Defining building information modelling (BIM) is not easy. Even the BIM Task Group, which is helping spearhead adoption by UK central government departments, admits that it can be easier to say what BIM isn’t, rather than what it is.
There is, in fact, no universal definition of BIM but the key aspects are that it involves collaboration between all parties, underpinned by shared 3D models with intelligent, structured data attached to them.
In practice, BIM is more of a way of working than just a model - a structured approach designed to improve efficiency. Having the right information available enables better planning and informed decision-making at all stages of a project’s life.
BIM is certainly far more than 3D CAD alone, nor is it a new technology or a distant prospect; a key date for its wider adoption - 4th April 2016 – is fast approaching.
The aim is that all UK centrally funded government departments will be adopting - as a minimum - collaborative Level 2 BIM by next year. Level 2 BIM is defined as “file based collaboration and library management”, which essentially involves parties still having their own models – architectural, structural, services and so on – but with all data and information available in a common format that allows sharing.
By the April deadline the departments will have to provide clear and complete “employer’s information requirements” (EIRs) with all contracts. Ongoing support for adoption will remain with the BIM Task Group, which brings together expertise from industry, government, the public sector, institutions and academia.
By 3rd October 2016, all departments will have the capability for electronic validation of BIM information delivered by the supply chain. Level 2 will remain a focus but the Task Group will also be pushing on with the delivery of the next stage of ‘Digital Built Britain’ - Level 3 - which takes sharing further and uses a single model.
Next year’s changes won’t just affect the big Tier 1 contractors who sign the contracts with government departments – their supply chains need to be part of the process.
“Industry is becoming increasingly ready,” says Faithful+Gould director Terry Stocks, who is the BIM Task Group’s delivery director for Level 2. “A lot of the Tier 1s are starting to put themselves in a good place. Increasingly there are SMEs that are realising that there is a benefit to this and they want to be part of the journey. Are we totally there? Absolutely not. This is a work in progress.”
BIM is now becoming a central part of people’s day-to-day jobs: “There will always be sceptics, but we can give very strong evidential cases of where it has saved time and money,” says Andy Radley, group BIM director at Kier Group.
Radley sums up Kier’s BIM mandate as being, in essence, that you will use BIM if you are doing a project. “But clearly common sense is needed,” he says. The idea is to use it where it brings value, rather than just for the sake of it. Some projects – say a £25,000 refurb of a school sports hall – clearly would not merit full BIM. A gateway process is therefore in place and any decision against using BIM on a project that could be ‘bimmed’ would have to be signed off by the appropriate senior director.
“People often think of BIM as being just for buildings – for me, the key is that we are using it across all our projects,” says Radley. Kier’s applications for BIM and 3D technologies have included roads, water treatment and railway projects.
A detailed logistics model is used for some projects, particularly when a client such as a hospital is continuing to use the site. Showing how traffic routes and crane positions need to change as the scheme is built allows potential impacts to be identified.
The system can also be used internally for site inductions or daily activity briefings as well as to plan work packages and clarify quantities. “There are so many benefits,” says Radley. Kier is making a point of capturing case studies aligned with these benefits to show what can be achieved.
Stocks’ role is to manage the delivery team and work with the government departments to make sure that everything is ready. “Like all these things, the level of data that they are asking for has to be appropriate to the size of the project and the format has to be appropriate for the supply chain,” he says.
The BIM environment will bring both capital and operational savings, says Stocks. The BIM Task Group is also looking further afield, to help UK companies win work abroad. “The UK mandated BIM early on so we should have built up an expertise in advance of other countries. That advantage won’t last for ever - people need to get in there quite early,” says Stocks. To make this really work, the supply chains have really got to be pulling as well, he adds.
The UK BIM Task Group also works with partners focusing on particular aspects of the process, including a series of ‘BIM4’ bodies targeting individual groups such as SMEs, water and fit-out. BSI is also a partner, as too are the BIM2050 Group, BIM Regions and Building Smart UK, which is managed by BRE and is an alliance of organisations defining the use and sharing of information.
