10 August 2011 – Governments in the UK, Singapore and Australia are moving to building information modelling, or BIM systems,  for new buildings, but are these three dimensional, real time programs as good as the hype suggests, or are they oversold and under delivered, asks Peter Scuderi.

The recent launch of the UK Government’s Construction Strategy Report has stated that “Government will require fully collaborative 3D BIM as a minimum by 2016?.

Its chief construction adviser Paul Morrell has identified BIM as one way his government can deliver better value for the UK taxpayer. In his view, using BIM will lead to significant innovation and integration across the supply chain. Furthermore, he suggests that those who fail to adopt BIM risk being “Betamaxed out” of the procurement process.

The Singaporean Government is well into applying a similar mandate for BIM, offering financial incentives to those willing to be the early pathfinders towards a goal of increased industry adoption, and ultimately full BIM submissions by 2015.

“There is a compelling economic case for encouraging greater use of BIM in Australia. Organisations that are aware of this, and already engaging with BIM, will have a distinct advantage,” says John Hainsworth, an Associate with Arup in Sydney.

The Australian Federal Government, through the Built Environment Industry and Innovation Council, commissioned a report that puts forward a compelling economic case for the widespread adoption of BIM in the Australian construction sector. The study states “BIM has macroeconomic significance, (and) that its accelerated widespread adoption would make a significant difference to national economic performance”.

Arup, through its extensive experience with BIM, believes the system has potential to maximise collaboration, improve performance testing, identify clash detection, refine design analysis, systemise workflow and enhance quality assurance.

Arup is also investigating the use of 4D and 5D design and coordination technologies.

What this can mean is an improvement in the lifecycle performance of projects that use BIM, as well as 4D and 5D technologies, from concept to final decommissioning and recycling.

Detailed cost benefit and risk analyses clearly indicate that projects using BIM have faster and more effective processes, better design due to the availability of more rigorous analysis, better quality of production, more automated assembly and more practical lifecycle information for ongoing facilities management.

There are four key areas that combine to result in success with using BIM: strategy, open standards, process and implementation.

Strategy
In today’s challenging financial world, organisations now, more than ever, need to add value to projects through close collaboration with all stakeholders. A key to the overarching success of BIM on a project is the alignment of the touted advantages with organisational objectives.

According to Hainsworth: “BIM can mean so many different things, so be clear what it is you collectively want to achieve, and that will drop out of the strategy. In simple terms, asking why you need to use BIM will have you soon figuring out when, and how, it is to be best applied for gain.”

Open standards
In order to achieve maximum benefits, BIM processes need to be integrated and interoperable across the whole project team, beyond just the construction component. All involved need access and understanding of its workings, and in particular, the client needs access to the information over the whole lifecycle of the project.

It’s important to allow the current best of breed software to be used, but to not paint yourself into a corner by stipulating proprietary formats. If necessary, establish a workflow that permits different software to work together.

Establishing clear protocols that serve as the foundation for BIM use on a project will provide a robust structure for BIM implementation. These should be agreed to by the project team at the outset, and may include specific and individual requirements for components of the project.

Ideally the client will establish frameworks and protocols prior to going to tender so that there are clear expectations of what is required by all parties from the outset.

Process
Each project using BIM should develop the framework to specify the processes and workflows prescribed. The process needs to align with stakeholder requirements, and outline the software needed throughout the project.

There is little history of good process management in the construction industry, giving rise to an urgent need for cultural as well as process change. Essential to the success of the implementation of BIM is appropriate training for the users and clear communication between the stakeholders. While using BIM provides many advantages and benefits, it does require a significant amount of planning and commitment.

Implementation
If you want to implement BIM across a design team, start by looking for opportunities on every project so you can give your team some experience. Small firms can be advantaged because they have fewer cultural barriers to cross when introducing new systems, however larger organisations have a greater pool of technologically savvy staff to call upon.

The real success of BIM is only known once the processes are fully implemented. However the basic ability of BIM to provide clash detection between the different design disciplines tends to lead into a more straightforward construction, and so tangible returns are evident.

Peter Scuderi

What is clear, is that there is a revolution facing the construction industry. Those aligning themselves now with 3D CAD based practices are driving the revolution. It is these organisations that are best placed to contribute to, and also gain from, the new BIM paradigms that are emerging.

The industry’s challenge is to embrace and accept the BIM enabled technology on offer now, to produce a more streamlined, right first time approach, to design and construction. Forward thinking clients already tend towards an expectation of 3D CAD based design.

As technology advances, these are the clients who will expect the model’s object content to be packed with any conceivable aspect of data that might give them an advantage. The resulting models open far reaching opportunities within the future management and business operations related to the building.

Peter.Scuderi@arup.com.au