designtech is one of the UK’s leading Computational Building Information Modelling (BIM) Consultancy. Over the past 10 years, it has worked with industry specialists including architects, surveyors, software developers as well as structural and mechanical engineers to help deliver complex construction projects around the world. With the industry moving to employ BIM workflows from concept to construction, designtech Director, David Flynn shares his views on how this is impacting the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry.
K: What impact is BIM having on the world of architecture?
DF: The impact of BIM on Architecture is similar to the move from drawing board to Computer Aided Design. BIM represents a shift in the process and methodology that the construction industry currently takes for granted. Within the current paradigm, the agenda was to document architectural designs in a clear and concise manner, in order to support specifications and later to provide legible on-site guidance. As we move further into integrated BIM workflows, the expected level of detail in building documentation is increasingly high. Coupled with a renewed focus on interoperability, this highlights the need for a wide array of design tools and processes. BIM is allowing the industry to focus on interoperability between both software platforms and philosophies. In other words, we must learn to integrate the divergent processes of conceptual design, manufacturing, and construction in order to deliver safer, more cost-effective projects with certainty to clients.
What drives the adoption of BIM?
A number of factors are driving this transition to BIM. To begin with, the tools we use as designers and manufacturers are becoming more intelligent and ever more varied. Where perspectives and door schedules were once painstakingly hand-drafted, we can now digitally output 3D models, 2D drawings, beautiful visuals and an array of schedules, specifications and data. Designers are expanding their toolset while contractors handle highly complex design problems using data visualised on-site. This can reduce risk and error in the delivery phase of a project, an opportunity contractors and their supply chains are seizing.
Are there any building sectors where BIM is more popular than others?
As is often the case, the initial burden of change has fallen to the larger sectors of our industry. Infrastructure design, for instance, has seen a significant uptake and development of BIM processes. This in turn trickles down to the wider commercial client base and other parts of the industry who seek to be involved in these highly complex projects. Integrating BIM within infrastructure projects has transformed a UK industry which previously yearned for clarity; this in turn has helped develop robust processes to be adopted by the wider construction sector, putting a particular emphasis on cost reduction, sustainable material choices, and risk and safety on site.
We must learn to integrate the divergent processes of conceptual design, manufacturing, and construction in order to deliver safer, more cost-effective projects with certainty to clients.
What are the obstacles to the development of global standards in BIM?
The work done to create a framework for BIM delivery in the UK has given governments and organisations around the world a solid foundation to work from. Due to regional quirks and a strong focus on local issues, a global approach to BIM is unlikely. Like electrical sockets, units of measurement, and operating systems, BIM will inevitably fall prey to the forces, which prevent a global norm. In the United States, for example, BIM standards have been produced but without a Government mandate, which means it is virtually impossible to apply them broadly enough to effect real change. The UK has the requisite mandate, and we are already seeing a shift within the design process, allowing us to work with our consultant teams in ways previously cumbersome and inefficient.
Proponents of BIM refer to cost savings derived from factors such as: improved visualization, better productivity and co-ordination, increased speed of delivery and improved lifetime asset management – what are your thoughts?
During the design stage of a project time savings are facilitated through improved visualization, coordination and production tools on offer through BIM. However, this has categorically resulted in further design work, which explains the difficulty many architects have in articulating the ROI of moving to a BIM delivery process. When examining these effects on site, the impact of BIM is clearer, allowing for better metrics of what can and has been saved. While we are seeing the design phase eating into the efficiencies offered by the process, we are using that time to improve the environmental attributes of a building, the way it measures up to the client’s brief and its ability to achieve long-term sustainability goals.
Design teams have seen tangible improvements in their ability to coordinate and produce documentation, again, allowing them to focus on areas such as sustainability and materiality. Collaborative BIM project teams visualize comprehensive 3D models with extensive embedded data, giving consultant teams access to more information with less time spent extracting and clarifying.
As an average % of the build cost what typical savings do you see resulting from the use of BIM?
When a project is completed we can begin to properly assess the ROI on the usage of BIM processes. On a recent project completed by my team, we estimated that the use of coordination tools reduced on site clashes by around 75%. The effect of this impacted most on the main contractor – reduced change requests meant around 5% cost saving on the project budget. It’s important to recognize that to maximize the potential benefits, BIM must be applied throughout the supply chain, but the cost savings can be quite substantial.
What is your general impression of construction material suppliers and their grasp of BIM? What do you see as their challenges and opportunities?
There are clear benefits to manufacturers and suppliers when it comes to providing BIM content for the AEC industry, and our interaction with them has been positive. There’s an appreciation of increased business opportunity and collaboration with designers. Making products available to contractors and architects not only facilitates the specification of a given product, it places you front and centre. This is not always straightforward, owing to the fragmented nature of the software landscape. Do you create Rivet content and hope that will cover enough of your market, or do you invest in developing for multiple platforms? Difficult questions which will be answered differently around the world. The lack of a global approach, as previously discussed, will influence how a company engages with the wider industry, but if you can provide your data within sensible cost margins (consider it part of your marketing!) you will avoid becoming the sole provider who does not support the designers and construction experts in your region.
What about the future?
Looking ahead, a wider transition to BIM must be considered as a significant opportunity. It is an opportunity to improve the quality of the spaces we create; an opportunity to do so with better materials and a better outlook to sustainability. And finally, the move will allow us all to contribute to a more integrated, data-rich, forward-looking process for improving our built environment.