures based on the BIM model. One of the main objectives of this utilization is to report, in real-time, the status of the fabrication items, such as painting, welding, assembly, and dispatch, to the stakeholders, and the erector contractor, in particular [53
] This utilization is present only in the construction planning and erection phases.
BU#10: BIM and laser scanning data: the main characteristic of this utilization in steel construction is the development of a BIM model from real survey data of existing project conditions by importing the information through a point cloud [70
], which is specially oriented to isostructural development. This information, obtained by a laser scanner, can also be used to prepare complex assemblies and resolve interferences with other specialties [19
]. This utilization is mainly found in the design, fabrication, and erection phases.
This group of BIM uses facilitates project management at a tactical and operational level in each phase. In addition, it is used to incorporate the concepts of sustainability and infrastructure management.
BU#11: Cost analysis using BIM models is one of the largest uses in this segment. The particularity of this use is the addition of non-graphical information to the BIM model, which permits the calculation of the costs of each steel element [54
]. With this use, it is possible to segment the costs according to the type of steel structure (light, heavy, or extra heavy), which allows the total project costs to be predicted with greater certainty [74
]. This use appeared in all phases except for transport.
BU#12: BIM for construction management is one of the largest uses of BIM in different steel building processes. Here, BIM is used for the different stages of the project, from the cubing of materials to managing person-hours in the field [70
]. In addition, it allows the reporting of information to estimate possible deviations of the project from an economic perspective. [61
]. This use was observed in all phases, except for transport.
BU# 13: Structural health monitoring with BIM models permits automated data and damage visualization module to be created, through which sensor data are interpreted to identify damage or anomalies in the steel structure, and the affected building components are highlighted and labeled in the 3D BIM model [77
]. To facilitate the display, damaged or nearly damaged module elements are highlighted in the BIM model through color coding, based on deformation threshold values to be considered by the designer, and facilitates making decisions. This applies to new projects in the development phase and reusable structures in the remodeling phase. This purpose was displayed in the manufacturing and erection phases.
BU# 14: BIM information to improve site logistics planning: the use of BIM stands out as a coordination engine to improve construction planning, considering methodologies, such as just in time, to optimize the limited spaces in the field model [28
], especially for projects that are conducted in urban areas where the collection space material is limited. With this use, it is possible to simulate different scenarios in the BIM model to reach the best decisions according to the project’s needs [78
]. This use occurs mainly in the transportation, construction planning, and erection phases.
BU#15: BIM is used for de-constructability and the identification of reusable steel materials in remodeling stages, thus allowing the BIM model to identify potential structural elements that can be reused, which decreases project costs and benefits the total cost of the project [80
]. Existing elements can be modeled with a laser scanner, as shown using BU#10 and structure verification using BU#13. However, with this use, it is possible with the same models to optimize the planning of deconstruction according to the characteristics of the project [82
]. This use is presented in the first three phases of a steel project: planning, design, and fabrication.
The BIM uses found do not exhibit continuity throughout the phases of the steel construction project; hence, their benefits are truncated. In other cases, they are developed in the late phases or specifically within a phase. The aforementioned discussion serves as evidence that BIM has been unable to break the fragmentation of the steel construction industry. Therefore, there is a need to investigate, develop, and propose BIM uses that generate continuous communication, coordination, and management between phases and assure deliverables that conclude with a building that meets the requirements established at the beginning of the project.
presents the findings of the systematic literature review regarding BIM uses and the software tools in steel buildings; the table shows the bibliographic sources used to summarize each BIM utilization. The studied cases indicated a wide variety of tools used in the steel building process and also revealed how information is exchanged between the tools (IFC format); however, certain trends in the tools used were identified. The prevailing BIM tool is Tekla, which appears in 13 of the 15 BIM applications. Other software tools with more than one use were Revit, Naviswork, MicroStation, and ArchiCAD.
5. Conclusions and Future Research Directions
The literature review identified 15 uses of BIM in the life cycle of steel construction projects, which were then grouped into three categories: 1. Project collaboration: Geometric Semantic; 2. Transfer information, visualization API, AR, and VR; and 3. Management, Sustainable, and Site Organization.
