- Some believe there is more talk than action with BIM use
- Australia may be falling behind countries where governments are mandating BIM on their projects
- Key benefits of BIM are for the clients, who are not well versed in BIM and how it works
- Gaining momentum in the industry; not many completed case studies but some major projects are using BIM
Graeme Smith loves building information modelling (BIM). A principal at architecture firm Rice Daubney, he’s not shy in advocating it either, but in his opinion, the industry is not quite getting it right. He argues that there isn’t an over-focus on the enabling technology, but he does believe there’s a lot of “talk”.
Many clients may not fully grasp what BIM entails, he says, thinking it is all about “3D perspectives and photomontages and computer-generated renderings, whereas those in the know, know that it’s far more encompassing than that”.
In fact, much of the “talk” is a case of “BIM wash”, Smith argues.
“It’s a term that is used widely in the industry as ‘Green wash’ was used in relation to ESD a decade ago,” Smith says.
“Back then everyone was supposedly designing and building green buildings. The reality was that they were not very green and there were not that many of them.”
In the case of BIM wash, Smith believes very few organisations are undertaking projects with true BIM engagement and, nationally, there are only a handful of completed projects.
“Most in the property and construction industry are ‘picking the eyes’ out of it,” he says, adding that some are completing it in just one discipline (architecture or structures or services) in 3D and calling it BIM.
“It’s not. Another term currently used for this is ‘lonely BIM’ … all very confusing.”
Echoing this point, Michael Skelton, research and knowledge manager at Davis Langdon, agrees we are lacking in even complete case studies.
“There’s not that many projects that have been delivered with the full BIM. There’s been quite a few that have been delivered in 3D modelling, but it hasn’t been carried through to the as-built stage.”
Smith and Skelton are not alone in their thinking. Andrew O’Grady, South Australian-based BIM manager at Hindmarsh Construction, agrees that BIM is a tool that is not fully understood.
It can deliver excellent results if used properly, but he suggests it is a matter of 15 percent technology and 85 percent sociology.
“Projects are run by people, not software. The greatest challenge to BIM is not technological but sociological. Some people are resistant to change, and need to be convinced of the benefits of BIM. Once BIM has been implemented successfully, no one wants to go back.”
Skelton and Steve Appleby, BIM/IPD research leader at Davis Langdon, can offer up pages of research on the technology enabler. With respect to BIM wash, Skelton says there are many who still believe BIM is 3D modelling with some degree of additional embedded information.
Skelton and Appleby argue BIM needs an acronym change more towards life cycle and asset management, particularly as it tends to get a bit too generalised into the design area.
“It’s more than some fancy CAD design software, it’s all the intelligence in the background – that’s where the true value lies,” Skelton says.
Appleby agrees, emphasising that with building information modelling, the emphasis has got to be on the information.
“And again, we don’t really agree with the ‘B’. It can be asset information, you can do whole cities, you can do a lot of different things, not just buildings. But it is about harnessing that information,” Appleby says.
“It’s really a process – it’s not a design tool. And a co-ordination of the data that’s generated in design and construction should flow seamlessly into asset management, facilities management and also energy analysis, which will be a very big thing once people get to grips with this technology.”
He says that, although Australia has access to 90 percent of the software platforms coming out of the US, it’s lagging behind in its adoption of BIM.
Skelton says the US GSA (General Services Administration), which has the largest construction spend in the US public sector and manages $500 billion in federal assets, has mandated BIM on all of its projects. It’s an incentive the Australian market is yet to tap into, apart from occasional projects.
Appleby notes a similar situation in the UK, where the chief construction adviser to the UK Government, Paul Morrell, has pushed the use of BIM. Morrell released a report in June saying that all government projects would be delivered using BIM over a five-year transition period.
“The Government has mandated in the UK that any project over £5 million will have to be delivered in BIM, but only to a certain level,” Appleby says.
Skelton says the UK is arguably behind some of the design and construction teams in Australia, but the mandate is likely to accelerate the UK’s BIM capability in the next couple of years, overtaking Australia.
Smith also acknowledges the advantages of governments’ massive investment in the space in Europe and the US, saying “it’s going ahead in leaps and bounds”. He says software programs around the world are already enabling 4D and 5D in BIM.
“A lot of the stuff in America and Northern Europe is far more prominent than it is here at the moment.”
However, he flags changes ahead in Australia in the short term.
“The Queensland Government is, for example, mandating it. So in a couple of years, it might even be next year or the year after, you will not be able to do a Queensland Government project unless you do the project totally in BIM.”
That the property industry is well and truly excited about BIM and its future potential is clear. Philip Parker, director at Hames Sharley, says the use of BIM is rapidly expanding in the design consulting industry. However, he suggests that the willingness and ability of construction contractors, subcontractors and facility managers to utilise BIM models is currently limited.
“To achieve the potential that a BIM process offers, all stakeholders need to be able to leverage off the information collected during the lifecycle of a building,” he notes. “To achieve this requires a change in working relationships and, importantly, contractual conditions between stakeholders.”
It’s a point Smith also touches on – BIM is a collaborative technology, but fears of losing intellectual property may see some stakeholders shying away from the process.
“That’s a big thing. Also, [there are] legal implications,” Smith notes.
All that aside, there is no doubt that the use of BIM will grow. Its capabilities will only expand over time, and it is gaining momentum as the benefits are espoused.
“The uptake of BIM-capable software has been growing at a huge rate because the benefits are substantial compared to traditional 2D documentation,” says Julia Allen, BIM leader at Geyer.
She believes “the sky’s the limit” for BIM as we see more inter-operability and better integration, coupled with improved technology.
“We will also see the expansion of building models to include more complex life cycle phases,” Allen says.
“From an interiors perspective, we are likely to have the ability to immerse ourselves within the modelled space, allowing us to explore how our design concepts will be adopted by users, allowing the study of human behaviour in a virtual capacity to further enhance our design practice.”
For O’Grady, immersion in the project has only delivered positive outcomes. He has been involved in one of Australia’s first major projects to use BIM so extensively, the nine-storey South Australia Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI). He says Hindmarsh has been using BIM very effectively in the areas of design and construction co-ordination.
BIM is significant in mitigating risk as well. Problems can be identified and co-ordinated before they occur on-site, thereby reducing construction costs.
“A lot of variations come up during the process,” O’Grady says.
On a practical level, O’Grady believes BIM will stop being called by this name and “will just become the way things are done”. He also thinks contractors who do not gain experience in BIM now will be left behind, opening up the space for progressive contractors.
“BIM systems will become more and more sophisticated and efficient and the increased adoption will evolve components of the traditional construction process (on site) into a manufacturing process,” he further notes.
“Driven by the client, the focus on BIM will expand from just the 3D construction BIM model into a 3D facilities management model.”
The client is indeed the key player, Smith emphasises.
“The major advantage for BIM is really for the property owners and they’re not really realising that yet. Once they do, then they will be grabbing it with both arms,” he says.