Does BIM just mean too many heads in the sand?

Published:  12 September, 2017

Just when you thought you were safe, the government now aims to make BIM 'business as usual'. Anne Kemp explains what this means for installers

Hands up if you've become immune to all the talk about building information modelling (BIM) over the years?

If so, you are not alone. Especially if your typical job is on a smaller scale than the large government projects covered in the BIM mandate that came into play last year. In fact, 95% of the entire architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry work for small- to medium-sized businesses, possibly too small to even consider bidding for the type of project covered by the government policy.

However, any thoughts that once the compliance deadline for BIM Level 2 had passed, the whole BIM debate would blow itself out are misplaced. Now, the government has asked for BIM Level 2 to become 'business as usual' across the entire industry. This involves not just architects, but the entire project team, including structural engineers, building services, construction companies and facilities managers.

It may seem disruptive, but the potential benefits are far-reaching, ranging from cost and waste reductions to enhanced communications and collaboration; better resource allocation; fewer construction clashes and the ability to try different scenarios to reach the optimum design. Once a project is complete, the benefits continue through the building's lifecycle in terms of improved maintenance and sustainability.

To achieve universal take-up of BIM, we have to examine closely why so many smaller companies have chosen to side step the issue. For example, has BIM been hijacked by architects who have designed standards to suit themselves and surrounded it with complex and deeply technical debate that seems irrelevant to others in the industry? After all, there's still some scepticism surrounding COBie and a lack of engagement on the development of this exchange format. So, there needs to be more emphasis on the value proposition, and less on complex building standards.

Today's procurement processes are also holding back the collaborative approach Level 2 demands. It's difficult for a client to 'buy' collaboration and we need to make this easier. In return, professionals must respect everyone's contribution and understand their challenges. In addition, there's still a skills gap; 28% of those polled for the NBS National BIM Report 2016 said they were either 'not very' or 'not at all' confident in their BIM knowledge and skills.

BIM has a huge potential for heating and ventilation engineers and plumbers because, if contractors are BIM compliant, then all the information passed on is validated and verified. There should be fewer mismatches and clashes where, for example, the pipework has been made to the wrong dimensions through misinformation. Data, such as manufacturers' information, can be linked to all the objects for use throughout the building lifecycle.

Building services engineers will have much to contend with in the coming few years. The demand for smart buildings and the rising importance of the Internet of Things could mean their designs grow in complexity beyond recognition. But BIM is not going to fade away. Rather, it will work together with and complement these other technologies. As a result, we'll see less waste, more efficiencies and altogether better buildings.

Anne Kemp is Chair of the UK BIM Alliance

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