Engineering angles: Embracing BIM in pharma plant design

June 26, 2023
It’s time for the industry to overcome hesitations and utilize 3D technology

With more pharma plants and buildings breaking ground, there is a need for efficient tools that can improve construction quality and speed.

For years, architects, construction managers and civil engineers have been using building information modeling (BIM) software to reduce human error when designing structures and increase efficiency.

The software program utilizes a variety of data sets to create an accurate digital representation of a structure and shows the building’s life cycle, beginning with planning and design and ending with operations and execution. The 3D models do more than show what the final project will look like; they show how the structure will operate, making it easier to detect inefficiencies before construction begins.

This emphasis on streamlined operations offers many benefits to the pharma industry, including better products, faster deliveries, and enhanced safety. Despite this, the industry has been hesitant to utilize this technology. But BIM technology is quickly becoming the new standard in construction, so it’s time for the pharma industry to embrace it.

Efficiency benefits

Building pharma manufacturing plants, cleanrooms and labs requires integrated machinery and technology, making projects substantially more complex than conventional office space.

Aside from improving the efficiency of the construction project itself, BIM software can make the facilities more efficient when operations begin. BIM can create various models that arrange equipment and the layout of the building differently to achieve the most logical and systematic setup possible.

These adjustments made by the software improve workflow and enable employees to use space wisely. Managers and designers can make informed decisions upfront using the information given by the BIM design.

These design improvements have several sub-benefits, like higher-quality products, faster delivery times, enhanced employee satisfaction, and improved accuracy. Increased operational efficiency leads to better products for patients.

BIM software also makes it easy to pinpoint opportunities to increase energy efficiency and make less of an impact on the environment, whether it’s implementing smart lighting or solar panels. The software can help architects and engineers strategically place windows to manage indoor temperature, and reduce energy waste, or select a more lightweight material to decrease building costs. Small things, like the fuel needed to lift and move heavy materials, can substantially impact the cost of construction. BIM software detects these opportunities for reduced energy consumption that humans may overlook.

Increase compliance, decrease mistakes

While safety should always be a top priority, often safety features and potential hazards are overlooked during the complex design process. BIM software makes it easy to check for safety compliance before construction begins. It can help avoid workplace accidents and also ensure the facility adheres to all safety regulations — avoiding fines and lawsuits.

If you’ve ever seen an awkward bathroom where the door hits the toilet when it opens or something similar, you know human errors in architecture are real. And mistakes in a pharma facility design are much worse than small residential oddities, as they can compromise the safety of employees and the quality of the product. However, BIM software can fix these problems before the construction process begins, avoiding costly human errors.

2D models have been the norm for several years, yet clashes and miscalculations cause several problems while the plant is in construction. The 3D CAD model that BIM software presents can detect any risk before construction begins. BIM allows for pre-fabrication, where you can see all the elements that will be on the facility and how they will fit. This process lets manufacturers envision where things can or won’t work before even buying the materials. This process not only is the most efficient way to build, but it minimizes the risk of construction accidents or reconstruction work.

Remaining hurdles

The number one reason people decide to forgo BIM is the lack of BIM professionals available. While BIM automates many parts of the design project, it still requires a highly-skilled BIM professional. This software cannot be mastered in one afternoon and currently there are limited BIM professionals available.

While online training courses are available, it takes an extensive amount of time to make someone proficient enough to design a complex structure like a pharma manufacturing facility or laboratory.

And unfortunately, while BIM software’s capacity to enhance energy efficiency is helpful, it is also costly. Energy-efficient materials and environmentally conscientious designs often cost more. For this reason, companies on a tight budget may avoid BIM designs and suggestions to keep costs low.

Given these obstacles, why is BIM worth it? For starters, BIM allows seamless integration for a single project no matter the discipline or area of expertise. Engineers, architects, electricians, and even plumbers can work together at the same stage of the project. This allows the project to move dynamically and ensures great communication from square one.

With BIM, errors due to bad or untimely communication are almost out of the question. Manufacturers can reduce the budget allocated to risks and emergencies given how the BIM software also enhances the predictability of the project. Manufacturers can set the budget for rework from the start without having to make wild guesses. The project duration is shorter, and waste is reduced.

Soon, BIM will design all manufacturing plants and laboratories. The number of costs BIM software can reduce more than makes up for the investment. If that wasn’t enough, being a pioneer in BIM software will give manufacturers and project managers a head start that in a few years won’t be possible.

About the Author

Tom Schwarzweller | Account Executive, Microsol Resources