The government wants all publicly procured construction projects with a value greater than £5m to use Level 2 building information modelling (BIM) by 2016. It is likely to be widely adopted in the private sector, too.
BIM is a move away from traditional 2D computer-aided design drawings to easily visualised, 3D designs. It provides access to data-rich, intelligent 3D ‘objects’, which contain embedded asset data. An object can be a 3D image of a product, component or structure, and can include information such as detailed dimensions, material specifications, accreditations, efficiencies, carbon content, maintenance schedules and performance.
BIM assists in virtual design, but the key to getting the most out of it is to see it as more than just clever software. BIM can deliver many benefits to the project teams involved in the design and construction process. For example, architects can use BIM to digitally explore alternatives, optimise their designs and carry out value engineering, thereby improving efficiency, creativity and innovation. Plus, with the availability of increased data, architects should be able to make informed economic and environmental decisions from the very start of the design, which continue throughout the project life cycle.
We would say that BIM paints a clearer picture, and can bring ‘truth’ to a design while it’s still in its early stages. BIM helps to inform clients about what is realistic, and helps them to visualise. And all of this can only increase customer satisfaction, of course.
BIM also delivers better workforce coordination and collaboration, and improved construction and project management. It forges closer working relationships between all parties – architects, structural engineers, mechanical and electrical consultants and contractors – right from the start. Everyone involved in the design, specification and construction process gains a clearer understanding of how a building or structure will be built and how the project needs to progress.
Changes can be made during the early stages of a project, which is significantly less expensive than making them once construction has started, and the construction schedule can be planned long before work starts on-site. Understanding which products need to be delivered and installed first enables any potential problems to be identified early in the design phase and resolved before construction begins, therefore significantly reducing on-site clashes.
Traditionally, on-site clashes aren’t identified until very late in the day, when all the trades are working there. This causes frustration, inconvenience, reduced productivity and delays – and it can be costly. Safety risks can also be designed out from the outset, avoiding the operational problems that can occur during and after construction.
In addition, BIM is seen as a key element of the government’s plans for construction projects to become 33 per cent cheaper and delivered 50 per cent faster, using 50 per cent fewer materials and emitting 50 per cent less carbon by 2025. By using BIM, capital building costs can be reduced by 20 per cent along with similar levels of carbon reduction – achieved through unlocking new, more efficient ways of working at all stages of the project life cycle.
There is certainly scope for improvement. A set of statistics recently published in a project management supplement in The Times suggested that in the energy and utility sector, just 2.5 per cent of projects are deemed to be delivered on time and only 8.5 per cent deliver on budget. It’s important to point out that BIM doesn’t just provide benefits during the design and construction process – it can deliver benefits to building owners as well. In particular, BIM can assist with planning maintenance and refurbishments, improving energy efficiency and calculating life cycle costs.
Yet despite the huge benefits of BIM, much more needs to be done to encourage companies to use the technology and get the best out of it. We know that people working in the industry are generally aware of BIM, but there is still a huge sliding scale of knowledge and experience.
BIM in practice
One key way to improve this is to share best practice, and to provide tangible, positive examples of where BIM has been used. Communication between different teams (ie design, procurement, construction and operations), and asking BIM advocates to share their knowledge and insight, is essential to get people on board, and to demonstrate the many benefits of BIM.
As an example, National Grid project manager Paul Lee has been instrumental in promoting the benefits of the company’s BIM innovation trial, and how it has been tested and embedded on its pilot Feeder 9 project – a tunnel and high-pressure pipeline running underneath the River Humber.
It can also be beneficial to simplify BIM. Some of our clients even avoid the acronym BIM – they believe terms like ‘intelligent 3D modelling’ are easier to understand. It’s important to communicate that BIM is actually nothing new. It’s really just information technology – and thinking differently about how the information is used.
BIM offers many benefits, including better collaboration, closer working relationships, improved construction and project management, increased customer satisfaction, more efficient design, and improved creativity, innovation and visualisation. But to get the best out of BIM, we recommend improving communication across project teams, the sharing of best practice and tangible examples, building advocacy, simplifying terms/the concept where necessary and sourcing easily available, accurate BIM models.