The Scottish government is also pressing on with adoption. A key recommendation within Scotland’s Construction Procurement review was the implementation of BIM to Level 2. “The work that we are doing will mean that new projects beyond April 2017 will be looking to embed and use BIM,” says Paul Dodd, associate director with the Scottish Futures Trust.
“We are trying to ensure that the work we are doing is shared across industry as well,” he says. There is a Scottish BIM Delivery Group in place and the team is also working with the private sector including suppliers. A key message is “please begin to start your own journey”, he adds.
Turner & Townsend associate director Anna Thompson says that younger people who are used to experiencing a 3D world through computer games are puzzled to see colleagues still looking at flat drawings. “They are the ones who are really starting to push a cultural change and educate other people,” she says.
The BIM2050 Group was launched by the Construction Industry Council and consists of young professionals from most corners of the industry representing their respective institutions. Its aims include improving the image and efficiency of the construction industry, promoting shared knowledge and taking a wide view of what interdisciplinary working may look like as technology develops.
Chairman Neil Thompson points out that a lot of decisions in construction centre around senior management. “The stepping stones they are putting in place today are going to be the things we need to lead with for the future. We want to help implement that thinking and decision-making as we go forward,” he says.
“One thing that is really beginning to show is the lack of integration between the institutions,” he adds. Like some others in the group, Thompson – whose job is UK head of digital research and innovation at Balfour Beatty - is a member of two professional bodies. People working in BIM are often quite generalist, he observes, changing discipline over time.
General usage of BIM across the supply chain remains quite low, says Thompson. “That might sound like it’s a problem, but I don’t think it is. Nature still has to take its course and we have to appreciate that BIM has only been around for a few years.”
The key to any successful change is for the organisation to have a strategy that is communicated very clearly to staff. It must come from the top down, stresses T&T’s Anna Thompson. The directors might not need to understand the software in detail – but they do need to know about its capabilities. Buy-in across the business is also essential; otherwise people will simply revert to their old ways.
It is important to capture the lessons learned. For instance, T&T holds BIM workshops with project teams on a monthly basis or at key stages. Analysing how a project went can help demonstrate, for instance, that the BIM process was able to save ‘X’ hours and avoid many laborious chores. Freeing people’s time helps them focus on the most important – and interesting – tasks, Thompson says.
The industry as a whole is doing very well in sharing its developing knowledge about BIM, she feels. The regional hubs and the ‘BIM4’ groups - BIM4SMEs and others - are places where people can learn from one another.
BIM is not just for large national contractors, and it benefits the contractor as much as the client, says Craig Muldoon, who is pre-construction manager at Howard Russell Construction.
The company began introducing the technology some two years ago and won the RICS BIM4SME award for ‘best BIM project’ earlier this year for its £3m warehouse refurb project for fruit and veg wholesalers Mash Purveyors in London. Gradually building up the complexity resulted in Mash Purveyors being Howard Russell’s first full BIM project. The approach there included the ‘fourth dimension’ of time, which was a great help in planning what was a complex job.
BIM isn’t confined to the most complex projects. Its use on a current small and straightforward new-build scheme is helping refine the BIM processes still further. “This has helped tailor the templates and iron out issues,” says Muldoon. Even on such a simple job, there are benefits. “We were looking at probably a 22-week programme – we’re hoping we’ll get it down to about 15,” he says. Advance preparation allows people to work on site without worries and in the knowledge that tomorrow’s tasks are already planned.
The dedicated BIM Hub in Howard Russell Construction’s head office was created with collaboration in mind, with a range of BIM tools and software to enable communication with clients, site teams and subcontractors. All sites are also equipped with the BIM technology.
