Everyone working in the construction sector today has heard of BIM – Building Information Modelling. It has its advocates and it has its detractors, but whatever you think of it, it’s here to stay in one form or another.
And yet, it is fair to say that BIM hasn’t enjoyed the widespread adoption that software enthusiasts, modernisers and perhaps the government would like to see. There are a number of reasons for that, one of which is likely to be the name, BIM. There are some in the industry who are calling for us to talk about digitising the industry rather than focusing on BIM alone, and I think that makes sense.
Whatever your views, let’s take a look at what BIM is, where it’s being adopted and some of the challenges, and what this means for our industry.
What is BIM?
For many, BIM is simply 3D computer modelling of a building. But in reality, it’s much more than that. BIM is about information as well as design. Having accurate data and specifications for every component of a building – from a support beam, through to the exact make and model of the light fitting in the fourth floor bathroom – is an invaluable resource during the design and build phase, as well as for the entire lifespan of the building. It can help detect errors and clashes before construction begins, as well as making it easier to order the right replacement light bulb once the building is in use.
And it makes it easier for everyone involved to communicate. No more phoning someone to ask them to look up the info you need that’s in a ring binder on their colleague’s desk. Everything you need to know is logged within the software. This is useful for everyone from the site manager, to the interior designer, to the facilities manager who eventually runs the building.
Ask a group of people in construction to tell you what BIM is or, more specifically – to tell you what’s required for BIM Level 2 – the standard that became mandatory for use on all public sector works in 2016 – and it’s rare that everyone gives the same answer. This is one of the challenges.
However, a solution is for everyone involved in a project to clarify what they see as being required to hit BIM Level 2, and to agree this in writing before work starts.
Despite a great deal of concern about what the new mandatory rules would mean, they haven’t been enforced rigidly – and some are seeing this as a positive. It means that the industry can adopt BIM in a low-pressure way – and see the benefits of it – and then hopefully sell those benefits to their commercial clients too.
When will we see BIM introduced more widely?
I see numerous things holding back the adoption of BIM and the full digitising of the industry. For a start there are the architectural and engineering firms run by people who don’t want to modernise. If you don’t have a culture of innovation and embracing new technology – you will not be in a hurry to adopt BIM.
Secondly, there is not always the client demand for it. Until clients understand the benefits, or until we as an industry are better able to sell the benefits, adoption will only happen in small pockets – mainly in London – and some segments of the industry will be left behind.
Thirdly there is the cost. You have both software costs and training costs that will certainly discourage some from adopting BIM and promoting it to their clients as a positive addition to a project. One strategy would be to make sure that there is at least one member of the team in your firm who can understand and use the software. This would keep costs down, but ensure that you can use the technology on those projects that are big enough for BIM to be a viable (or mandatory) addition. And I see BIM as being more useful for those bigger projects – we’re not going to be using it on a rear extension to a residential property any time soon.
In terms of my own approach at Super Structure Associates, we use Revit, which has some BIM capabilities. I see it as a tool that is there to help us to be more efficient and accurate. It’s not essential, but it has its benefits. One analogy is to liken it to a highly advanced version of a calculator. My mental maths is very good, but I still use a calculator for some things. And BIM can be seen as similar. It is not necessary for some elements of what we do, but it can be a useful tool.
And I do think BIM is one important element when it comes to dragging the construction industry into the 21st century. It is a tool that can reduce risk, increase profitability and improve customer service for our clients. It’s important that we move with the times – and innovate – to enable us to do our best, most efficient work and deliver a great service to our clients.
In the meantime, if you need assistance with the structural elements of an upcoming project, please do get in touch.