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It's time to embrace BIM

Most people have heard of BIM, but many are not sure quite what it is or how it might affect them. If this sounds familiar, it's time to find out more says Mark Tindall
I attended numerous BIM conferences throughout 2012, presented with high profile panels and discussion groups to try to understand how BIM was relevant to the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) sector. I could see ductwork, large pipework and other sizeable equipment in a 3D building model but very little detail that would allow someone to complete a fully detailed design, select materials or produce and estimate for instance. So I went along to these events to try and find out more.

A few things became evident very quickly. The majority of delegates, a mixture of architects, engineers, manufacturers and clients, confessed to knowing very little about BIM, which initially was a surprise considering the length of time it has been discussed within the industry. But as I attended more events presented by the various institutions and BIM groups, the reasons for this lack of understanding became clearer. The repeated message about BIM provided from the various presenters was actually an aspiration; the rules of the game are still being defined. Moreover it was one that was often presented without any real substance for building services engineers, who were hardly represented on any of the 'expert panels'. I had chosen to observe these events and what struck me was a real lack of any probing questions from the building services industry delegates.

Complete avoidance
When a relevant question was asked, it didn't get a very good response, rather a complete avoidance of the subject of the question! 'Emperors clothes' was an expression that came to mind even with the highest profile speakers. What also helps to cloud the issue is something known as 'BIM Wash', a term describing the inflated or deceptive claim of using or delivering Building Information Modelling services or products. It became very evident to me that this is quite a common phenomenon even where you would least expect it - and it is one to be very aware of.

However, this doesn't make BIM the wrong thing to do. In fact BIM is a completely obvious way to work and it's actually quite surprising that we haven't done this before! This idea of all disciplines working together, sharing information so there is a single 'model' of the building which links all information together is obvious. However, with the current government push behind its use, BIM should quickly evolve into something very useful. Indeed, there is a growing list of success stories in certain areas of construction in particular, since that has been the main focus to date.

So what's in it for the building services industry? Well, a great deal. There is an accepted ratio to describe the level of benefits to be received from the use of BIM, it is 1:10:100 with 100 being the benefit to be gained in the operation of buildings and that's mostly about the services in the building. The structure generally doesn't change post-occupation but the services do. They consume energy, they need maintaining and replacing, they need operating. The Government has recognised this and its 'Soft Landings' document describes how it will be dealing with this hugely important area.

In the meantime, new buildings are full of services that need designing, planning and installing. BIM is evolving very quickly and we have a major part to play in its evolution. Information is absolutely vital, so manufacturers need to start providing CAD objects, performance data, carbon content and much more for their equipment. Contractors need to start understanding BIM, changing the way they work and making use of software to help them get involved.

Providing huge efficiencies
The more information we can access at our fingertips, the more control we have over everything. Everything we do can be linked to the model and this will provide huge efficiencies and benefits. It will save waste on site, save time in fabrication and assembly and reduce client changes, all of which should help improve margins. It should also, in time, speed up sub-contractor payments.

BIM will become a necessity very quickly and if we are to remain competitive we need to embrace the BIM opportunity and get ahead of the competition! This is a worldwide phenomenon and the UK may well be starting to lead the way.

// The author is CEO of Amtech Group //
12 February 2013

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