BIM’s reach spreads

This Issue This is a part of the Technology feature

By - , Build 137

BIM is creating efficiencies and new opportunities in construction worldwide. The technology is in its very early stages in New Zealand, but steps are being taken to increase both its acceptance and use.

BIM model showing architectural, structural and service elements.
BIM model showing architectural, structural and service elements.

BUILDING INFORMATION modelling (BIM) systems manage information on physical and functional characteristics of buildings and structures to provide a digital one-stop shop of information for collaborative use by architects, engineers, owners and users through design, construction and operation.

In providing comprehensive information on a building that can be used seamlessly by those involved in its development and operation, efficiencies are created that lead to faster, cheaper or greener construction.

How it works

BIM extends beyond just the 3D shape of a structure, taking into account time and cost. It can accommodate any number of elements that may be important, such as spatial relationships, light analysis, geographic information, sustainability data, building component information – for example, manufacturer details – and construction sequencing.

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Sharing a single model

BIM requires a new set of work processes among different disciplines working from a single information repository. Through design and construction, a BIM model is handed from the design team to the main contractor and subcontractors and then on to the owner and operator. Each professional adds discipline-specific data to the single shared model.

The single model reduces information losses that traditionally occur when new teams take ownership of the project and provides more extensive information to owners of complex structures.

A key part of the move to BIM for industry professionals involves letting go of previous analytical models that used to be held separately in design, construction or operations offices.

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International use varies

BIM is in widespread use worldwide on building and infrastructure construction and for facilities maintenance. The current issue for BIM overseas is not whether to adopt it, but which software platform it should run on – open platform, closed proprietary platform, no standard platform or multiple standard platforms.

UK – Government will require it

In June 2011, the UK Government published its BIM strategy, announcing its intention to require BIM use on all government projects by 2016.

According to a 2012 survey by the Royal Institute of British Architects, only 13% of architects and structural engineers were using BIM in 2010. That figure shot up to 39% in 2012. Take-up looks certain to grow – 93% of all respondents said that they expect to be using BIM in 5 years, with most agreeing that the drive to use it will come primarily from clients.

Individual projects have been delivered using BIM for many years, for example, the Place, a 40,000 m2 commercial building in the London Bridge area. Its BIM is a virtual model of the building’s architectural, structural and service (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) systems and also includes final as-built information. Use of BIM was found to provide efficiencies that included:

  • finding 3D solutions to complex foundation construction above London Underground rail lines, escalators and a ticketing hall
  • providing the steel fabricators with clarification of design intent beyond the capability of 2D drawings and avoiding requests for information that the steel detailers would normally have generated
  • enabling tenant fit-out studies to be accomplished early and accurately.

US – an early adopter

The US construction industry has been quick to adopt BIM. Research conducted by McGraw-Hill Construction in 2012 showed a rapid increase of BIM usage by architects, engineers, contractors and owners in North America:

  • 71% of companies were using BIM – a jump from 17% in 2007 and 49% in 2009.
  • More contractors (74%) were using BIM than architects (70%).
  • 49% of BIM users had 5 or more years experience using it.
  • Almost 40% of BIM users are heavily committed to using BIM, doing over 60% of their work in BIM.
  • All users reported increased business benefits from BIM including better profits, more accurate documentation, less rework, reduced project duration, fewer claims and the ability to offer new services.

‘This multi-year trend data demonstrates clearly that BIM is taking hold in the design and construction industry because it has proven business value,’ says Stephen Jones, Senior Director at McGraw-Hill Construction.

BIM use in the US is widespread both for construction and facilities management, with major organisations such as General Motors, NASA, Intel, LucasFilm and Walt Disney Imagineering using BIM for physical assets.

The US Coast Guard has captured its entire facility portfolio – covering 33 million square feet – on a BIM model. Digital models of buildings or structures can then be analysed under operational scenarios, for example, digitally testing for bomb blast resistance or digitally measuring building space to optimise equipment storage.

