Do We Really Need BIM?

Ganey Bond, Business Support Manager of Constructionline considers the application of BIM across the supply chain.

An immediate incentive for many businesses to embrace Building Information Modelling (BIM) is the UK government’s requirement that from April 2016 this year BIM Level 2 has to be adopted for all government procured construction projects where it will offer a positive return on investment.

Many larger architectural practices, engineers, contractors and manufacturers are embracing BIM with some now using BIM on all of their projects. Having invested money on new software and time training and developing their BIM capabilities, these organisations can now start to reap the benefits of enhanced efficiencies and capabilities from working in a collaborative 3D environment.

By contrast, BIM uptake amongst SMEs is patchy; there are still many small businesses lacking the digital capacity and capability to work within a BIM environment. This disparity is significant because SMEs are the backbone of public sector construction: according to a 2012 National Federation of Builders survey, 81% of its respondents have public sector clients and 52% say public sector work accounts for half or more of their turnover.

For SMEs involved in maintenance and small works the lack of a BIM capability is unlikely to have had much of an impact – yet.

Edward James, work-stream lead at NHS London Procurement Partnership says that one reason for trusts not insisting on BIM-enabled projects is that they do not have BIM capability in-house. “Many do not have people who are able to understand BIM, or to use and maintain it”.

The situation, however, is changing. Until recently BIM was driven by architects, large contractors and developers for new-build projects. Now public sector organisations are driving the change. Many are asking for projects to be completed using BIM in order to provide them with the BIM project outputs, such as maintenance schedules to assist in the management of the facility following occupation. Once an organization is BIM ready, project size is less relevant because the BIM processes on small new-build projects is the same as for larger projects – it is simply on a smaller scale.

For refurbishment projects the additional cost of having a survey done makes the use of BIM less attractive. “People see BIM as an added cost if it is an existing building,” says James.

On site it’s a similar story with SME operatives still reliant on photocopied drawings and red pen annotations. According to Edward Godden, European Projects Coordinator at Ingleton Wood there is a huge variation in BIM ability across contractors: small- and medium-sized firms lag behind big contractors while sub-contractors are even further adrift. Godden says that this disconnect often results in a lack of feedback from site to design team, which can be a significant factor in causing projects to run over budget and programme.

Many designers and larger contractors have embraced BIM for the competitive advantage it brings. In addition to using the model and information during the design stage, are using BIM to programme works, to help with clash avoidance, access and delivery schedules.

BIM is also being used to improve cost certainty by producing schedules of components for use in bills of quantities. On site, many larger contractors are equipping their staff with tablet computers, given them access to the BIM information on site. In addition, some are using BIM-enabled laser positioning systems and laser surveys of a completed installation.

With BIM increasingly being used on both private and public sector projects, and many larger contractors and designers developing their capabilities in BIM Level 3 and beyond, the evidence suggests that SMEs should increase their understanding of BIM sooner rather than later so they can identify how they need to adopt and develop BIM capability to meet the needs of the market. For those that do, BIM has the potential to offer more efficient ways of working and increasing their competitive edge.

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