Ahh, BIM. That infamous acronym has echoed around offices across the UK for the last decade. It stands for Building Information Modelling, or Building Information Management (the powers-that-be have yet to decide, really). But there’s more evidence of Father Christmas walking among us than BIM being used effectively in today’s construction industry.

 

Let’s start from the beginning: what is it? To most people using BIM in the office, it means using Autodesk Revit, the building information modelling software. Autodesk themselves define BIM as ‘an intelligent 3D model-based process that gives architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals the insight and tools to more efficiently plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure.’

Now, just to throw an angry, hungry cat amongst a bunch of overweight, middle-aged pigeons, it’s now a legal requirement: as of April 2016, all commercial and public buildings have to be designed and produced using BIM Level 2. The levels are as follows: 

  • Level 0: Unmanaged CAD (Computer Aided Design).
  • Level 1: Managed CAD in 2D or 3D.
  • Level 2: Managed 3D environment with data attached in separate discipline models.
  • Level 3: Single, online, project model with construction sequencing, cost and life-cycle management information contained within.

The advantages of BIM have been discussed for some time: way back in July 2013, the Government report Construction 2025 claimed that BIM would be faster, easier, cheaper and more detailed; would remove inaccuracies and reduce clashes and human error; could be shared easily; would allow early stage analysis of designs, implement aspects such as Life Cycle Analysis, and potentially remove the need for Quantity Surveyors and Energy Assessors. Phew. So why has take-up been so poor?

The thing is, knowing that a Ferrari is faster than a Fiesta does not make me want to pay the difference. Especially when my Fiesta has been working for the past decade without a hiccup. And that’s probably one of the biggest reasons why BIM is still misunderstood and incorrectly implemented: humans have been building for thousands of years, learning tried-and-tested techniques that still work, so why do they need to change for the sake of a programme? 

But BIM is far more than a programme: it’s a way of life! It’s a tool to communicate, to design, to assess, and to survey. BIM is a process, a way of collaborating from inception to completion; it maintains an efficient and accessible workflow that can be accessed and instantly updated by every single person involved: architects, engineers, planners, assessors, surveyors and whoever else might want to jump in. 

This way, clashes between the billions of different CAD programmes being used will be eliminated. BIM models aren’t models as we know them – they’re not pretty pictures to go alongside construction specifications, drawing packages, spreadsheets with quantity data, flood risk assessments and all the other stuff you need to build a shed in your aunt Doris’ garden. This model contains all that information within itself. It’s not just lines: it thinks.

Every element, from the roof construction to the doorknobs to the longitude and latitude are available for anyone to view -- always up-to-date, clash-free and easily retrievable. And its not that complicated to implement, One main model is created just like creating a Dropbox folder. Then other people can access that folder and download what they need. Then it gets cleverer than that. Say, as a Services Engineer, I want to design the layout of 300 toilets with attributing vent pipes and basins. I can add these into the model so that all the people I’m working with will be able to see my lovely toilets next time they open it. The ironmongery schedule will automatically have been updated, as will the elevations showing the top of the SVP and the plans that are going out to tender next week. 

Let’s say too, in our imaginary scenario, that at the same time the Energy Assessor was carrying out Overheating Calculations for BREEEAM compliance. To do that, she opened up the model and clicked the single button that imports the building into her specialist thermal dynamic simulation software. No need to build it herself from 2D CAD plans. She comes back with bad news (are we getting a little too into this fictional story?): the windows are too large. She messages the lead architect on Revit, and the architect decreases the size of one window. The omnipotent Revit notices the change, and alters all the other windows to match. In the background, the opening schedule and quantity surveyor spreadsheet instantly update, and all the plans and elevations are changed too, including the annotations and any detailed drawings that show the jam and sill build up. Revit then sends a notification to everyone involved, letting him or her know. 

All this from the architect pressing one button! No phone calls, no meetings, no printing, no scanning, no binding of X-Refs. Everything just works, saving time, money, paper, and energy. Except, in reality, it hasn’t: I am now working as a sustainability consultant, and in the last six months I have received a grand total of one BIM file. 

 

What a terrible waste of potential. A Fiesta might, after all, move you from A to B, but with the Ferrari keys jangling in the construction industry’s pockets, it’s long past time for us to start up our engines. 

 

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