Acronyms seem to be in plentiful supply in all walks of life these days and the construction industry is no exception; BREEAM, DALI, BSi, ISO etc. etc. With April fast approaching, another that’s destined to wheedle its way to the forefront of many a building professional’s mind this year is BIM; Building Information Modelling

BIM News

What is BIM?

Broadly speaking, BIM is something of an umbrella term that relates to both the methods employed to design using digital modelling, and the way in which collective data, inherent with any construction project, is formatted and shared. Its purpose is to ensure that the whole life management of the facility, from its initial design all the way through to its eventual decommission or demolition, is made as efficient and cost effective as possible. In truth BIM is as much a road map as it is a design tool.

Working in line with BIM from the outset of a project, a 3D representation of the finished structure is created. This is so accurate it can be used to prove all aspects of construction and long term performance before so much as a shovel hits the ground. The virtual finished product is called a BIM model and is made up of all the components that will be used in its physical construction. If it’s a regular building, a school or office block for example, that will include all the usual things you’d expect like bricks, doors & windows, thermal insulation, steelwork, pipework, HVAC, plant & switch gear, sanitary ware, luminaires, controls, ceilings, furniture, floor coverings and even the paint on the walls – the list is almost endless. These individual items are called BIM objects and can be likened to the pieces of a jigsaw; of limited use on their own, but collectively and interactively a very powerful resource for all connected with a project to interrogate, manipulate and share.

Each BIM object is a multifaceted bundle of data comprising 2D and 3D representations of the product, dimensional information including any additional clearances that may be required during install or to operate safely and correctly, performance & technical data and the manufacturer’s details. Some of this information is delivered in CAD form, Revit being adopted in the UK as the platform of choice, with additional supporting documentation utilising PDF and Excel formats as required. This standardisation of product information across the board means that architects, building consultants, main contractors, sub-contractors, end users, clients etc. are all working with the same information, laid out in exactly the same way and using the same software. The result, in theory at least, being unrestricted collaboration between all disciplines and a joined up decision making process that’s more informed than ever before.

Why is April so important?

Back in May 2011 the Cabinet Office published the Government Construction Strategy which highlighted how the construction industry, which at the time made up 7% of GDP, had to change if it were to contribute more effectively to the then coalition Government’s plans for economic growth. The document went on to state how inefficiencies and waste needed to be reduced by approximately 20% by the end of parliament. In short, with less money in the coffers due to the recent economic downturn, better value for money would be necessary with respect to projects funded via the public purse. One element identified in the paper which was deemed key if the government’s aspirations were to be successful, was the standardisation of the methods employed in the planning, procurement, construction and whole life cycle management of an asset. Fast forward a few years to the present day, allow for a number of amendments to the original 2011 strategy, and a significant part of that previously mentioned standardisation has developed into Level 2 BIM which will become a mandatory requirement with respect to centrally procured public sector projects from April 4th 2016.

At this point it would be easy to adopt a cynical attitude and view this as yet another scheme dreamt up in Whitehall that, despite appearing a good idea at face value, will ultimately sink without trace. However, although this April sees the introduction of Level 2 BIM, its evolutionary journey is well underway with the next iteration, Level 3 BIM, planned to see the light of day sometime in 2019, which would appear to suggest that far from being a flash in the pan, the Government are in this for the long haul. Furthermore, a number of countries around the world are in the process of adopting BIM too, and this being the case, it’s not hard to envisage BIM eventually becoming the global de facto standard for the construction industry.

Wireframe villa

What does BIM mean for me?

If you’re involved in the ‘bricks & mortar’ side of the building industry, be it design, specification, procurement, construction, facilities management etc. it’s fair to say that you’ll find yourself at the sharp end of BIM. Some practices have already picked up the baton and are actively introducing it as their preferred option. Perhaps having researched the subject, these organisations have arrived at the conclusion that the benefits that BIM can bring to their day to day activities are simply too good to pass up, regardless of whether public sector contracts are, or are not their bag. For those who may still be unsure of the implications that the adoption of BIM holds for them, a quick internet search on something like ‘BIM training courses’ will throw up a whole host of industry trusted bodies that can offer advice, information and training.

If you’re a product manufacturer, then it is your responsibility to produce BIM objects for your products. The creation of a BIM object is subject to fairly strict criteria and although many manufacturers will possess the capability to create them in house, undoubtedly some will not. If as a product manufacturer you happen to fall into the second category, I would suggest a conversation with one of the BIM specialists would be a good place to start. Search the net for “BIM downloads” to bring up a list of suitable organisations; if they have objects to download it’s a safe bet they can help you create yours. From the outset they’ll be able to advise exactly which products from your portfolio will need to be made available as BIM objects and which will not, as well as being able to create them in partnership with you. They’ll also be able to host your BIM objects in their online library where your client base can download them, usually for free. However, before taking the plunge and signing on the dotted line, make sure that the BIM object you end up with will be compliant with the rigorous Level 2 standard. If it’s not you may well find yourself falling short of your customer’s, not to mention the Government’s, minimum requirements. If in doubt the standard to refer back to is PAS 1192-2.

In Summary

The introduction of Level 2 BIM this April only applies to Government funded projects in the UK and is intended to address some of the inefficiencies of builds that we, the tax paying public, fund. This being the case, it would appear that those involved in the public sector side of construction will have little choice but to embrace BIM if they plan to remain active in that particular arena.

For those organisations operating solely in the private sector, April 2016 may well pass by much the same as March and February did before it, but how long will that remain the case? It seems unlikely that the larger architect, consultant and contractor organisations, who in the main operate in both the public and private sectors, will run with two platforms side by side for very long; it hardly makes sense to use BIM for one project type and an alternative package for another. Additionally, if BIM really can make the building and running of a publicly owned hospital or suspension bridge more efficient, logic dictates it can do just the same for a privately owned office block or hotel. After all, don’t the people holding the purse strings in the private sector crave value for money just as much as Government?

So for economic reasons, as well as plain old logic, the BIM trickle down looks set to start this Spring, if indeed it hasn’t started already, and it would seem only to be a matter of time before its effects are felt by everyone involved in construction.