Is building information modelling the real deal?

By Sooraj Shah
14 Jun 2013 View Comments

The UK construction industry wants to become a world leader in building information modelling (BIM) after a Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) report in 2008 found that the adoption of the technology is estimated to have already saved UK construction companies and their clients £2bn per annum.

The continued rollout of BIM will also help the government to reach its target of 15 to 20 per cent savings on the costs of capital projects by 2015.

“We want the UK to remain global pioneers, so by 2016, all central government projects will be implementing BIM,” the parliamentary secretary, Chloe Smith MP, said in March.

The government set up the BIM Task Group, which is charged with providing the information needed by industry to help meet the government’s objectives.

“That’s why it’s so important to have a one-stop website for suppliers – the BIM Task Group and the Construction Industry Council have listened to the industry and its clients to produce clear guidance and standards, fit for the modern construction environment,” Smith added.

“We’re competing in a global marketplace and new ways of working like BIM will help to keep the UK at the forefront of digital technology innovation and attract investment.”

What is BIM?

BIM embeds product and asset data into a 3D computer model, enabling engineers, architects and project managers to keep track of a project through its entire lifecycle. Other elements that have been added to modelling include “4D” – the review of sequencing and how to build certain areas, “5D” – the costs associated with the model including building materials, and “6D” – bringing together the model as one, and looking at service management.

But while the governments of China, the US and now the UK are pushing for BIM to play a big part in the future of the construction industry, there are still areas in which the software and the concept behind it need tweaking – something that BIM software provider Autodesk’s senior vice president of industry and marketing, Andrew Anagnost, is well aware of.

There are, for example, sceptics who believe that the software is only as useful as the data that is put into it, but Anagnost believes that while this may be the case, there are enough ancillary benefits to justify the hype.

“There is a huge ROI [return on investment] in providing all of this information, that’s why people are doing this; they are not doing it just because they want a 3D model for the sake of it. The single biggest driver about getting BIM in construction is waste material, as the industry was wasting billions of pounds on metal and wood. If you have a BIM upfront in the process, you waste less,” he said.

Andrew Pryke, managing director of design at construction firm BAM, agreed.

“[BIM] means you need to know how to build from day one, it seems obvious and it may seem strange, but in 2D, a lot of companies and a lot of people got away with not thinking about how things were built and how they should be maintained, and 3D modelling helps you do that,” he said.

Room for improvement

But inputting data such as the cost of materials is not seamless on Autodesk’s BIM solution, Anagnost admitted.

“Each item inside the building information model, such as a window or a beam, can be tagged with its description, current cost information or its current vendor. Once you tag them, the prices for the item update. But this isn’t seamless and it doesn’t happen automatically – the systems have to be connected,” he said.

“We have a lot of work to do to make sure that the models are connected to vendors that deliver the components in these things so they can update it instantly, we are not there yet but we are paying attention to this problem,” he added.

Another potential drawback with BIM is that although it promotes a collaborative environment, there are times when the engineers or architects, for example, may want to update a section of the building they are working on, without affecting the overall model.

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