Not every subcontractor or supplier that works with the company is up to speed with BIM – but sticking to the most technologically advanced suppliers wouldn’t be a wise decision, feels Muldoon. “You don’t want to be excluding people who do a good job and are keen to be competitive,” he says. Muldoon is keen to boost supply chain engagement across the industry and has recently become involved with BIM4SME’s work, reinforcing the organisation’s activities in this key area.
BIM4SME is responsible for providing resources, best practice and knowledge to small and medium companies to get them ready for 2016. “We’re there to give a voice to the SME community, which is very big,” says chairman Tim Platts. There are some 250,000 SMEs in the UK construction industry, he says, and many of them are working for major contractors on the biggest contracts.
“We reckon that 90% of the actual work is probably done by an SME,” says Platts. This makes them very important in terms of BIM, as much of the information and data that needs to be delivered by the Tier 1 contractors will be provided through these businesses.
The organisation puts out information through social media and its website, case studies, initiatives like the BIM4SME awards and regular clinics where companies can begin to get to grips with the topic.
Kier has been making a point of talking with its supply chain. There is a lot of fear out there and many people have a perception that they will have to invest heavily in training and software. But this need not be the case, says Andy Radley.
For example, he reassured a blockwork contractor that all it needed was a free viewer to access to the model and find out more – thus avoiding surprises on site. A cleaning contractor felt that BIM would be of no use to its business – but Radley says that this attitude fails to appreciate the usefulness of pricing a job already knowing about factors such as whether the building has high areas that will be difficult to access.
Major manufacturers are producing a wealth of information and Radley continues to be surprised by the range of products being incorporated into BIM systems. A supplier of what were, essentially, door mats (albeit very posh ones) turned out to have modelled the transmission of dirt into buildings and how this affects the life of the flooring.
Solving a specific problem can soon convert a sceptic into an enthusiast, Radley has found. He recalls helping someone determine the size of mobile crane needed and where to put it without disrupting the busy road alongside. “That particular guy was really scared about using BIM – but he’s now an advocate.”
Improving product information to create better as-built models
Initiatives are under way to improve the efficiency of asset management by streamlining the capture of accurate product information and as-built data.
A new project by specifications body NBS, BSI and the Construction Products Association (CPA) involves research into the creation of a reliable way of identifying individual products.
The research, which is part-funded by non-governmental public body Innovate UK, will involve working with people from across the industry to investigate the feasibility and usefulness of adapting for construction an established system called Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs). If shown to be beneficial, later stages will create a pilot.
DOIs have been around for years and there are more than 170 million of them in use. A typical user is Netflix, which can use DOIs to identify particular versions of films – such as the Spanish language director’s cut.
Construction lacks a simple way of identifying a particular product. There may be a description in a manufacturer’s brochure, an object in a BIM model and technical details in a specification. “There is no one thing that ties the various descriptions together and there is no one thing that ties that description to the real world,” says Adrian Malleson, head of research, analysis and forecasting at NBS.
Malleson sees DOIs – which would be dubbed Construction Product Indicators in this industry - as having the potential for providing an overarching structure for the different ways of describing and identifying products.
CoBuilder UK - a six-month-old sister company of established Norwegian data specialist coBuilder AS – aims to help manufacturers to share their product data and to help contractors collect and distribute ‘as built’ product information.
The company hopes to overcome the common situation of facilities managers having to trawl through masses of pdfs to find the information they need. “What we’re doing is collating product information and developing the operations and maintenance manual throughout the construction phase,” explains chief executive Nick Tune.
CoBuilder UK is trialling its BIM-enabled software tools with some of the UK’s largest product manufacturers and contractors. “We’re working with the major contractors to say to the big manufacturers ‘this is the data we want – we now need you to share it with us’,” says Tune.
Provision of product data is already well developed in Norway, he says. There, someone buying from a merchant can have product information sent directly to the project. The data requirements for BIM are very good in the UK, says Tune, “but in terms of what’s happening on the ground, it’s further behind”.
Organisations involved in the drive for adoption of BIM tend to be active on social media as well as having extensive information on their websites. Starting points include: