Many say they are doing Level 2 BIM, but the reality suggests the industry may fail to hit the government’s 2016 mandate.
How successfully is construction adopting BIM? Some companies have made clear, measurable progress. Interserve became the first contractor to achieve BRE Level 2 accreditation in May, following architect BDP.
The government’s Level 3 BIM strategy document, Digital Built Britain reckons BIM has been “a significant contributor” to savings of £804m in construction costs in 2013/14.
But research shows this does not reflect the wider industry. In a Civil Engineering Contractors Association survey in April, only a quarter of firms said they believed the industry will hit the target of Level 2 on all government projects by 2016.
In another survey by law firm Pinsent Masons in May, a third of respondents blamed the supply chain for the slow progress.
And while many construction firms will boast about working at Level 2, closer scrutiny reveals this is not often the case.
“The reality is most contractors are using ‘Level 1 and a bit’,” says BIM consultant and the former UK BIM ambassador Richard Saxon.
“Level 2 is quite broad and firms are going for the low-hanging fruit, such as clash detection. But often not much more.
“A majority of consultants now claim to use Level 2 - based on a survey by NBS in February - which I’m sure is absolutely nonsense. You can’t really say you’ve used Level 2 until you’ve done it at least three times. But once you’re there, life becomes less risky and more profitable.”
Laing O’Rourke global head of digital engineering James Eaton agrees that some “unbelievable” claims have been made.
The contractor has worked harder than most to bring BIM into its business practices, and the firm’s integrated model chimes with the government’s Level 3 strategy.
BIM fits neatly with Laing O’Rourke’s design for manufacture processes and is helping it deliver projects quicker than conventional building methods.
But Mr Eaton acknowledges that the firm still has plenty to do.
“You work to get people over the hump, and once most people are over it, the masses follow”
James Eaton, Laing O’Rourke
“Every job kicking off now is using BIM in a more sophisticated way than a year ago, and every tender going through the business will reference Level 2,” he says.
“But we still have lots of work to do. We are three years into a five-year journey.
“You work to get people over the ‘hump’, and once most people are over it, the masses follow. Well, we don’t yet have most of our people over the hump - and this is a very big year for us.”
Laing O’Rourke is training around 80 per cent of its workforce, roughly 5,000 worldwide.
The firm has four levels of BIM capability for employees: foundation, competent, advanced and expert. Mr Eaton wants at least 60 per cent to be at competent level by March 2016.
The temptation to brag about BIM is driven, Mr Saxon says, by “everyone wanting to show themselves in the best possible light to clients”.
But the reality, he says, is that client willingness on BIM is patchy.
“For a construction firm to use full Level 2 requires huge input from the client, and a lot of output data for the client at the end of the project, and most of them aren’t there yet.”
Mr Eaton says the weighting given to scoring on tenders is an indication of how far off the pace many clients are. “I would say BIM gets 2 per cent,” he says.
“We had one client give 15 per cent, but that was an outlier. Surely, because it is - or should be - so integral to a project, there should be a weighting within each of the project scoring areas - cost, people programme and so on.”
“FM is one of the biggest mountains to climb. People in FM are not necessarily in tune with how construction professionals operate”
Richard Saxon, BIM consultant
Some clients see the technology as an added cost. BIM Academy MD Peter Barker says there is evidence that lead designers will sometimes charge more to provide information in 3D.
“In which case, we would say to the client, your consultant isn’t providing you with good advice,” he says.
“And few clients appreciate the role it can play in the operational side.”
Mr Saxon agrees: “FM is one of the biggest mountains to climb. People in FM have generalised management skills and all sorts of backgrounds, so are not necessarily in tune with how construction professionals operate.”
For a company like Interserve this is less of a problem.
“We have a group-wide BIM steering group and our FM sister company gives advice on how BIM data can improve their performance,” says national BIM manager Alex Jones.
“The construction business then provides that data in a format FM can work with. We see this as a competitive advantage.”
But it’s a different story among smaller FM firms. One contractor said it had spoken to a client about integrating BIM into its FM operations, only to discover that the FM operator did not even use any software.
“Clients realise they can add value through BIM. But they already have building stock. So they think, ‘Why should I change my FM software to accommodate BIM?’”
Peter Trebilcock, Balfour Beatty
“There may be a misconception that BIM means creating more and more information,” Mr Barker says.
“A lot of clients are thinking mainly of O&M documentation, in terms of the FM operations, but that can be handled quite easily by the BIM process.”
Balfour Beatty BIM director Peter Trebilcock says: “Inherently, clients realise they can add value through BIM. But they already have building stock. So they think, ‘Why should I change my FM software to accommodate BIM?’”
Software is a barrier, he says: “No product provides a cradle-to-grave solution. Designers, constructors and FM all have their own programs, because they all do slightly different things. But this creates problems with the transfer of information.”
Mr Saxon points out that COBie was created as a bridging concept to help transfer data between BIM and FM software.
“But COBie only works with Industry Foundation Classes-compliant software, and not many BIM packages are,” he says.
“The IFC concept is that any software can talk to any other - as the government wants. But software houses want you to keep buying their software, which is a sticking point at present.”
Aside from FM, the supply chain and SMEs have been cited as barriers to BIM adoption by contractors and consultants.
“The problem, as always, is training people for BIM involves taking them off the day job,” Mr Saxon says. “These firms are on 1 per cent margins and the resourcing issue is obviously felt more acutely in smaller companies.”
RICS director of built environment Alan Muse says a survey it carried out in November 2014 survey found that around a third of SMEs admitted to having a limited understanding of BIM, and nearly half said they hadn’t yet had a the chance to put their understanding to practical use.
“A major concern for SMEs is productivity,” he says. “Initially, we saw some quick wins in terms of knowledge and take up of BIM, but progress may now be harder.”
Varying sector uptake
Mr Saxon argues some areas of the supply chain are further advanced than others with BIM adoption: “Structural steel is doing well; it is a sector that has always used IT in its manufacturing processes quite widely. M&E is doing badly.
“Product suppliers should provide importable BIM models, with standardised information that can be turned into COBie.
“With Kingspan, for example, it is now possible to construct a building almost entirely from its components; it helps that the firm makes all its product information available in BIM.
“80 per cent of the industry is under no pressure to use BIM. So we are likely to end up with a two-speed industry”
Richard Saxon, BIM consultant
“That is what has happened with St John Bosco Arts College in Liverpool (designed by BDP and built by Vinci). It has basically been created from the Kingspan catalogue, although it looks like an industrial building.”
While the government’s 2016 deadline for use of collaborative 3D BIM on centrally procured projects is looming, Mr Saxon says that industry concerns about its readiness may be a little unnecessary.
“The BIM requirements are for those working on central government contracts, which is about 20 per cent of industry demand,” he says.
“But not all government departments are in shape to do this. Highways and justice are. But others, such as defence, have hardly started.
“So 80 per cent of the industry is under no pressure to use BIM.
“Many are doing so anyway because they see the advantages, but some may not bother at all, or will do so to a much lesser degree. So we are likely to end up with a two-speed industry.”