Is BIM the inevitable way of the future? Darren Tims believes so. He spoke to Chris Larsen about an emerging technology with the potential to revolutionise property development and management.
Building information modelling (BIM) is showing all the signs of becoming the next sustainability for the property industry.
Like green building before it, the small pool of available data on efficiency dividends and return on investment makes the business case for BIM hard to stack up.
Also like sustainability in its infancy, the BIM process is not yet widely understood and has yet to gain traction, making it difficult to deploy.
And yet, Darren Tims is convinced it will be the next big thing.
Tims, principal at architecture practice Rice Daubney, says projects using BIM systems and techniques are thin on the ground. They include the 1 Bligh Street and 163 Castlereagh Street office buildings in Sydney’s CBD, and Ark at 40 Mount Street in North Sydney, a project Rice Daubney worked on.
Ark, completed for Investa in April this year, gave Rice Daubney valuable insight into BIM.
It was a learning experience for all who worked on the project, most of whom were contracted to work within a BIM environment for the first time.
“The lack of understanding of BIM was an issue for this project,” Tims says. “Some of the consultants weren’t familiar with BIM.”
The BIM software used to create Ark was custom-built for the project.
New processes, such as work-flow and naming conventions, had to be developed in order to efficiently manipulate the complex 3D models used in the BIM process. But using BIM on the Ark project did bring together all areas of the team from designers and structural engineers, to experts in mechanical engineering, fire, electrical, hydraulic and tri-generation.
The experience leads Tims to conclude that BIM will be a revolutionary step forward for the property and construction sector, by improving processes and efficiency.
“We need to collaborate better, and we’re not,” Tims says. “These are the formative days of BIM. It’s not a perfect process yet. Our industry is not good at adapting to new ways of working. In my view, BIM will start to change the way we procure buildings.”
Property can take heart from the success of BIM in other sectors. As Tims points out, BIM is not new – the automotive, engineering, aircraft and industrial design sectors have been using such systems for decades.
And there are signs that BIM is starting to gain traction. Tims says some government clients are asking for 3D or BIM capabilities in scoping documents.
BIM has the potential to generate efficiency savings during the design and construction process. Clash detection, for example, is much easier using a 3D model. Incorporating 4D, i.e. time, into BIM modelling can introduce more efficiencies by using just-in-time materials handling.
Tims argues using BIM also helps to de-risk projects, because decisions can be made earlier in the process, when changes cost less.
However, BIM also has the potential to generate efficiency through the life of a building.
“ ... By consolidating information from day one and storing it in these models, you’re hopefully bridging some of the gap for the building manager,” Tims says. If maintained, a BIM model could help eliminate knowledge loss over the life of a building.
Tims believes BIM will prompt the industry to shift to reward-based instead of penalty-based contracts. BIM forces consultants and contractors into a team environment and makes them think more holistically. Because of the inter-dependent nature of BIM projects, team members rally to support weak links to push the project forward, Tims believes.
Without government and image-conscious corporate tenants driving it, as there was for sustainability, the business case for BIM is less clear.
The lack of hard data that might point to greater efficiencies means “there’s very little in the way of true measures of efficiency and productivity gains from BIM,” Tims says.
Cost is another barrier to the widespread introduction of BIM, particularly for smaller consultants. However, technology is always getting faster and cheaper.
Protocols and naming are more barriers, and ones that organisations in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States are trying to resolve.
“What we need to do is get certain industry bodies together and collaborate,” says Tims.
However, despite the hurdles Tims believes that, within five years, all institutional development projects will be contracted with requirements for BIM.
“There’s always the early adopters ... they see it as a competitive advantage and a marketing advantage,” Tims says.
He hopes the development of projects like Ark will serve as a catalyst to further the cause of BIM and change attitudes.
What may make BIM stack up over the medium to long term is greater efficiency in managing assets that are “plugged in” to BIM-enabled property management systems.
“You may not need a man on-site in every building if you can access these systems remotely,” Tims says.
“For [institutional clients] it’s about capturing good asset information and, in the future, being able to ‘FM’ the information.”
BIM – How does it work?
Building information modelling is the process of creating, and then managing, building data over the life of an asset.
BIM uses software to create 3D dynamic models that increase efficiency over the design, construction and management phases of a building.
3D models can be manipulated to quickly detect clashes and prototype new designs without the need for physical construction. It can also be used to more efficiently control the flow of materials to and from a work site.
Typically, BIM requires all members of a project team – from architects and engineers, to building owners and managers – to work more collaboratively than on more traditional projects.
“There’s lots of people doing 3D. But unless you’re collaborating, using 3D models, you’re not doing BIM in my view,” says Darren Tims.
BIM can be applied retrospectively to existing buildings. While rare, this may become more common in future as owners seek to manage their assets more efficiently.