Last night saw an impressive gathering of senior industry figures congregated at One Birdcage Walk for the invite only CIMCIG chairman’s event at the equally impressive HQ of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers [IMechE]. On the menu, BIM and the barriers to adoption. Chairman Ian Exall, CIMCIG (and Aqualisa) gave a brief but concise introduction to the panel and suggested that the audience participate at will.
- Paul Morrell, Government CCA
- Mike Sheehan, Director of Sustainability, WSP
- Alan Crane, President CIOB
- Chris Gilmour, Design and Marketing Director, BAM Construct UK
- Karl Redmond, Construction Sector Network, Leeds Metropolitan University
Opening gambits from the panel came thick and fast:
Paul Morrell (my interpretation of what he said): Supply chain collaboration is key to successful adoption. Contractors need to work with consultants and consultants to learn about 3d modeling from product manufacturers. There needn’t be stringent standards that everyone adopts however there needs to be enough universal standards that allow confidence in adoption so as not to give rise to fear of investment in the wrong place.
Mike Sheehan (my interpretation of what he said): The main concern is too much “fluffery” around the software. The actual 3d model itself (in most cases) was not BIM but purely cosmetic. Clients need to understand the whole-life value of BIM; from design through to the FM’s once the build is complete. Adoption of holistic project management throughout an entire project, irrespective of BIM, is vital but still not widespread.
Alan Crane (my interpretation of what he said): BIM is becoming an out of favour ‘buzz word’ before adoption has really even started. There is too much talk and not enough adoption. Really, BIM is a business issue not a design issue. There is a tremendous opportunity to improve waste reduction in UK projects with BIM adoption. A huge amount of production time could be gained by clarifying the design digitally before any work commences.
Chris Gilmour (my interpretation of what he said): Echoing Alan’s comments Chris cemented the need for design to be agreed before build. The point being that all too often actual building projects are finishing at exactly the same time their designs are finishing. Chris imparted that the solution was simple: Design on the computer first and then build. He was also concerned by just how many large ‘household’ consultancy firms were designing in 2d and the contractor’s designers having to then convert those 2d drawings into 3d models in order to get the build started.
Karl Redmond (my interpretation of what he said): Karl started by suggesting that BIM should be making businesses more efficient. He noted that large consultancy firms were slower at adoption than the smaller more nimble SME’s who can see the benefits of BIM adoption. (This point was taken up by a couple of consultancies in the audience who wondered why contractors were insisting on using ‘large household name’ consultancies who didn’t use similar BIM software whilst there were many smaller consultancies who did). Karl continued that there is a fear that adoption in the wrong software would mean wasted investment and therefore, as a consequence the investment is not being made anywhere.
At this juncture the chairman invited the audience to participate and it wasn’t long before key challenges were being raised and confirmed:
The question of library standards across the industry was discussed. Some felt these were necessary others felt that standards may be too restrictive for an evolutionary process to happen. Paul Morrell raised an interesting point on adoption that related to email adoption in the late 1990’s. In his mind it is absolutely a case now that you just have to do it; there was no ‘shall we shan’t we’, if you don’t start adoption now you’re more likely than not to be left very much behind. The audience generally agreed that now was a great time to adopt BIM but influence and education was essential, not only down the supply chain but throughout the whole industry including clients. The question of who should drive BIM adoption gave rise to a debate about whether the lead should be taken by the client or by the industry – arguments on both sides were convincing.
My own point of view is that the client ought to be educated by his consultancy firm and their chosen contractor right from the start of a project. They are the experts after all. To me it beggars belief that a client will agree to a £multi-million (£multi-billion) design/build cost where no clear collaborative BIM process exists throughout the entire supply chain. However, that is the reality.
It became quite clear as the evening progressed that the main issue was with both the software and the users. Ideally consultancies and contractors will be using the same system. In reality, the consultancies have their preferred route (often 2d but possibly 3, 4, 5, 6 or as was suggested, 7d) and then the contractors a different system altogether (most probably 3d) and the two systems just don’t speak the same language. Whether it be Autodesk Navisworks or Revit or whatever, it was clear that a collaborative consistency or even confidence in the software was lacking. Contractors laid blame squarely with the large ‘household name’ consultancies for not catching up with the industry and being stuck in their old ways.
As the evening continued discussions around BIM being not ‘design’ models but ‘manufacturing’ models. Contractors believing they were in the business of manufacturing the building to the specifications of the models produced in whatever ‘d’ was put in front of them. The subtleties of a holistic project management approach was discussed and the use of ‘gateways’ and build phases as a discipline to help reduce wasted time, effort and well, waste in general, was the core of agreeable BIM adoption.
The key point here was about not racing ahead into building areas that hadn’t actually been designed yet. One cannot run into running.
