Building Information Modeling (BIM) has historically been used for building design and construction — but once those phases are complete, it has seen limited usage through the rest of an asset’s lifecycle. BIM has also seen much lower adoption in the water sector. With the rapid advancement of tools and technologies that support BIM, it has the potential to be used far beyond just asset creation and is now accessible to projects of all sizes.


Current landscape

In 2018, Dodge Data & Analytics produced a report on the Business Value of BIM for Water Projects. The survey of owners, engineers and contractors found that BIM use in the water and wastewater industry is still emerging. Only 61 per cent of organizations expect to be using BIM in 2019 on more than 75 per cent of their projects. For operations and asset management, the use of BIM is almost non-existent. Sixty-six per cent of respondents indicated low to medium integration of BIM with asset management practices, and a similar trend held true with the use of BIM to facilitate operations and maintenance activities.

Despite a general trend of low adoption of BIM in water projects, there are certain areas where modelling is more prevalent. Digital twins of our water and wastewater infrastructure are almost ubiquitous for collection and distribution systems. These georeferenced models give us a real-world representation of where our infrastructure is and how it interacts with the environment around it. With Graphical Information Systems (GIS), we know which side of the road our pipes are on, where critical isolation points are, and how many customers will be impacted by service interruptions. With collection and conveyance systems, we plan and map out capital works in space and time and visually assess where there are opportunities and constraints.


Key benefits, opportunities

For water and wastewater facilities, it is very uncommon to have a digital twin — yet the benefits of having such a model are extensive. Treatment plants are complex facilities, spanning large areas, including underground tunnels with process interconnections; a digital model encompassing all of this information is an invaluable tool. As utilities move to a centralized maintenance and management model, specialized knowledge of plant assets can be lost, in turn, reducing the efficiency of maintenance and management activities. The treatment plant is therefore a great candidate for BIM practices, since these give the asset manger the ability to visualize their assets in 3D, house all manner of record information and provide linkages to key performance indicators.


Improved communication and planning

A BIM model can level the field of knowledge and improve the efficiency of discussions about asset renewal. If you’ve ever been in a room of people planning asset renewal, you will understand how each individual comes to the table with a different perspective, which has to be reconciled before real discussion can begin. A maintenance professional may refer to the asset by its location — “that asset under the stairs”. An operator may refer to a historical process function, despite that function having changed over the years. Engineers and planners will refer to the name that the asset had on its construction drawings. Asset managers will refer to the name provided to them in an asset inventory (likely created for maintenance management purposes) by any one of the proceeding individuals.

Having a 3D model of an asset removes all confusion about what works are being planned, and allows clear visualization of opportunities and constraints (for instance, other assets that will be negatively impacted by the down time on one asset, or other assets that can be beneficially maintained during a scheduled shutdown). For large plants with potentially multiple ongoing construction contracts, a BIM model makes it easier to plan work and avoid conflicts of both time and space.


Cost reduction and avoidance

While the benefits of using BIM in design are well understood, the benefits of BIM in operations and maintenance and asset planning are not. There is limited return on investment data, simply because BIM uptake and benchmarking has been limited. However, cost reductions in BIM for existing infrastructure are likely to come from efficiency improvements from the operations and maintenance teams, and from cost reduction/avoidance through improved understanding of the assets by all team members that manage that asset throughout its lifecycle.
BIM models can act as a three-dimensional library for record information about the assets. But it’s unlikely that BIM models will replace the function of work management systems. Top tier systems like Maximo and SAP can already incorporate three-dimensional models into their workflow. A BIM model can act as a complementary resource to work management systems, SCADA Historians and document management systems, presenting all available information in an easy to visualize 3D environment.



The primary barriers delaying the use of BIM and 3D models for infrastructure management are declining. Initially, BIM tools were designed for architectural and structural designs, but poorly suited for the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) disciplines in water and wastewater treatment. The learning curve for engineers to transition from 2D to 3D workflows seemed daunting and showed little potential for payback. The cost to build a plant model in 3D was well into six figures, but with new tools and technologies like SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping), acquiring as-built conditions is done in days instead of weeks. The tools to create models are constantly evolving to better incorporate the MEP disciplines. BIM designers are now common throughout any design firm. Today, the cost to build a model of an entire treatment plant is only tens of thousands.


Pushing boundaries

Utility managers often manage their linear assets using geospatial tools. A recent market analysis in January 2019 by ARC Advisory Group reported that geospatial software creator, ESRI has over 45 per cent of the worldwide GIS market. In November 2017, ESRI and Autodesk (the makers of Revit) announced a new relationship to drive the integration of spatial intelligence and 3D design. Boundaries are continually being pushed and new ways to view and manage assets are emerging at an accelerated pace. With this new relationship between Autodesk and ESRI, the ability to import and integrate engineering models with real-world mapping and manage infrastructure in 3D is starting to emerge. A future where augmented reality applications are utilized in the water and wastewater sector seems just around the corner.



There are many tools in the market for maintenance management and asset management, but at the heart of all of these tools is an inventory of the assets being managed. It’s time that this inventory became more useful and easier to manage.

Developing and utilizing BIM models for the design and management of assets should not be restricted to high-profile infrastructure projects with large budgets. The ability to create, maintain and manage a portfolio of BIM models is now possible with readily available tools and cloud-based infrastructure.

The tools and technologies that support BIM are changing at such a rapid pace that the once-costly BIM models are now becoming more accessible to the everyday functions of maintenance and lifecycle management. In the not-too-distant future, BIM models could be available to all infrastructure managers, and the use of tools like Augmented Reality (AR) applications may well be commonplace in the water sector.



  • The History and Future of BIM for MEP in Canada, Yigit Karanfil, July 30, 2018 (
  • The Business Value of BIM for Water Projects, Dodge Data & Analytics, May 2, 2018 (
  • To BIM or Not to BIM, Jan 7, 2019 [Irish government BIM Mandate] (
  • Autodesk and Esri Partnering to Advance Infrastructure Planning and Design, November 15, 2017 (
  • Succession Planning in the Wastewater Industry (
  • WERF – What is Lifecycle Costing (
  • Measuring Digital Readiness, May 18, 2018 ( )
  • A Roadmap for a Digital Transformation, March 2017 McKinsey & Company ( )