The concept of Building Information Modelling (BIM) has been around for a while but is still far from widely implemented in the UK construction industry. A recent survey by the National Building Specification (NBS) identified that awareness of BIM is increasing, but a fifth of respondents are still unaware of what it is.
As a brief introduction, BIM allows the parties to a construction contract to use technology to create an information rich digital 3D model of the physical and practical characteristics of a building. The RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Outline Plan Work of May 2012 defines BIM as: “A digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility creating a shared knowledge resource for information about it forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life cycle, from earliest conception to demolition”.
Critically, at the design and build stage, BIM is intended to allow a project to be built with increased accuracy, fewer errors, savings of time and costs and increased collaboration between the parties. In short, the build should be “smarter, faster, and cheaper”.
The BIM-enabled project may also contain different layers of information which are described as 2D, 3D, 4D, 5D, 6D and 7D. 2D BIM represents the ubiquitous CAD (computer-aided design), with 4D, 5D and 6D representing respectively the addition of time, cost, post-delivery facilities management and end of use demolition and recycling. At the moment the discussions and issues are in relation to 3D BIM, that is the visualisation of the project, clash detection and pre fabrication.
Who is using it?
According to the above NBS survey, a third of 1000 construction professionals surveyed use BIM regularly. Larger organisations are pressing forward with it; the likes of ASDA now insist upon BIM for all new store developments. The sea change will occur when it becomes mandatory on virtually all Government projects (expected by 2016). One well-publicised project is the £95 million modelling of the Manchester Central library which, as a refurbishment of this 1934 building, is potentially more complex than a new build.
The risk benefits
- The virtual model – 3D visualisation allows the contracting parties and the client to understand the project and its complexities, and to identify problems and issues, in particular around “clash detection”, at an early design stage.
- Increased collaboration from the outset should reduce conflict which ought to lead to reduced claims. This is likely to be enhanced in the long-term by the re-emergence of single project insurance. This form of insurance is currently expensive, but if BIM is seen to reduce risks, a policy procured collectively by the parties to the project may become more affordable.
- Up to 25 per cent of construction cost arises from waste and advocates argue that BIM will reduce the element of waste where CAD was not able to do so. On the Manchester Library project, BIM identified that painting corridors before the installation of services made the job easier and reduced the risk of damage.
- The technological aspects of BIM should improve accountability, since the parties should be able to identify exactly who took a specific step in the project and if that step was made in error, the responsible party can be easily identified providing greater certainty if a claim follows.
- The increased experience of early adopters should provide better quality and quantity of work, which offers better prospects of becoming involved in bigger and better projects. Better businesses should represent better risks.
- Understanding new systems requires investment in training of staff, which in turn improves awareness and therefore reduces risk.
The risk exposures
- For all the perceived benefits, this is a brave new world and there is inevitably a learning curve. Those who are weak on technology may find it difficult to adapt and errors will inevitably occur as people take time to learn the processes “on the job”.
- For BIM to work, planning is essential and all members of a project team must understand the end goal and the key project stages. A poorly planned procedure can lead to errors being made.
- BIM technology is currently expensive and smaller parties to the project (critical design and build sub-contractors for instance) may not have access. The effectiveness of BIM is compromised where not all parties are users.
- BIM is not a software system but is a method of working by using IT software. Various software programmes are available to BIM users but the different programmes do not necessarily communicate with each other. If different parties to the project view the BIM model on different software, they may be viewing different information which could lead to errors. Specific software programmes may start being specified in invitations to tender, but that could lead to smaller outfits being excluded if they can only afford to purchase certain programs.
- Issues arise out of ensuring that designers take responsibility for their designs; ownership of the BIM model and data; the allocation of risk and taking responsibility for the input of information and its accuracy can lead to blurring of boundaries and ambiguity about responsibility.
- A new role of “model manager” responsible for identifying issues and managing the input and sharing of information and data is in part a solution to some of the above problems but the identity of the manager may have to change as the project develops. For example, the contractor may be best placed, but he/she will not be involved at the beginning of a project so a consultant may be required. The employer will also have to consider who appoints the manager, the extent of their responsibility and who is responsible for their failures.
- Copyright issues, viral attacks and computer glitches are other concerns associated with BIM.
Change in any industry is difficult. Change is happening, the figure of one third (31 per cent) using BIM in 2012 was up from 11 per cent in 2009. Insurers have given BIM a cautious welcome and it is clear that it is a question of when, not if, BIM becomes the norm on the majority of construction projects. The insurance market hasn’t to date provided any BIM-specific products - insurers’ rating of a risk is highly reactive to their claims experience, but as yet, there is little experience. Insurers who want to be ahead of the curve may have to take a leap of faith and design insurance products which embrace the benefits of BIM.