BIM – The longer-term implications

  • 19 Dec 2013

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Unless you’ve been buried under a particularly thick slab of granite for the past few years, the chances are you’ve heard a lot about how Building Information Modelling (BIM) is set to revolutionise the construction industry. The fact is, BIM is here to stay, and it is making major changes to the way we all work. And, as BIM marches onwards, we’re rapidly approaching a threshold where those who choose not to use BIM will get left behind.

But while all of the focus has been on BIM developments over the short- to mid-term future, there’s been a relative lack of debate about the longer-term implications of BIM adoption. This near focus is understandable, as companies cautiously make their BIM investments based on relatively rapid ROIs, but it pays to think about the future of BIM beyond the big headline dates highlighted by recent events and initiatives.

First some statistics: In 2013 BIM was used for a shade under 4% of all construction projects in the UK. Yet in just over two years’ time, this number is expected to have increased to more than 50% of projects.

The numbers sound ambitious, but they’re far from unrealistic. All of the evidence points to widespread BIM adoption by 2016, due to a combination of the Government mandate for BIM use on all major public sector projects, increased BIM file availability, and greater market awareness.

And the Government mandate doesn’t even tell the full story of BIM. 69% of architects surveyed said they used BIM out of preference, with 68% of BIM-enabled architects using it for private sector projects already. Clearly, it is a solution on the rise.

It’s easy to see how, with all the talk of this astronomical projected growth over the next three years, you can lose sight of the longer-term picture for the industry. What is likely to happen to and with BIM from 2016 onwards? What challenges will we need to overcome, and how will it evolve beyond its current format? After all, the impacts of a well-implemented BIM programme will be felt far beyond the mere construction phase, with maintenance and deconstruction companies standing to benefit from BIM much later into the century.

Some 69% of architects surveyed said they used BIM out of preference, with 68% of BIM-enabled architects using it for private sector projects

One major point to consider for the future of BIM is the role it will play in ever more stringent energy efficiency regulations. As national and international standards tighten, it will become more important to have an intimate understanding of the relationship between the design, construction and operation of a building and its carbon footprint.

Energy analysis and cost modelling is very much part of BIM, and will help to provide an accurate understanding of the impact a change in specification will have on the energy consumption, carbon emissions and capital cost of a building. This will empower relevant stakeholders to make informed decisions about the energy performance of their buildings, weighing up all the potential advantages of optimal cost building specification.

As the movement to embark on the Route to Net Zero Energy Buildings gradually takes hold, this kind of control and understanding at an early stage of a building’s design and construction will become vital.

Another likely development for BIM over the coming years will be the rationalisation of the software platforms used. While one platform currently holds just over two thirds of the BIM market in the UK, there is a broad range of software providers each competing for the sizeable market that lies on the horizon.

While this competition is healthy, and no doubt drives improved software development and quicker innovation, in the long term it could begin to restrict the full potential of BIM. BIM becomes truly groundbreaking when it allows collaboration between everyone involved in the design, construction, operation, maintenance and deconstruction of a building. Indeed, the potential cost savings that BIM offers to the industry as a whole stems from this increased efficiency in communication.

The highest level of this collaboration can only occur when each group has access to the same information in the same BIM model, with mutually compatible software. The next few years will see more importance placed on interoperability between platforms using IFC and CoBIE standards.

Open BIM and cloud-based BIM are key solutions for this, and projects such as 4BIM, a collaboration management platform, are already looking into ways to drive increased information exchange.

This will either be solved by the market domination of one player or, preferably, by efforts to make different BIM platforms cross-compatible, as advocated by organisations such as BuildingSmart in the UK. Either way, the next few years will see an answer needed to this software challenge.

Beyond 2016, I believe it’s fair to assume that the vast majority of designers, architects, contractors and other industry professionals in the UK will be using BIM, and that almost all construction projects will use BIM as a pre-design construction method. The investment being made by early adopters across the UK public and private sector spectrum now stands the country in good stead for anticipated global demand towards the latter half of the decade.

In fact, as another future development for BIM, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re talking about the UK as the global centre of excellence for BIM a few years from now. The UK has already built this reputation for the construction industry in general, but it’s likely that we’ll see BIM expertise added to the country’s reputation. Governments, construction industry professionals and architects from other countries may well flock to the UK, or buy-in UK expertise en masse, to learn how our industry has made the most of the potential BIM offers, and to incorporate it into their development strategies.

Of course, as an industry we shouldn’t try to run before we can walk. A lot needs to happen to ensure we’re meeting the ambitious BIM targets we all want to see by 2016. At Kingspan Insulated Panels we’re certainly aware of the challenges.
We’ve already made our core products available in multiple BIM file formats, and have launched an ongoing programme to produce BIM objects in-house through a more automated procedure.

Achieving our mid- to long-term ambition of full product range availability will require continued investment and development from us, and we’re aware that not all BIM stakeholders have committed to make this same level of investment just yet. But they will soon. Our research suggests that 58% of architects using BIM already give preference to products supported by BIM objects, and 55% expect manufacturers to have a reasonable level of BIM expertise. The expectation here will only grow, and so will the incentive to become not just involved in BIM, but committed to future development.

With that in mind, I think it’s sensible to begin considering the future of BIM beyond 2016. There many things we don’t yet know about the shape of the industry by then: Will the financial recovery continue apace? How will legislation and regulations change? Will supply lag behind demand? What we do know is that the overall motivation to reduce costs and build time, and improve the way we design buildings, makes BIM adoption a no-brainer, and that planning a long-term BIM strategy is a worthwhile investment. BIM is here to stay. 

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