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Why is the building services sector lagging behind on BIM?

With the government’s Level 2 BIM deadline now less than a year away, the urgency with which the construction sector is addressing the practical realities of BIM has stepped up a gear.

Levels of BIM-readiness still vary, however.

When it comes to building services, there is a common perception that engineers are lagging behind in delivering BIM.

To a degree, that is correct.

But many of the reasons why it’s true are technological rather than cultural and are a consequence of the position of building services in the project delivery process.

Collaboration culture

The good news for building services and BIM is that, culturally, building services engineers are used to working collaboratively, both with the upstream architectural team and the downstream installation team.

“The question remains: do we train our engineers to use the software, or do we train our CAD designers to engineer?”

The bad news is that BIM fundamentally challenges the traditional roles and responsibilities within a building services consultancy and there has been no definitive response – either from the sector or from training providers – to realigning existing skills and knowledge with the demands of new technology and processes.

The established roles in a building services consultancy involve design of the services by an engineer and visualisation by a CAD designer, but there is a massive appetite for a move to Revit because engineers can see the benefits of designing straight into the 3D software.

And who can blame them when the software can build and visualise the specification with ease in a single process based on a few engineering parameters?

However, the question remains: do we train our engineers to use the software, or do we train our CAD designers to engineer?

Skills gap

With Revit design skills running so far behind aspirations and a lack of credible training provision to bridge the skills gap, that question becomes even harder to answer.

Then there’s the fact that so many architects are still designing projects in AutoCAD rather than Revit.

Around 85 per cent of the architects we work with are still working with 2D software and we simply cannot then crowbar in a 3D building services design, so the building services sector cannot work in BIM if the project has not been designed in Revit by the architect.

“BIM presents opportunities and challenges across the supply chain and those challenges vary for different parts of the design and construction process”

Further issues are experienced downstream due to the varying BIM-readiness of suppliers.

This is a problem of both under- and over-preparedness: while many haven’t inputted their products into Revit and cannot, therefore, be considered for specification on BIM jobs, others have provided too much information, which means a single component involves a huge data file, slowing down the software and the design process.

The bottom line here is that BIM presents opportunities and challenges across the supply chain and those challenges vary for different parts of the design and construction process.

However, to make collaborative working BIM viable, we must also take a collaborative approach across the sector to addressing the obstacles to implementation.

Building services engineers are being tasked with a change in working practices equal to moving from manual drawing to computer-aided design.

Without greater consistency from delivery partners and a skilling process that starts by asking what skills are needed and then provides the mechanisms to deliver them, that transition will be slow and arduous.

Steve Hunt is managing director of Steven Hunt & Associates

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