Building Information Modelling (BIM) was announced to great fanfare in 2017 – but two years on it’s still not reached its full potential. So how has it affected efficiency in Scotland?
Two years ago, the Scottish Government announced its intent to promote Building Information Modelling (BIM) across public sector construction in Scotland. Their intention was to bring about greater efficiencies in construction delivery, so how exactly does it do it?
BIM has its provenance in the manufacturing process and production control and has been used extensively in aircraft manufacture and shipbuilding. For many years, the design of aircraft and ships has been represented through sophisticated 3D models that provide a massive amount of data regarding all aspects of production, including vital data relating to performance and operational capability.
In comparison, the construction industry has provided this data in all types of formats from paper to computer-assisted design (CAD). It is not represented within one model that can be viewed by the client and, more importantly, used by those managing the asset.
However, achieving this in the construction industry is like running before we can walk. Therefore we are at the stage of Level 2 BIM which requires project participants to share their data on a common platform or, to use the jargon, a ‘common data environment’.
In this sense, BIM is a collaborative tool.
Having all this data in one place will enable early identification of any design clashes and access to the ‘properties’ or information relating to each element of the building or structure.
For example, details relating to shape, size, weight and cost of any part of the electrical installation will be immediately apparent.
BIM is, of course, an exciting concept and does provide for greater efficiencies especially in relating to energy requirements and also will help in achieving reductions in carbon emissions. In fact, many SELECT Member firms will no doubt have had substantial experience of BIM.
But in construction, things tend not to work as smoothly as one would desire. As I mentioned earlier, BIM is a collaborative tool since it is about sharing information. But using a collaborative tool in a non-collaborative delivery process is unlikely to work – it’s like using a Phillips screwdriver on a one-slotted screw.
The result is that, to date, BIM has not had the impact that was forecast as long ago as 2011 when the UK Government announced that, from April 2016, it was mandating Level 2 BIM. At that time the talk was about the need to involve the supply chain earlier in order to help develop the design to avoid clashes and that everybody would be exchanging all their project-related data.
Unfortunately this has not happened to the extent originally envisaged.
BIM has tended to be used in a way that is least disruptive to the current contractual structures and demarcation lines. As a result, it has tended to be used for activities such as programming and logistics or for manufacturing processes such as steel fabrication.
Implications for the electrical contractor
Any firm wishing to acquaint their workforce with BIM will find that there is a substantial amount of information on the internet. The key issue for firms is to understand what is required of them, specifically if a project is ‘BIM-enabled’. However, as happened on one project I’m aware of, simply stating that the project is ‘BIM-enabled’ doesn’t give you any clue as to what is required.
You’ll therefore need to check a number of matters. For example:
What data is required of you and when?
Do you have the necessary IT support to engage with BIM?
What access, if any, do you have to data provided by others? To what extent can you rely on the data and for what purpose? Consultants will often add the caveat that their data is for ‘information purposes only’.
If your data comprises designs, have you sufficiently protected your intellectual property rights?
As an example of contractual pitfalls concerning the use of BIM, this clause, with my own emphasis added, is a worrying example: “This Model is made available to the user for information purposes only... the user is advised to make their own investigations and assessments as required to satisfy themselves as to the adequacy or otherwise of the Model and the user assumes full responsibility for any loss resulting from use or inability to use the Model.”
This clause is extraordinary since, in effect, it requires the user to double-check some or all of the elements or data included within the relevant model, or even to re-model those elements, to reduce the risk of being liable for ‘any loss’ flowing from use of the model.
Moreover it is unlikely that the user’s professional indemnity cover will extend to the unlimited and potentially far-reaching losses that could arise. So much for operating within a common data environment!
The full potential of BIM still has to be realised and, at present, it exists within a contractual framework structured around risk transfer. I would certainly be interested in hearing from SELECT firms on their experiences of BIM – whether positive or negative.