What does it mean to you?
Building Information Modelling means different things to different people. Within the construction industry, contractors and consultants are looking to gain efficiencies and offer an advanced service or product. Developers and asset owners are interested in what those efficiencies can offer them. They may also be planning to maintain and operate those built assets in a smarter way. Lawyers and underwriters are wondering what this all means for them. Does this create new risks, or does it reduce old risks?
History of BIM
In the lead up to April 2016, there was some anxiety about what the Government mandate for 'fully collaborative 3D BIM' meant. The industry interpreted this as BIM Level 2, but then the definitions of 'level 2' were tested. It meant that a design practice would use an object modelling drawing package, or integrate with analysis software, but what about the whole design, build and operate process.
When April 2016 passed, it seemed like another Y2K, everything carried on much as before. Publicly funded projects were labelled 'BIM level 2', but in practice this produced a variety of results. Some of the best examples were the Ministry of Justice prison building projects in Wales. The design concept relied on modular cells and ancillary rooms, so virtual models of these room sized components could be selected by the BIM technician and arranged in specific configurations. This was modular construction that was modular at the design stage. These projects also benefitted from the fully thought through Protocol and Employers Information Requirements documents, which complimented the contract. The BIM Execution Plan was also fit for purpose and equally understood by all parties. This worked because the employer wanted it to and allocated time and resources to set it up for success.
Not all BIM projects are created equal. Many industry professionals will have experience of poorly conceived BIM procurement that led to disappointment, despite how fantastic the architect's model was, or how clever the clash detection was to allow coordination between the structural and mechanical engineer. As with much in construction, the onus is on the client to budget correctly for the desired results.
The technology isn't going away, in fact the technology is leading the way. The advanced contractors are now experimenting with real-time sensors that can form part of the information model. This is best applied to site safety where operatives wear a sensor that tracks their location on a building site. If the operative wanders into an area of 'risk', an alert will be triggered. While invoking images of George Orwell's 1984, this has the potential to reduce accidents. The technology can also be applied to monitor as-built progress of the project. When used with identification tagging, can be useful in management of the asset such as servicing of mechanical plant.
Away from the exciting cutting edge of the latest technological gizmo, is the practice still coming to terms with 'how to keep up with progress?' They have invested in hardware and software so their keen BIM technician can start working the magic and do everything in BIM. The practice can now boast its BIM capability and bid for projects at the next level. From here it can go in several directions.
It may be that the next few projects include a team of consultants that can develop their understanding of BIM requirements together. The employer is learning with them, so doesn't have high expectations and any BIM related problems are dealt with in a collaborative way. This is the nice BIM experience. They are probably not getting the full potential from the use of BIM, but they do what they can and rely on the 'old way' to get by.
The not-so-nice BIM experience, is where the practice wins a project appointment and is not aware of what has been overlooked by the employer. The employer has asked for BIM, but not produced a Protocol or Employers Information Requirements. The design proceeds without any party creating a BIM Execution Plan and all parties have different expectations of how BIM will be used on the project. There is usually one consultant who is more capable than the rest. It might be the architect and they are sending out their architectural models to the other designers. The structural engineer then advises that they will add their information to the architectural model and the M&E consultant advises that they will use the model for design, but only issue 2D drawings that are schematics. The first car crash occurs when all parties deliver their package to tender for the contractor. They submit what they have when the deadline strikes and hope the contractor review won't point out any embarrassing shortcomings. Unfortunately for them, contractors are trained to sniff out shortcomings and putting a price on them. This is when the employer usually gets upset.
The example above is just to illustrate the difference in understanding that parties have in BIM as a process. Talking to underwriters of professional indemnity policies, they want to know what can result in a claim. Understanding the issues set out above may help identify how disparities in quality or format of information may vary and lead to additional costs, or claims.
Both design and construction companies operate on low margins and there is constant pressure to work within limited resources. Often, the contract is written to favour the employer, which includes the time allocated to adequately design. There is rarely time for learning or experimentation. Staff are expected to work long hours and when the deadline is due, time spent checking and reviewing the design is often sacrificed. The industry has traditionally been cautious of change and hesitant to take risks, the nature of construction is risky enough. This defensive stance is partly taken to mitigate claims. The practice of an 'issue status' on drawings, is to allow information to be shared when it is still a work in progress. A 'concept' issue is not intended to be built from and if it is costed, it is knowingly an estimate. A 'tender' issue is intended for cost estimation, but not construction and so on.
The current method used to control the process is borrowed from other forms of business standard, such as QA and environmental, in the form of accreditation. BIM level 2 accreditation will test the capability of a single design or contracting organisation, but BIM is a process involving a team that includes the client. So how do we control the process for how the whole team creates a successful outcome? All suggestions welcome!