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High time to get to grips with BIM

It’s now only months before the government introduces its much-vaunted requirement to use Level 2 BIM on centrally procured public contracts.

While the introduction of public sector BIM in spring 2016 could be a real plus for building services engineering in the long term, there is a real danger that many companies, particularly small and medium-sized firms, will be left behind.

This is backed up by a recent study from the ECA and sector partners, which found that just one in six building services firms (16 per cent) say they are currently ‘fully ready’ to use BIM.

So, how does a firm become ‘BIM ready’? Well, it starts with realising there are two crucial aspects to BIM.

“Not all contractors can currently produce or even read drawings in the BIM required format”

The first is modelling, which is what many currently regard as the main feature of BIM.

Co-ordinated digital drawings are produced in an agreed format, delivering a virtual but fully functional model, which can then be built on time and on budget.

However, not all contractors can currently produce or even read drawings in the required format, which could lead to considerable capacity problems next year, even if it is good news for the ‘BIM prepared’ minority.

Managed transition

The other core aspect of BIM is management, which is arguably the most innovative feature of BIM.

BIM is, first and foremost, about collaboration. But since supply chain collaboration is still rare enough to win awards in most parts of the industry, this could pose a serious challenge.

“BIM is, first and foremost, about collaboration”

A systematic failure of smaller businesses to tender for central government work because of BIM could have a major impact right across our sector, and beyond.  

We need to boost practical BIM awareness and understanding very soon, not just in terms of the software but also the collaborative management requirements laid down in PAS 1192 and elsewhere.

The ECA is working with a number of partners across our sector to deliver practical tools to help smaller contractors. Thinking laterally, perhaps larger building services contractors could help.

Many of these contractors already have a method for managing contract drawings and sharing information between the parties involved in the building process, with a view to project savings and certainty about completion.  

Pared back, these tried and tested BIM management processes could be used to boost awareness and deliver useful guidance for smaller contractors.

Bill Wright is head of energy solutions at the Electrical Contractors Association

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