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Why the construction industry needs to embrace BIM post-pandemic

BIM
No longer considered a novelty but a necessity, BIM has the potential to revolutionise the sector - if done right.

Over the past decade, BIM has been slowly gaining traction in the construction industry. However, one expert argues that more needs to be done to raise awareness of the advantages of the process. What’s more, is that those leading on its use are not necessarily the “right people” to begin with.

Appearing at Cityscape Summit 2020, GAJ associate Andrew Milburn presented his case for why BIM is no longer a novelty for the construction industry, but a necessity.

“As an architect in an architect’s office, our main documentation packages are coming from BIM models – an intelligent 3D model of the building,” he explains. “It is intelligent in the sense that, for example, it knows where all the doors are; it can count the doors for you; it can tell you what the rooms are; what their fire ratings are, and so on. And it will update automatically all the time.”

But the problem, says the self-confessed “BIM addict”, is that although the core of a business focuses on BIM, “the guys who do the early design tend to feel that BIM software is a bit clunky; it doesn't really suit their creative processes. So, they use different software.

He continues: “On the other end of the scale, the people who have the site experience and the technical knowledge tend to have grown up with CAD [computer-aided design], so they're more comfortable with CAD.

“We end up having early contact design done with one software package, the core of our work done in BIM, and then some details that are produced on CAD flow in. And none of these software programs really integrate properly.”

WHY BIM IS IMPORTANT

BIM – which stands for ‘Building Information Modelling’ – is defined as an intelligent 3D model-based process that gives architecture, engineering, and construction professionals the insight and tools to more efficiently plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure.

And as a tool, it is definitely not one to be overlooked.

For example, a 2019 report by the European Commission (EC) on the importance of adopting BIM suggests that full-scale digitalisation would lead to an annual global cost savings of EUR 0.6 trillion to EUR 1.0 trillion in the engineering and construction phases, and EUR 0.3 trillion to EUR 0.4 trillion in the operations phase of non-residential construction alone.

So just what is holding the industry back?

The lack of collaboration, states Milburn.

“BIM has become a label for a whole ecosystem of digital technologies, which is continuing to evolve and evolve very rapidly. But at the core of BIM is the idea of collaboration; in its essence, BIM is there to connect teams digitally and enable problem-solving and decision making,” he elaborates. “To get the full value of BIM, you have to involve everybody, which is a bit of an issue because our industry covers a multitude of sins; they are all kinds of different people doing all kinds of different things. To get them all to buy into BIM is difficult.”

In a perfect scenario, he explains, all departments would be able to work on the same model in real time, solving problems more efficiently.

“There's a much bigger digital infrastructure out there; the problem is it's not being connected together. We're connecting the collaboration discussions by giving people paper brochures and sending emails back and forth. It's not an effective process,” Milburn continues. “Successful digital innovation involves going [from the bottom up]... Relying on what's coming from the users first and evolving in response to that.

“They're not necessarily writing the software, but what data they put in is what drives the evolution of the software and the success of the package.”

PROCESS BEFORE PRODUCT

As a result, Milburn also believes that those who drive the process are not necessarily the best equipped to do so.

“We've been using the wrong people to drive the process. It's all about the BIM experts in the architect's office, and the BIM experts at the head office at the manufacturer. They're the ones who are trying to sort out the BIM problem,” he continues. “But actually, they're the wrong people to do it. We're looking at things the wrong way around. We are putting the product before the process; how can we get the right product when you've got the wrong process?”

Instead, more departments should be involved in the decision-making process, he says.

“The people who actually select products in the architect's office tend to be non-BIM people. And the people on the ground in Dubai, who represent all the different international companies, who give advice to consultants, clients, or contractors... they are also detached from the BIM process,” Milburn says. “These are the people who should be driving the BIM process. We should set up digital collaboration for these people, and out of that will eventually come better content.”

HOW TO ADOPT BIM

Therefore, looking ahead, just what can the sector do to embrace BIM? 

Milburn compares embracing it the same way the public embraced tools such as WhatsApp or Zoom, as they’re more efficient than email or face-to-face meetings, for example.

“My suggestion is, instead of waiting for somebody to supply you with a package that integrates into the BIM process, maybe start thinking about how [you] could be more digitally connected; what would it mean for [you] to connect to some kind of cloud platform that allows [you] to do [your] job better,” he says. “The more people who think about it, come up with suggestions and try things out with existing software, the sooner we will get to BIM that really works and involves everybody.

He concludes: “We still have a big challenge of how to bring everybody in the construction property industry into the same digital circle, and achieve the kinds of efficiency that is supposed to be promising… we have barely gotten half way [there] yet.”

 

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