Widespread adoption of Building Information Modelling techniques across construction is as much a cultural challenge as a technical one. Antony Oliver reports on progress and Mott MacDonald’s Richard Shennan explains how adoption can benefit the entire supply chain in NCE’s BIM quarterly.
More from: BIM: Change culture
According to Arup structural CAD manager Jonathan Lock, 2012 must finally be the year of delivery for Building Information Modelling (BIM).
While there is no question that over the last 12 to 24 months BIM has emerged into the industry’s vocabulary, when it comes to whole-hearted adoption, the industry, he says, is still slow to embrace.
“The exciting part of BIM is the impact it will have on culture and people in construction,” explains Lock.
“BIM is about collaborative working and trust, and in my view we really need to just get on with it. Many clients haven’t yet grasped the value of the BIM model - it is still seen by some to be an expensive luxury.”
But the challenge of culture change is not, he points out, just limited to clients. In fact, even in large and progressive firms like Arup, teams still find it hard to understand how technology can help. But change they must.
“When clients mandate specific software for projects, it usually means they don’t understand what they really need”
Andy Bellerby, Tekla
“In the past, the design teams tended to live in their own ivory towers,” says Lock. “Now we know that we need to engage early on with fabricators and contractors.” He points out that the main reason for using BIM tools is to enable this communication process to happen much more effectively.
Building Information Modellnig can promote cooperation through the supply chain, agrees Mott MacDonald’s Richard Shennan. Shennan is a Mott MacDonald director with responsibility for implementing BIM across the company worldwide.
“The traditional process of bringing materials to site and combining them there into their final form is gradually giving way to offsite manufacture and installation of ready-assembled components,” he explains. “Consequently we’re seeing the construction process become increasingly industrialised, with an increasing proportion of “construction” work being done under factory conditions.
“Building Information Modelling (BIM) is at the heart of this process. Linking 3D design models with highly efficient, often robotic production techniques enables off-site assembly in a way that’s never previously been possible. Greater effort is put into developing design detail in order to optimise the project both for construction and operational performance,” he says
There are futher benefits on site, adds Lock.
“BIM has the potential to make design teams more efficient by reducing the number of on-site problems that have to be resolved and by reducing the amount of checking that has to be done,” he says. “We spend a huge amount of money delivering 2D drawing - in future the BIM model will be the primary deliverable - drawings will be additional and only if required.”
Arup has been working very closely with specialist structural engineering software provider Tekla to better understand how using BIM can add to its client offering.
The decision to engage with a software provider was, explains Lock, prompted while designing two buildings: the complex Leadenhall Tower - known as the”Cheesegrater”- in the City of London and the Qatar National Museum.
“After looking at the options for which software to standardise around, Tekla clearly fitted our needs on these projects as it is traditionally used by the manufacturing and fabrication industry,” says Lock, adding that these two projects had particularly high degrees of structural complexity.
“We agreed a framework agreement so that we are able to ask Tekla to incorporate our requirements into the software,” he says, pointing out that, in a firm the size of Arup, designers have access to virtually any design software.
“In general we try to use the correct software for the project - the best product for each project. Leadenhall Tower, for example, required us to design to a near fabrication level of detail so why not start with that end in mind.”
The result has been to really embed the software and modelling in the design, fabrication and construction process. Direct 3D design and review not only reduces design costs but also creates a model that can be realistically handed over to the client ready to help in the operation and maintenance lifecycle.
“Most of BIM applications today still focus on the pre-construction phase,” says Tekla UK managing director Andy Bellerby. “Fewer clients will use it beyond design and into the construction process or the maintenance phase of assets.”
This, he says, will increasingly change as clients start to understand the true value of the BIM investment and realise that it provides genuine and measureable capital savings.
The government’s recent decision to make the use BIM on all public projects mandatory is a positive step towards prompting this behaviour change, says Bellerby. But in reality he fears that it does not go far enough to change a great deal or force a cultural shift.
“Specifying level 2 BIM isn’t really taking it much beyond where most people are already,” he explains. “Only when you get to level 3 and beyond are you really changing cultures. At the moment the biggest outcome of the mandate is that the industry is now much more aware of BIM.”
And while this is clearly a welcome start, Bellerby is keen to see the government boost efforts to encourage greater standardisation and interoperability across different platforms and so help to simplify the current confusion for clients.
“When clients mandate specific software for projects it usually means that they don’t understand what they really need,” says Bellerby, insisting that, contrary to some views - particularly in the UK - the Industry Foundation Classes (IFCs) developed by industry for data representation and file formatting do now enable data to be transferred effectively between different software products.
“I would like to see the government go further and mandate the use of IFCs,” he says. “It purely comes down to people and culture - certainly cost will be a factor. But it is really about whether or not people embrace the use of BIM.”