Knowledge Bank ~ BIM – Fully embrace it with your eyes wide open

An acronym I am sure you have heard often – whether you have paid fleeting attention to it or are fully immersed. Either way, it is impossible to deny that the full adoption of BIM across the whole construction industry is inevitable. However will it bring your company the promised efficiency and cost savings, or leave a trail of confusion and litigation?


BIM – What is it all about?

BIM stands for Building Information Management. Borne from CAD, however it is much more than 3-D modelling – be careful not to describe it as such to the guardians of BIM! In principle, it is a digital model holding all of the information relating to a construction project i.e. all of the detailed design information, programming, cost and life cycle management information all in one place. Yes the mind boggles at the potential efficiencies and cost savings this could offer.

The advantages heralded by BIM are numerous – aside from the obvious advantage of the 3-D modelling – key reasons for the use of BIM include improvements in:

  • Cost management
  • Construction optioneering
  • Change management
  • Data management
  • Shortened review and hand-over times
  • Facilities management post-construction

As the name suggests, BIM was pioneered in buildings construction. However it has evolved significantly since then, and whilst its name is unchanged, BIM can be powerful across infrastructure, oil, gas and mining construction projects too.

The Reality Check

The critics of BIM however do make some fundamental points, and whilst I think the construction industry will benefit from the adoption of BIM, we must recognise the potential pitfalls, and plan accordingly.

As with all systems, what you get out is only as good as what goes in. Whilst BIM is a powerful tool, it needs skilled and knowledgeable users from across the construction disciplines embracing it. In my mind, the most fundamental barrier to BIM is poor communication and collaboration – both within organisations and across different parties involved on the project. With BIM’s ability to flag design and execution clashes, my concern is an over-reliance on software will ironically lead to more problems being experienced ‘on site’. One litigation case surrounding BIM underscores this problem, with an architect failing to communicate the ‘build-order’ essential to fit all components into the building – instead relying on BIM. A substantial out of court settlement was apparently reached between the parties.

For BIM to succeed, there needs to be integration and collaboration across disciplines, arguably an age-old issue within our industry – and hopefully BIM will become the unifying tool which helps achieve this.

Ultimately common sense needs to prevail, and you need to ensure data and processes set out in BIM have been sanity checked and validated – ensuring quality information is going in so everyone reaps the benefits further down the chain.

Recognising software constraints

Whilst the fight for supremacy in the BIM software world rages on, the reality is that a lot of the models are still very building centric. This means shoe-horning ‘non-building’ construction projects into ‘building’ design software, and creating a federated model (i.e. bolting on components to the core model). Needless to say, this added layer of complexity increases the risk of errors in the model.

COBie (Code of Building Information Exchange) is being used in a number of jurisdictions to help address this issue, however my earlier point on making sure there is a reality check from someone with on-site experience will significantly help here.

Contractual risks that BIM brings

Such a powerful tool brings with it additional risk, and therefore contractual obligations should be considered. It is generally agreed wholesale contract changes are not needed for ‘Level 2’ BIM – however it is prudent to consider the following:

Clear ownership and responsibility – clearly specify and differentiate between data management and design management.

IP Protection – who owns the data added into modelling and how is it protected, especially post-construction. Ideally get expert advice on what data you need to input, so you are not giving more away than is necessary.

BIM – Ultimately evolve or become extinct

Like it or not, Governments are taking the lead on the implementation of BIM, and pushing the construction industry into adopting BIM as standard.

The Housing Development Board in Singapore and the Housing Authority in Hong Kong have been early adopters. With Singapore setting the milestone of 2015 for the use of BIM for building and construction projects, and the UK setting a 2016 deadline. Hong Kong is likely to take a similar stand, endorsing the use of BIM to push up productivity and efficiency.

Those that understand what BIM brings, both the joy and the pain, and prepare their business and teams accordingly, will reap the benefits and no doubt gain crucial competitive edge in their industry.


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