By Simon Brown
Call me an old traditionalist, but when constructing a building I believe it must be built on firm foundations. So, what is the excuse for not building the BIM process on firm foundations, who is at fault and why does this process seem to be failing?
Would you believe there are some organisations required by their clients to deliver BIM level 2 projects but whose designers are then issuing 2D drawings to the contractors and consultants on projects? However, there are those who have embraced fully the BIM level 2 concept so it’s a mixed bag.
BIM level 2 requires us to coordinate and integrate spatial data, (that’s 3D models to you and I) documents and raw data. Currently, across the industry, the process is not a smooth one. For reasons such as lack of resources, the legacy systems already in place, procurement processes and the sheer complexity of some of the projects. Sometimes it is due to pure indifference or ignorance and an embedded reluctance to change.
It appears this BIM process isn’t being adhered to in organisations that should be embracing it. It seems to more recognised in the private sector as a good sensible way of working which is cost effective. Well, post 2008 and austerity, the penny is now dropping that local government has to be lean and cost effective and they are now beginning to experience the pressures the commercial sector is already under, just to survive. The realisation that “farming out” simulations to outside consultants to realise Part L compliance at £5K each time, is a very expensive way of meeting government legislation. There are Government organisations who are increasingly engaging the private sector for analysis services just to adhere to their own BIM policies. This is often because those in control of IT budgets don’t want to spend £5K on a piece of software that could save them (sorry the tax payer) £200K a year in design fees. I’ll leave it up to you to imagine where these savings could be spent.
Let’s get one thing straight, BIM level 2 is about the 3D model surviving the journey from start to finish by the transfer of data. It is not the situation whereby each design consultant on each project creates their own independent models. In my experience, visiting at least 4 contractors and consultancies a week, this still seems to be the norm. It’s also about putting process and procedures in place to realise the BIM level 2 requirement.
So why is this BIM process not as effective as it could be?
Part of the problem is caused by some building designers who don’t seem to realise they now need to produce a 3D model that is sympathetic to the rest of the design process.
The reality is, simply ticking a box in the design software labelled “room bounding” can take a 3D model from merely a visualisation tool to a model that can be used for energy analysis purposes. In fact, we, in association with our simulation partners, have a document about producing good gbXML. So, when creating zones and spaces, just encapsulate the geometry of the space by making sure the bounding heights are set up slab to slab. This can’t be too hard, can it? There is no extra time investment involved. We are slowly, after about 6 years, beginning to see the green shoots of some growth in this process from the starting point.
There is lots of good technology out there that does what it does, but sits in its own silo not talking to other technology. The ability to transfer data from one product to another is key to the design process when looking at BIM level 2. There are a variety of reasons why people are still recreating a copy of the 3D model. For example, some simulation software won’t accept 3D geometry very well where the user must effectively fix the semi-recreated model by hand. By which time the designer has issued another model which then undermines and overwrites all the changes made to attempt simulation in the first place. There is technology that can seamlessly (provided the model is correct in the first place) import geometry where any anomalies are fixed automatically, allowing the user to get on with the simulation and not mess about on the building model. It is clear the right mix of technology is one of the keys to expedite the BIM process and make it a successful one.
TAS from EDSL and Cadline Cymap are two examples of simulation and engineering design software packages that have been developed to work within the BIM process. Rather than creating new models in these software packages, models produced by the building designers are reused and supplemented. It isn’t a one-way process either, once the engineer has completed the mechanical design in Cymap they can pass it back to the designer for co-ordination purposes in Autodesk Revit or Autodesk Navisworks.
BIM isn’t just a piece of software wrapped up in Cellophane sold for £99 (as Paul Morell, the Chief Construction Advisor to the Government in 2011, put it). It’s as much about workflow, organisation of responsibilities with a clear pattern of data exchange as it is about producing good 3D models backed up by suitable technology. Most organisations we visit still need to organise internally. They need a BIM representative at the initial contractual meeting to discuss a viable strategy with the architect and client around production of a viable 3D model. BIM has changed the emphasis at these project kick-off meetings to selecting the right technology mix rather than just output format. Previously the discussion would have revolved around drawing issue schedules, the software used was unimportant. Now that BIM requires us to exchange digital models that need to be accessible by all project members, choosing the right software is of vital importance to the success of the project. Why would you choose anything other than a set of software that talks nicely to each other?
Let’s face it, most engineers are a conservative bunch and the older we are, (I’m 53 by the way) the more resistant to change we are. What you must remember though is that the people that produce software have realised that to get it adopted it needs to be easier to use and quicker than the stuff it is replacing. Moving to BIM might mean a bit of disruption and a few days out of the office attending a training course but once you are up and running your life is likely to be easier, not the other way around. With a little cultural change encouraged by management you should be thinking “I can get twice as much done in half the time”, which could mean a reduction on project turnaround times or an increase in profitability.
In my experience, having senior management at a presentation of the business case for BIM, can pay dividends. Get the right person energised to present a cultural change along with a cost benefit analysis and you will find there is very little resistance to implementing the new technology.
It’s not surprising, given the above, that BIM adoption isn’t as successful as it could be. With a little more thought, engagement from the right people and a different mindset, things could change for the better.
For some interesting reading on the state of BIM, NBS have published their annual report here. https://www.thenbs.com/knowledge/nbs-national-bim-report-2017