Australia – on the rise

In Australia, BIM is starting to take off, and it is acknowledged that its industry-wide use is a case of when, rather than if. To date, BIM has generally been used by individual firms on individual projects as requested by the client. BIM is receiving excellent exposure in its use as a facilities maintenance tool for the Sydney Opera House.

Government and industry associations are being urged to help speed up the process of getting BIM into widespread use. BuildingSMART Australasia has recommended that the Australian Government set a date of 1 July 2016 from which procurement for all its buildings will require full collaborative BIM based on open standards (Open BIM) for information exchange.

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New Zealand – need for more awareness

BIM is still in its early stages of use in New Zealand, with initial steps being taken now to increase industry and client understanding of BIM.

A New Zealand National BIM Survey 2012 conducted by Masterspec Construction Information Ltd found, from 524 respondent construction industry organisations:

  • 34% were using BIM
  • 54% were aware of BIM, but not using it
  • 12% were neither aware nor using BIM.

Interestingly, only 12% of respondents indicated an understanding that BIM is a collaborative whole-of-life tool, with the majority of those surveyed thinking it was just a 3D model or a documentation database.

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BIM all about the data

Kerry Thompson is a director of Auckland-based company Triptech, which develops software used in the creation of BIM models for the local construction industry.

A current Triptech project is creating a BIM template containing CAD-compatible drawings for a foundation system developed by an engineering organisation.

Working from the inside out on the software that runs BIM models, Kerry knows the value of managing BIM data. ‘There is a misconception in the industry that BIM is primarily a visual tool or an enhanced 3D structural model,’ he says, ‘but BIM is really all about the data and, importantly, the way that data can be added and transferred between different organisations.’

For the New Zealand industry, Kerry says there is no question that BIM is the way of the future. However, the relatively small scale of many New Zealand projects means that fully committing to BIM may not be appropriate at this point in time.

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Client best driver for uptake

Robert Amor, Professor of Computer Science at The University of Auckland, has spent over 20 years developing BIM methodologies and advises the UK Government on BIM policy.

Robert says that alliance and integrated project delivery (IPD) contractual models for larger projects are a good fit with BIM. ‘BIM is a good supporter of collaborative work processes required in alliances and IPD. It also enables sustainability to be promoted – calculations for sustainability are hard to get and manage without a BIM model.’

As is happening in the UK, Robert believes government is an important starting point for the nationwide development of BIM practices.

‘BIM needs to be chosen by the client, and they need to see the benefits of using it,’ he says. ‘On larger government infrastructure projects, use of BIM could lead to significant cost savings, all of which is a saving for the taxpayer.’

In the current market, Robert says that individual contracting firms are developing their own BIM systems in-house, drawing on data received for a project from the architect’s BIM.

Engineering firms such as Beca are also running their own BIM to manage the data they need for a project. Robert says organisations are starting to see potential in the technology but so far are working separately rather than out of a single collaborative BIM.

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Local BIM guide being developed

The Building and Construction Productivity Partnership has identified BIM as a means of increasing productivity, establishing the National Technical Standards Committee to provide guidelines for consistent nationwide BIM use. The committee will soon publish a BIM handbook that provides technical guidance on using BIM as well as information demonstrating its benefits.

‘BIM in its own right could create a significant step-change in productivity,’ says Andrew Redding, who is working on the BIM handbook.

‘A 7% increase in productivity using BIM is an accepted rate based on a number of worldwide studies – the UK Government is claiming 18% improvement on its own projects.’

Andrew says the Productivity Partnership is looking to government projects first. ‘We have produced an acceleration strategy for the government to get the use of BIM going. BIM is ideal for design and build contractual models, and we have seen indications that government agencies and the private sector are making moves towards it.

‘Initially, BIM will be more cost effective on larger projects, but further down the track when national standards are established and there is widespread usage, BIM can be beneficial for small builds.’

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BIM model showing architectural, structural and service elements.
BIM model showing architectural, structural and service elements.