Zaha Hadid’s ear’s must have been burning towards the end of the evening as the discussion turned towards none standardized products. The question was raised around the value of common libraries of products when architects like Hadid designed buildings that often had very few off the shelf elements within it – the Glasgow Transport Museum as an example.
Richard Waterhouse, CEO of RIBA Enterprises suggested that this was no longer a problem as his company’s suite of specification products actually let product manufacturers, consultancy firms and contractors’ designers input new and bespoke building elements data on the fly. In my basic mind, this functionality issue is key if buildings like the Transport Museum in Glasgow are to be encouraged and delivered in an efficient way.
The main concerns for the product manufacturers in the room were that actually they had been producing 3d drawings for around 20-30 years, more out of necessity within their own design processes. It was agreed that product manufacturers have led the way in 3d modeling since the 80’s and there was much dismay that consultancies had historically taken those 3d models and converted them back into 2d drawings to give to the contractors. Just nuts. Product manufacturers agreed that it would be less of a challenge if specifiers and contractors would agree a format (or several consistent formats) for the sharing of their 3d models.
However, as Stephen Hamil (not present at the event), head of NBS software development suggests in his article BIM and building properties “…It is unlikely that all of the information from a construction project can be contained in a single BIM. More typically there will be a number of BIMs that are stored in different proprietary format. For example, the architect’s CAD model could be in ArchiCAD format, the engineer’s CAD model in Revit and the specification information within NBS…”
So, that’s good then.
Back to the event, it was noted (on quite a few occasions) that many consultancy firms (large and small) had not adopted BIM for various reasons from cost to laziness and it was also suggested that frameworks within which a design process had been agreed might be stifling creativity and ‘strangling’ innovation. Neither scenarios were good for the adoption of BIM. There was also a feeling that some main contractors were not helping their sub-contractors in the design stages and that historically (and may I say fairly obviously) this led to further problems of cost, delay and waste throughout the supply chain. Product manufacturers also worried about the issue of cost and price. How were they expected to offer clarity in that area when different audiences were privy to different price?
Contractors, from an asset management and facilities management perspective, welcomed the idea of product manufacturers producing 3d drawings that could be ‘dropped’ into their own models. And a representative from CIBSE also pressed for a standard format for building product manufacturers to produce 3d models to and then input standardized data into. This however gave rise to the suggestion of ‘the mother of all databases’, which was generally accepted as unrealistic – The point that clients might want different data meant the variations of data would become unmanageable very quickly.
Paul Morrell suggested “…more flexibility and less standards and let innovation and creativity decide the flow and adoption of the management of information over time.” Or words to that effect. I liked Paul.
On that note the Chair summarised the evenings topic by allowing the panel to air their closing statements.
Five key points from the panel to takeaway:
- To actually ‘want’ to work together. The industry and it’s clients must all change & Darwin would sort out the rest. In the end waste will be the winner. (Paul Morrell).
- Get back to working in a disciplined way. A holistic approach to project management is fundamental to the success of any large project. (Mike Sheehan).
- Work with software producers on what the industry actually wants not on what they don’t want. (Alan Crane).
- The industry needs to make the change to BIM quickly. (Chris Gilmour).
- Collaboration with software producers and contractors. The contractors need to take the lead and bring their sub-contractors with them. (Karl Redmond)
The event was incredibly educational for me, CIMCIG doing a great job in attracting a talented crowd. Yet, I went away feeling slightly frustrated. Frustrated at the consultancies and the contractors who were, in effect, pushing blame back and forth and pushing on with their own agendas. In my mind both camps were only reacting to BIM and not pro-actively encouraging process change. Major projects were won and consultancies selected. The basis of consultancy selection (if there was that luxury) being… ‘well, they’re the consultancies we’ve always used’, an odd attitude to take given that their systems are incompatible and that duplication of effort was inevitable.
In a perfect world maybe large contractors could pull together in a more collaborative way. And in perfect world maybe clients could bring in the consultancies, contractors and their sub-contractors to start to format some BIM standards across the industry outside of projects. And maybe in a perfect world progressing BIM compatibility and adoption across the industry could be a general goal and not be seen as an excuse to gain competitive advantage.
The unsung heroes of BIM in my mind are clearly the product manufacturers themselves. There was no talk of collaboration with product manufacturers and yet closer collaboration with them would help shape the broader 3d modeling landscape and probably wider BIM adoption. Product manufacturers are an untapped resource. Their skill at producing 3d models is undisputed however, their innovation is being overlooked while the contractors and consultancies fail to communicate clearly themselves. All this and just across the pond the first BIM Lawsuit hits the headlines. Apparently for lack of clear communication.
What are your thoughts on BIM? It will be interesting to see how far this conversation has moved on in 12 months time.