Mabey Hire has conducted extensive research of its client base to be able to provide them with the BIM content they need to deliver their projects. NCE reports
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Search the NCE archive for stories about building information modelling (BIM) and you’ll see that we have been reporting on the subject since 2008. But in that time NCE has probably been as guilty as the next of focusing on the implications for the top of the supply chain rather than the subcontractors and specialists working further down.
Such a focus might have led to the temporary works sector, among others, feeling a little bit neglected.
“When the industry talks about BIM, the real focus is often on permanent works,” says Mabey Hire sales engineer Billy McCormick.
“But it is beginning to filter down to temporary works suppliers. We’ve seen it coming our way and you have to be ready to have the capability in-house when the call comes.”
The urgency to develop this in-house capability was reinforced when some of Mabey’s Tier 1 contractor clients began sending surveys to their supply chains asking about their BIM readiness.
“Big contractors like Skanska and Laing O’Rourke were asking us where we were with BIM, which really got us moving,” says McCormick.
Since that time, Mabey has been on a two year journey to be able to provide its contractor and engineering clients with the BIM content they need to deliver their projects. This has involved an assiduous amount of research.
“To begin with, there was a lot of engagement with major contractors - surveys, phone calls and meetings - to see what kind of software they were using,” he says. “We weren’t sure which route to go down, so the early networking events such as BIM Show Live really helped us to make good contacts with software vendors, training companies and people such as our eventual content partner BIM Technologies.”
“We didn’t want our product to look like a bland object on a drawing; it had to look like a Mabey prop”
Billy McCormick, Mabey Hire
Like many suppliers, Mabey quickly found out that one of the greatest complexities was the fact that its clients were not all using the same software to create their BIM models.
In spite of this, the firm quickly decided on a Revit format for its BIM content because this was the most applicable to the type of projects it works on.
“Revit appeared to be the most popular software package when it came to structural designs of concrete and steel structures and we’re usually involved with the temporary works to prop the basement and to prop the structure, so it made sense to go down the Revit route,” says McCormick.
Once Mabey had settled on the best format for its content, the next challenge was to create a BIM library.
As a supplier of a huge range of complex and varying products ranging from a trench sheet to a complete bridge system, this was a considerable task.
“At the early stages we made contacts and put briefs together about how we wanted our content created and tried to get an idea of cost,” says McCormick.
“The difficulty we found was that none of the companies that created content had done so for any products like ours. They’d done a lot of tables, chairs, pumps, valves and mechanical products but not really the
large scale temporary works equipment.”
After a large number of meetings and after receiving several quotations, Mabey settled on a niche technology company in the North East to deliver
“We eventually went with BIM Store, part of BIM Technologies. They were certainly very helpful with the content creation - they did some prototypes and there was a lot
of discussion on the level of detail in the products.”
“We want to avoid accusations of doing ‘Hollywood BIM’ where it’s all about the pretty pictures”
Billy McCormick, Mabey Hire
This represented another conundrum for the supplier.
Because a lot of BIM content needs to be simplified to be inputted into a large model, Mabey had to take a measured approach to the level of product detail it included in the BIM files. “We didn’t want our product to look like a bland object on a drawing; it had to look like a Mabey prop,” says McCormick.
“But at the same time we had to look at the bigger picture. Designers want simple access to what they need - they only really need to know about a product’s capabilities and too much detail can compromise the file size.”
McCormick says that Mabey’s membership of the Temporary Works Forum was crucial in helping it gain an understanding how client and supplier BIM requirements could differ.
“That was great to be involved with, because everyone was represented there - the contractors, the designers and the specialist suppliers - and everyone has got a different view,” he says.
“The next challenge for that working group is to come up with standardised names - a standard dictionary. Is it called a ‘prop’, or a ‘strut’, or is it a ‘brace’ in the model? It’s very exciting to be a part of these influential developments, knowing that we are shaping the future direction of BIM for the industry.”
To keep abreast of other developments, McCormick reveals that the company has joined many of the BIM sub groups and regional hubs that have emerged in the industry.
“There are lots of little groups that have emerged over the last few years, to help companies to understand what is required, including a regional hub that were are a member of in Scotland,” he says.
“We’re also involved with the BIM4Water task group which was set up by Anglian Water. Connecting BIM and water is important to us because 60% of our projects are below ground.”
Refreshingly, membership of such groups also forces companies that would normally compete with each other to co-operate.
“You have to put down the swords and collaborate,” McCormick adds.
The company is also currently looking at the Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) data model so as not to be restricted to the Revit format.
This is a platform neutral, open file format that isn’t controlled by a single software vendor or group of vendors.
McCormick thinks work must be done to bring this interoperability up to standard, but suppliers have a duty to keep one step ahead of their clients by investigating new technology developments.
Outside of the file size restrictions of the BIM model, the company has endeavoured to provide more detailed information about its product suite. The Mabey eDATA library is a database comprising CAD blocks, Revit 3D
Parametric Families and Product User Guides. This resource provides unrestricted access to the full range of information available about the company’s products and can be directly accessed via a link on the company website homepage.
More than superficial
Whatever resource the company launches, however, McCormick is determined that it will be more than superficial.”We want to avoid accusations of doing ‘Hollywood BIM’ where it’s all about the pretty pictures,” he says.
“We want to add elements like the product code, weight and cost, the grade of steel and safe working load.”
And if the company wants to gauge how well these technical initiatives sit with its client base, it need look no further than the client surveys which were the impetus for its BIM journey in the first place.
“Skanska recently conducted an update to see how its suppliers have moved on from that original survey,” says McCormick. “They’re using a scoring system and that enables us to see how we’ve performed. We’ve achieved a decent ranking and well above average scores, which shows just how far we’ve come.”