BIM – what is it and why we think it is yet to be fully embraced

30 / 06 / 2016

Building Information Modelling (or “BIM”) has had a lot of press recently thanks to the Government’s decision to use ‘Level 2’ BIM on all centrally procured public sector projects from April of this year. This marks a significant development and is part of a trend which can be seen worldwide. The Government intends to continue the trend and make fuller use of the technology, and published a ‘Level 3’ BIM strategic plan last year.

So what is BIM?

It is defined by the Government’s BIM Task Group as, “essentially, value creating collaboration through the entire life-cycle of an asset, underpinned by the creation, collation and exchange of shared 3D models and intelligent, structured data attached to them”. BIM can be used at different levels, from a more basic data-sharing collaboration to a detailed and integral part of the design development and construction of a project. However in essence BIM can be seen as the use of software which allows members of the project team to collaborate to produce digital models containing information about the building.

There are numerous potential benefits, including the early identification of design errors and discrepancies which can produce a better building design and save costs and time. BIM encourages better and smoother integration of different aspects of the design of a project. It can be used to model the workings of the finished building, for example in terms of energy efficiency. The cost and time efficiencies and better building quality resulting from the use of BIM are a big draw.

Too good to be true?

Currently in the UK, the use of BIM in the private sector is patchy. Just over 50 per cent of construction industry respondents to the NBS National BIM Report 2016 were aware of and using BIM.

With the bandwagon half empty, what is holding the private sector back?

A survey of the top 100 UK construction contractors carried out by RICS and published in July 2015 shows that, despite predictions of the BIM Task Group that no large-scale changes were needed in order to implement Level 2 BIM, there is real concern about whether the industry is ready. At the top of the list of concerns are contractual issues and software and design liability.

  • Determining liability
    • Input to the BIM model from multiple parties can make it difficult to determine liability when faults or problems arise.  As yet the industry standard form building contracts and appointments do not fully address this, although we wait to see how the new suite of JCT contracts will deal with BIM.
  • Incorporation of BIM into the contractual relationship
    • More than amendments to standard-form contracts and use of a BIM Protocol, is a more fundamental, structural change needed to address issues of liability? Suppliers on the same ‘level’, where there is normally no contractual relationship, will now be relying on each other to input the correct information to the BIM model. Could we see warranties between members of the design team become standard practice?
  • IP rights – risk of plagiarism of ideas and designs
    • Extensive sharing of designs and data between the design team raises questions about how intellectual property rights can be protected.
  • Vulnerability of the data to corruption, hacking and viruses as it is passed between the design team
    • As models are passed back and forth electronically, they can be left vulnerable to hackers or corruption of data. The project team will need to decide where responsibility should lie in such an event, and what prevention measures are to be taken.

At this stage, effective use of BIM requires careful forethought and planning, but as more and more forward-thinking developers and contractors take the leap in order to reap the benefits of BIM, we will inevitably see the construction industry adapt in response to these issues.