Unlocking the potential of BIM
Building Information Modelling – or BIM as it is more commonly known – has become something of a buzz word for the construction sector since the Government launched its Construction 2025 strategy in 2011. Claire Cameron investigates why firms should be embracing the technology
WITH more than half of construction firms now using Building Information Modelling (BIM) on at least some of their projects, concern is growing for smaller firms reluctant to take the plunge and adopt the technology.
In April, the UK Government mandated that all centrally-funded public-sector building projects over £5 million must be BIM-enabled to at least Level 2 but there are fears that some companies are being left behind.
The construction industry is well known for being slow to embrace change and with the adoption of BIM remaining a voluntary option for smaller level projects, Brendan Patchell, BIM strategy manager at construction specialist Morgan Sindall Professional Services (MSPS), has argued the new mandate has created a technological divide in the industry.
And with BIM set to continue to transform the construction industry for the better, Marc Pickering, BIM manager at Keepmoat, says he is concerned that smaller firms see the technology as "new and scary" and are in danger of falling further behind in an increasingly digital world.
So what is BIM and why should construction firms adopt it?
Defined by Mott MacDonald as "a coordinated set of processes, supported by technology, that adds value through creating, managing and sharing a digital information model of an asset throughout its lifecycle," BIM has the potential to bring together every component within a construction project and "is the way forward for the industry," says London-based chartered architect Simone de Gale.
And while the benefits in the immediate future are found in collaboration, BIM also improves cost, speeds up project delivery, reduces waste and errors, and also improves safety because there is less time spent on site.
De Gale, who uses BIM in her own practice, says the adoption of the technology "provides an excellent tool for design development and discussion amongst the design team”.
It is also a mechanism for empowering a team to take collective responsibility because “BIM allows for design, review, alterations and revised design to take place in a virtual world, reducing costly on site re-works that we traditionally see,” says Pickering.
And while the UK government initiative and Level 2 requirement have both been catalysts for industry focus with more and more clients now asking for BIM, Jim Smith, technical director and BIM sector leader at engineering consultancy MLM Group, believes failure to adopt the technology will be detrimental because "larger contractors insist on their supply chain being able to do BIM.”
Mott MacDonald’s BIM champion Richard Shennan has also warned firms trying to keep doing things in old established ways will miss out, whatever their size.
“Each participant in the industry, whether large or small, designer or constructor, fabricator or manufacturer, owner or facilities manager, will be seeking to develop their businesses to be as efficient and market-focused as possible using latest technology effectively,” he says.
Despite its name, the benefits of BIM are not restricted to just buildings but can be used across the construction sector, as Mott MacDonald discovered.
With a global BIM initiative starting in 2010, the engineering consultancy was an early adopter. Using industry standard Autodesk and Bentley software as well as technologies from Trimble, Shennan says: "we were quick to recognise that BIM applies to all kinds of infrastructure projects," and cites the upgrade of London's Victoria Station as representing leading practice at the time.
Having started their BIM journey in 2012, the MLM Group has also utilised BIM procedures on schools, energy for waste facilities, residential, medical research facilities and offices – most recently while working on the Illumina Centre in Cambridge.
And with less errors and ease to make changes, Smith says: "The majority of our projects are now designed in 3D and we link together our design, drawings and specification to avoid ambiguities."
Having used Revit on selected projects for a number of years, Keepmoat made the decision to implement the technology on every project in 2014 and has recently used it on two care home projects at Lawson House in Newcastle and Wylam Park in Throckley as well as a new build apartment scheme in Kenton.
The housebuilders' initial reason for implementing BIM was to help with onsite coordination, which can save time and money during the construction process, explains Pickering.
"By using Revit we are now drawing in 3D and coordinating architectural, structural and M&E models to make sure they are fully coordinated and there are no clashes before we start construction onsite," he says. "This helps with programme and cost, with less delays and abortive works during construction."
Overcoming the BIM barriers
Although the BIM Task Force and the recently launched UK BIM Alliance are leading the industry-wide drive for awareness, education and adoption of BIM Level 2, affordability and complicated software is often a barrier for firms.
“For anyone but skilled, trained architects and engineers, BIM software can be difficult to learn and use,” explains Rob Phillpot of Aconex. “It also tends to be licensed on a per-user basis, which makes it expensive and limits access.”
While the cost of purchasing software is being addressed by new vendor licensing options, Shennan suggests a bigger push on common classification systems and extension across all infrastructure sectors would benefit firms looking to embrace BIM as well as an effort by software vendors to make the products they develop work with other systems.
“While work has been done to get standards such as Uniclass 2016 in place, more effort by software vendors to increase interoperability is needed,” he says, while support from larger companies could help smaller firms because they can set out “clear requirements and communicate these to their own suppliers, allowing them time to adjust with support where possible.”
It is also important for firms to understand that BIM is mostly about people, and investing in them will get better results than just buying expensive software.
"The software will help with delivering the information, but the people will be the ones collaborating," says Smith. “So firm's should communicate with their employees to help educate them and get their buy-in and recruit a BIM champion to look into what BIM is and how it will affect the business.”
More case studies, forums for construction companies to share experiences and better informed clients can also help assist reluctant construction firms to adopt BIM, while a substantial change in processes and working practices is also required.
"This includes a cultural change in collaborative working and the rigour around data classification and information management,” Shennan explains.
With BIM staying high on the agenda with an increased focus on housebuilding driven both by government policy and the demand for housing, Jason Ruddle, CEO at Elecosoft, expects to see greater levels of adoption in 2017.
“The UK government is keen to work with builders that use modern construction methods,” he says.
“Now is the time for construction businesses to apply all their digital construction and BIM learnings to date so they can take advantage of this investment.”
Not just for buildings
Repair work on the A338 Bournemouth Spur Road in Dorset demonstrates that the use of BIM is not just restricted to buildings but can be applied across the construction sector.
After many years of patch and mend repairs, the foundations of Dorset County Council’s busiest road – which carries around 59,000 vehicles a day – were crumbling causing the surface to fail.
Funding was secured for the £22 million reconstruction project by Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership through the Dorset Growth Deal and it is the first local authority scheme of its type to be managed to BIM Level 2 standards.
The work was carried out through the Dorset Highways Strategic Partnership, a long-standing collaboration between Dorset County Council and construction materials and services provider Hanson UK.
To ensure it could be delivered to BIM level two standards, world-leading project management technology was incorporated into Hanson’s iPave tablet. This allowed all onsite information, photographs and project progress reports to be recorded and shared in real time.
“It is now widely accepted that BIM stands for Better Information Management and not Building Information Modelling,” said Hanson Contracting project manager Ian Price.
“This reflects the fact that BIM is a data driven digital management system which is not just relevant to buildings but can be applied to any construction project to add value and promote collaboration.”
The iPave allowed the team to have access to all of the project information and, significantly, improved on-site health and safety. Near misses were logged enabling trends by location – as well as type – to be monitored and responded to more scientifically. The software was made available throughout the supply chain and helped the scheme record no lost time injuries in almost 160,000 man-hours.