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Building on the BIM buzz

With the designs of commercial buildings becoming more complex and the integration of different services key to a successful project, Dene Kent discusses the importance of adopting Building Information Modelling (BIM) sooner rather than later
In 2011, the NBS (National Building Specification) completed its first 'BIM Report'. It was designed as an in-depth research project to discover the extent to which BIM is already used within the UK construction industry, what people think of it, and its future development and use.

Now, without bombarding you with too many statistics, there were some particularly noteworthy figures, not least of all that 43 per cent of respondents were neither aware of, nor used BIM. However, fast forward to the 2013 report and there is a striking difference, with only 6 per cent having not heard of it.

However, more significantly, of those who were BIM aware but not yet using it, 80 per cent predicted that they would be incorporating it in the next three years - indicating a monumental shift in the approach to the design, build and maintenance of construction projects in the next few years.

Yet it's not just the more discerning industry experts that need to know about the changes afoot, the entire supply chain will be required to become BIM savvy, especially as the UK Government has made Level 2 BIM mandatory across all public sector projects by 2016.

In many ways, the adoption of these new construction methods can be paralleled to the internet hitting the mainstream 15-20 years ago. For the first few years, everyone was just astounded by what was possible with the new technology - and that excitement of creating a website is similar to the buzz around BIM today. When done properly, the principles behind BIM's 3D models can result in better buildings, designed and built more efficiently - and at a reduced cost.

However, with a change in legislation and growing industry awareness, the adoption of the new model is likely to accelerate at a significant pace. Consequently, it's vital for the entire supply chain to become engaged in the 'BIM Journey', not least of all consulting engineers and manufacturers.

To demonstrate the potential of BIM in the industry, it's worth highlighting the five stages of a project that it should be involved in:

· Inception - improve visualisation and early stage simulation
· Design - improve collaboration between parties and incorporate changes before construction begins
· Documentation - provide better understanding for all parties in the supply chain from client to contractor
· Construction - reduce clashes and time wastage, plus improve safety
· Operation - improve monitoring, asset management and maintenance of buildings

When it comes to incorporating air handling units (AHUs) for example, the last two stages above currently represent the biggest challenge, which is why manufacturers such as Fläkt Woods are supplying information on a structured digital format - allowing AHUs to be easily added into the BIM model. The reason for taking this step is that if BIM is to truly work as a digital flow of information from building design through to operation, then the correct information of physical products must be represented within the model. Otherwise, the alternative is the manual re-keying of information from one 2D format to another, which is hardly a quantum leap forward!

In practice, using the BIM model for AHUs can yield huge benefits for consulting engineers. Initially, it highlights any clashes in the ventilation design, with the layout and design of the plant room, ducting and room configurations all uploaded and tested in the BIM model. This makes life far easier for contractors when it comes to installing the units on site, and ultimately saves time and money in the supply chain.

Once the project has been handed over, there are also long term advantages for an owner or operator. For example, they may find a reduction in air movement in a specific location, and instead of having to physically explore the building; they could simply turn to the BIM model and see if a plenum box is located in the suspect location.

Within the BIM model, they could gather information covering the specific box size, manufacturer, part number and any other information ever researched in the past. In addition, dynamic information about the building, such as sensor measurements and control signals from the building systems, can also be incorporated within BIM to support analysis of building operation and maintenance.

Replacement or upgraging
Another scenario might be in future years, when the AHU plant needs replacing or upgrading. Rather than having to retrieve all the original manufacturers' information, the operator can again turn to the BIM model to look at all the necessary data, from ducting lengths to diffuser capacities. Overall, having such information to hand will save time and, ultimately, costs.

Despite the buzz around BIM, the ongoing contraction of the construction sector may help explain why adoption has not been as high as it might have been. Many believe that the industry needs to get through the downturn before it looks at BIM. However, as the BIM Task Group points out, 'BIM, if successfully implemented, will help organisations strip the waste from their processes, which in many cases, could be in the bandwidth of 20-30 per cent.

So, when considering future projects, BIM is likely to play a big part and working with companies that have already embraced the model will be essential to ensure a smooth and efficient build. Returning to the NBS BIM Report 2013, there is one key point that the industry should keep remembering: 'Those who have adopted BIM tell us that there are real benefits to be had, and they're greater than expectations' plus 'the anticipation of future adoption remains high'. In essence, delaying BIM implementation may reduce expenditure in the short term, but there is an elevated risk of being left behind in years to come and lose out on future income.

// The author is managing director for Air Climate Solutions at Fläkt Woods //
14 May 2013


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