launching the bim revolution

If the European Community decided to allow individual electrical contractors to choose the colour of their wiring, there would be uproar!…

Colour coding would vary from organisation to organisation. Designers wishing to share information with contractors would have to explain their standards on each project. There would be no continuity from job to job, massive duplication of effort between parties and inevitable conflicts between designer, contractor, facilities managers and clients. Clearly such a system would be unworkable. A common standard is a must to optimise efficiencies, safety and cost effectiveness. Pity then the architects, engineers, contractors, clients, et al, who are tasked with working from shared BIM information…

Designed to avoid conflicts, optimise efficiency through materials and time savings and provide valuable data after the initial build for the operation, maintenance and modification of the buildings, the lack of standardisation (or “social BIM”) makes the full realisation of the BIM’s potential impossible. “My business was an early adopter of BIM and we have for some time been realising significant efficiencies on behalf of our clients. Nevertheless, the lack of common standards outside of our organisation can be extremely frustrating. So who is going to drive this need for standardisation?” asks Derek Pratley, director at rpa:group.

Government is capable of forcing the issue, of course, through legislation or economic imperatives. David Philip, Head of BIM implementation for The Cabinet Office, has stated that government tenders will soon require BIM. “We are developing simple guidance and templates through the first tranche of our (funded) work packages, which will be complete by Q1 2012, allowing BIM tenders to start entering the pipeline… towards full adoption by 2016”. Adam Matthews of Autodesk’s Government Affairs team and supporting the BIM Task Group, asserts that while the Government is not saying BIM is mandatory, it is specifying outcomes and deliverables that add a commercial imperative to the adoption of BIM for those wishing to work on public sector projects, and so creating impetus for change.

Matthews points out that, in a quest to meet its target of reducing the cost of constructing and running public buildings by 20% by 2016, the Government has, as part of this strategy, adopted a five point plan. The idea is to look for savings in the key areas of inter alia procurement and facilities management, something that BIM lends itself readily to the pursuit of. Accordingly the Government now requires building information to be offered in a format called COBie (Construction Operations Building information exchange). It’s a long description for something quite straightforward: the COBie file contains the information required by an owner/operator to manage a building through its operational phase. Additionally traditional drawing submittals to public clients are not going to be acceptable simply in PDF formats; going forward BIM models will be required in native file formats along with the COBie file. And in June the British Standards will publish the new PAS1192:2 standard: a guidance note for how the supply chain on public works can share information and collaborate with themselves.

But if the Government, while falling short of making BIM mandatory, is encouraging its use by the construction and FM industries, who has the influence necessary to put BIM centre stage in the private sector?

An example of large organisations making the running would be the BIM For Retail forum. Comprising Asda, Waitrose, John Lewis and 3 others, with advice from architects HOK and engineers Romboll, the forum is designed to “agree standards and processes for BIM that will improve the quality of design information, what standard to work to  and how to manage it”, according to James Brown, head of model and specification for Asda. Wal Mart, owners of Asda, is of course an American company. It is worth noting that in the US the application of BIM has been more readily seized upon and the level of advancement there is now some way ahead of UK practice. There companies in the Retail, Healthcare and Education sectors have readily embraced the value realisable from BIM, in terms of the supply chain, and are much more inclined to mandate the delivery of BIM.

Another view is that contractors themselves should be responsible for agreeing common standards. Chris Gilmour of BAM Construction UK, says “contractors need to accept the responsibility of being the integrators.”

“There is no doubt that there is a swell of activity across the industry responding to the government’s BIM strategy. The clear message I hear from those already adopting it is that it’s better to start early and gain the internal efficiency and value benefits from BIM rather than trying to play catch-up”, says Adam Matthews. Whoever drives it, there needs to be a standard for BIM. There’s a convention for AutoCAD; everyone knows that. If you pick up a drawing anyone can work from it. And with an estimated 68% of firms stating that they have shared BIM information with firms outside of their own organisations, the urgent need for common standards is clear.

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