Regarding the first segment, BIM uses with the greatest presence in the steel construction phases were BU#1 (3D BIM model to visualize and improve the steel process) and BU#3 (early integration between design, manufacture, and assembly based on BIM models).
For the second segment, the use of BIM and augmented reality, BU#6 stands out with greater presence; with less presence, it shows the use of APIs for transferring non-geometric information between BIM models (BU#8).
Related to the third segment, the use of BIM with the greatest presence is cost analysis (BU#11) and the use of BIM for construction management (BU#12). Conversely, the least frequent use found for this segment was BU#13 (structural health monitoring with BIM models).
In the steel phase, BIM is mostly used in the design, fabrication, and erection stages. Conversely, planning and transportation have the least number of BIM uses. According to the SLR, most BIM uses for steel construction have been published as research work between Asia and North America; the rest are distributed between Europe and Africa. However, there is no evidence for BIM use cases in South America.
Regarding the historical evolution of scientific publications on BIM uses in steel construction, an evolution was observed between 2012 and 2022, and 2019 was the year with the most publications pertaining to this topic. However, over the last three years, the number of publications has decreased, likely due to the reduction in investments worldwide as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This, in turn, has affected drop-in construction projects and, consequently, the potential use cases that can be documented.
Early integration highlights the use of a BIM model as a pivot among the designer, manufacturer, and erector, which reduces the cost and time associated with steel building projects. It is recommended to adopt this early integration in the design stage because it permits collaboration and validation between the different actors involved in the materialization of the project.
Notably, some BIM uses are not widespread in the steel construction industry; these include the combination of BIM for structural health monitoring (BU#13), the use of API for transferring non-geometric information (BU#8 or BU# 15), and BIM for the de-constructability and identification of reusable materials.
Regarding the tools used for BIM modeling, Tekla appears in 87% of the uses, mainly in the design and manufacturing phases; other software, such as Revit, MicroStation, and Naviswork, are frequently mentioned in the design and erection stages.
5.1. Future Research Directions
This section summarizes the potential new areas of research related to BIM and steel construction projects.
5.2. Use of 3D BIM in Collaborative Steel Building Projects: Geometric and Semantic
The review of scientific literature revealed that, in the segment of geometry and semantics, BIM is widely used in the design and manufacturing phases, albeit to a lesser extent than in the fabrication and design phases. No evidence related to transportation was found in this segment. Considering the benefits of BIM, it is recommended that further studies focus on these three phases, which are less prominent in existing literature.
5.3. Utilization of BIM Information in Steel Building Projects: Information Transfer, Visualization API, AR, and VR
In this segment, the transfer of information through the different phases involved in steel construction is widely mentioned. Few reports focus on the transfer of non-geometric information between the BIM models through APIs for steel construction projects. Hence, this topic is recommended to be addressed in future research.
5.4. Use of BIM for Steel Project Management, Sustainability, and Site Organization
According to the bibliographic review of literature, in this segment, all the phases show at least one BIM use. It is noteworthy that, in this segment, where the use of BIM is framed in the costs and logistics of the project, the manufacturing and transportation phases are the ones with the least presence. Therefore, it is recommended that these uses be treated under future research.
According to the SLR, 65% of the uses of BIM for steel construction have been published as research work from Asia and North America, with the rest distributed between Europe and Africa. However, there is no evidence related to BIM use cases in South America. This indicates a gap related to disseminating the uses of BIM in steel construction, which needs to be addressed in future research, especially with reference to this continent.
All these guidelines for future research are recommended to be addressed by the scientific community, with support from the most critical stakeholders and the industry.
5.5. Contribution to Scientific Community
The contribution of this work to the scientific community is the identification of BIM uses for steel projects. Based on this review, it can be determined how, when, and where BIM uses are executed in steel building projects. This answers the previously posed research question regarding the use of BIM in steel building projects. In addition, we identified the uses with greater and lesser disclosures, as well as future research directions.
The study was limited to a specific sector of the steel construction industry, and the search was further limited by summarizing the last ten years of scientific evidence related to the search for information, using the search words indicated in the methodology.