To BIM or not to BIM?

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is growing in popularity and is now mandatory for centrally funded public-sector projects. Experts and the curious are gathering more and more frequently at dedicated congresses, exhibitions and workshops. Many people are now asking: Where does the UK stand on the issue of BIM and the digitisation of the construction industry?

It’s hard to imagine a world without BIM, as it’s becoming a de-facto approach for many publicly funded construction projects in the UK.

Organisations that adopt BIM are increasingly recognising the opportunities for improvement that the method has to offer. This is helped by the fact that new user benefits are being identified on an almost weekly basis, giving stakeholders a clear demonstration of the concrete benefits on offer. Digitisation is being moved away from the idea of an almost-mystical phenomenon that is only of interest to ‘techies’.

BIM is a method, not just a technology. BIM Consultancy, ViCon identified five success factors for BIM implementations: technology, rules, processes, skills plus the effectiveness of the BIM manager. All five points are necessary for a successful start with the BIM method and should be considered carefully.

- Technology heads the list and must be in place before the method can be used. This includes authoring software for models such as Revit, ARCHICAD and Bentley, as well as a Common Data Environment (CDE) such as that provided by Aconex – which is vital in terms of value creation.

- Based on this technology, rules of collaboration (national or corporate standards e.g. PAS1192, contracts, organisations) are both helpful and necessary as a second factor.

- The third factor comprises robust and repeatable processes able to be codified and rolled out across supply chains, particularly focused on ease of use.

- Fourth on the list, and of vital importance, is the appropriate skills of the people involved, who should be able to embrace the methods and technologies used.

- The fifth component is the involvement of the BIM manager. The BIM manager should be able to champion give all-round advice both prior to and during project execution.

In the UK, modelling software has been used for creating geometric models for five to ten years now. In some cases, it was rather vaguely referred to as BIM, though some key elements were missing.

Numerous studies, including one by McGraw-Hill and the Aconex BIM Study carried out in 2015, have examined the actual benefits of BIM. They found that users can avoid errors and the repetition of work – meanwhile, the average error rate in construction is at 10 percent.

The CDE is key when it comes to unlocking the full advantages of BIM. It is the platform for handling all information processes concerning the plan-build-operate lifecycle. That is to say, it’s no longer merely a question of capturing and sharing drawings and documents, but rather the capturing and sharing of data. It is genuine data management.

Everyone involved receives access via specific rights concept in accordance with their contractual obligations. The CDE is cloud-based (neither installation nor hardware is required), highly available and certified. It fulfils both national and international data security and data protection requirements, and is therefore different from conventional data platforms in both its functional orientation and perspective.

As in the past, up to 90 per cent of those involved in planning and construction have limited or no access to relevant information. With a CDE, formats of all manufacturers can be managed without issues, as open formats such as IFC (Industry Foundation Classes), BCF (BIM Collaboration Format) and LEXiCON (product data templates) are supported and optimum collaboration is possible for all involved.

Why are open formats so significant? As a matter of principle, all experts should work with the best tools for their own purpose, as their work is so specialised. However, the problem here is that closed formats limited to one specific manufacturer would impair collaboration and considerably limit potential.

With regards to the scope of BIM activity in the project, and from ‘Lonely’ and ‘Social’ to the selection of ‘closed’ or ‘open’ formats, you need to choose carefully. ‘Lonely BIM’ describes application of the BIM method that is restricted to a single discipline and which can be described as a standalone solution.

‘Social BIM’, on the other hand, means the end-to-end and interdisciplinary application of the BIM method. In the last two or three months, we’ve examined the BIM trends on international markets in an attempt to gain a better understanding of any possible patterns in the development of BIM.

In more mature markets, there’s a distinct tendency towards ‘Social-OpenBIM’ solutions. The markets in Norway and Finland are clearly leading the way, followed by Holland. The UK happens to be the fastest growing BIM market in the world.

Those involved need to redouble their efforts if the open approach is to establish itself in the market more strongly. In collaboration with buildingSMART International, Aconex has produced a two-minute video that explains the issue or clash management process in very simple terms.

The video can be seen on YouTube at https://info.aconex.com/video-OpenBIM.html and is intended to help overcome any initial reservations.

Article by Steve Cooper, general manager UK and Ireland at Aconex.

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