For a while now, we’ve heard some variation of the idea that “the future of the construction industry is digital.” It’s an interesting concept, particularly in a profession that very much exists within the physical world, but more and more, we’re seeing the addition of digital tools and processes. Here at Countfire, we represent this evolution for electrical estimators and contracting businesses.
In this blog, we take a look at how BIM (Building Information Modelling) is impacting the construction industry and the pros and cons to consider:
What is BIM?
BIM is an acronym for Building Information Modelling, which is a process for creating and managing information on construction projects, across the entire project lifecycle. Finding a cohesive definition is a bit tricky, with many different versions out there. Talk to any project manager or subcontractor and you’ll find that BIM means different things to different people, depending on what they use it for.
In general, it allows collaborative building design with a coherent system of computer models, rather than separate sets of drawings. The BIM process manages physical and functional information, or is a marriage between technology and a set of work processes. BIM information consists of everything that goes into constructing and maintaining a building through its life cycle, and will include construction programming, cost and facilities management data.
The following definition comes from a UK government paper:
“Building Information Modelling (BIM) is a collaborative way of working, underpinned by the digital technologies which unlock more efficient methods of designing, creating and maintaining our assets. BIM embeds key product and asset data and a 3 dimensional computer model that can be used for effective management of information throughout a project lifecycle – from earliest concept through to operation.”
BIM’s role as a “shared knowledge resource,” allowing project members to collaborate, share information, and make decisions across the whole lifecycle of the project is a huge part of its appeal. Consider this from the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research:
“As part of the construction process, a wide range of documents need to be shared between clients, designers and developers, including drawings and schedules. Traditionally, this information has been exchanged using paper (or electronic paper). BIM provides a shared data environment which allows all the stakeholders in a project to collaborate and share information. BIM allows key product data to be embedded within 3D images that can be used for project management, with potential gains in efficiency.”
Here in the UK, a world leader in BIM, it was mandated that the technology must be used for all government funded projects, and companies that undertake these project will need to ensure they are level 2 compliant. More recently, government policy has now stated that all public sector projects worth over £5 million must use BIM by 2025.
Globally, the adoption of BIM has increased over the last few years and many governments across the world are now encouraging the use of BIM across architectural, engineering and construction industries.
Advantages of BIM
BIM presents a number of opportunities and advantages for the construction industry. Primarily, it brings together all information about a building in one place, making it possible for anyone to access that information, for any purpose. This makes it easy to integrate different aspects of a design more efficiently. Other advantages include:
- BIM has powerful onscreen modelling capabilities, making it great for 3D modeling. Designs can be viewed from any angle, details can be zoomed in and out of, and people can easily see the bigger picture
- BIM software can be used to virtually ‘trial’ potentially difficult construction projects, meaning that any problems can be resolved in the virtual environment, preventing costly reworkings on site
- Models can be used to generate schedules of items required for the project (much like counting takeoffs), whereas previously, a manual count would have been required
- Very complex information can be embedded in models. For example; “When you click on a window in the 3D model, it gives you loads of parameters – height, width, fire ratings, warranties…same with a wall: the paint finish, how many coats, its acoustic rating, whether it’s timber framed – any information you want.” (Source)
- Transparency and collaboration is promoted among stakeholders. They each have a much better view of the entire lifecycle of the project
- It’s easier to identify design errors early on and reduce or rectify them. This means there is less costly rework once the project gets underway
- Design clashes can be reduced, saving on overall construction costs and the time taken to complete the project
- “Efficiency improvements for maintenance and operation companies. By having historical design data instantly available upto 15% can be saved on maintenance time and sometimes may remove the need for costly site visits.” (Source)
The bottom line for BIM, and why the UK government set it as a standard, is to achieve better efficiencies during construction projects. Where architects, contractors and subcontractors have often been siloed previously, BIM aims to open up better transparency. It is not without its challenges, however.
Challenges with BIM
Many experts are seeing challenges or potential roadblocks with implementation, including the following:
- Some in the construction industry still are suspicious of, or outright reject technological innovation: “Negative perceptions have… led to many innovative approaches to construction design and construction processes immediately being considered as high risk… terminology such as ‘modern methods of construction or ‘prefabrication’ are often viewed with suspicion.” (Source)
- “Companies that do want to innovate find that the necessary finance is too expensive and/or difficult to access, that the approach to risk and insurance of works deters innovation and that some of the Government support available to the industry is not sufficiently visible.” (Source)
- Business and legal barriers present a challenge. Some of these include; lack of standards; a lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities; a lack of clients/market demands; ambiguity in data ownership and legal risks; and high investment cost and low incentives
- Companies may be resistant to change as a whole, and lack the knowledge, skills, or training in the technology
Trying to pin down what BIM actually means for the industry over the next few years is challenging, but a good place to start is with the UK government mandate. So if you’re involved in the construction industry, using BIM is a necessity for staying competitive in the years to come.