Building on BIM
How the fit-out industry uses BIM today
BIM is a powerful process, through which companies from across the built environment sector can design better buildings more quickly and deliver structured data.
The anonymous survey, which was sent to a select group of senior corporate real estate and facilities management professionals, was intended to take a snapshot of sustainability in practice across the real estate community. Questions centered on participants’ opinions on third-party certification systems like LEED®, challenges to building green, and the newer pressures of climate change resilience and wellness in the built environment.
But building professionals must learn to both use it “selfishly” to improve their own processes and to share its data with clients if BIM’s true potential can be unleashed.
Those were some of the main conclusions of a roundtable discussion organized to debate the application of BIM in the private sector, as well as its mandatory use at Level 2 for centrally-funded public sector schemes in the UK.
Hosted by Structure Tone’s London office, the open and honest discussion among professionals with varying degrees of BIM experience shed new light on what the industry is doing now—and can do in the future—with BIM.
Casey Rutland, associate director and BIM specialist at ARUP, began the discussion by showing how, three years ago, his firm produced ProjectOVE, an educational snapshot of possibilities, resulting in a 35-storey, 170m tall building model designed to look and function like a human body.
“The pump systems and HVAC systems are the heart and lungs, and the data centre is the brain,” said Rutland. But the important thing to take from this, he continued, was that it wasn’t simply geometry. Specific calculations run through all of the modelled elements (structural, electrical, HVAC) to demonstrate how one affects the other, as they do in the human body. For instance, changes made to, say, MEP at any stage can, in real time, immediately recalculate flow rates, pressure drops and so on.
“So when we say we do BIM, this is real, proper BIM,” he said. “It’s not just things that take up space in the model but rather a true, working model that showcases how one source of truth can be relied on for engineering calculations and coordination reassurance.”
Arup passed their model to Turner & Townsend who costed it at £440 million! The dataset is shared as a case study to enthuse and educate building professionals about BIM and its capabilities as a useful way to make complex processes easier to understand.
BIM in practise
Turner & Townsend’s associate director and BIM specialist, Dave Monswhite, said the money-saving aspect of ProjectOve is powerful, especially concerning the optimization around the frame.
Out in the real world, said Monswhite, the most important thing is to share good, useful data with clients, something which came fully into perspective on a recent luxury leisure project.
“As we were analysing the model on a weekly basis, we could actually see the front-to-back ratios changing and the business case altering, live on our dashboards, which was quite entertaining for the client,” he said. The result was a smaller internal function room than the interior designer had thought appropriate—but which almost certainly would have sunk the business case if targeted at the outset.
BIM at large
HLW International’s managing director, Bronte Turner, reported they have globally embraced BIM to utilise the huge opportunities it offers them and their clients.
“The rise has been steep since BIM came to the forefront,” she noted. “In a short period of time we’ve transitioned beyond 2D drawings— which were _ne—but compared to where the BIM process can take us, they now seem quite archaic.”
The biggest change BIM has brought to HLW is the shift in decision making. As Turner explained, the BIM process naturally improves design communication, coordination and quality. This enables clients to make more informed decisions earlier in the project process, at a time when there is greater ability to control costs, reduce risk and potentially reduce programmes.
Another key benefit specific to the fit-out market is the BIM data related to people and occupation. Turner says we are now able to test our designs in a virtual environment from the test-fit stage, significantly improving workplace strategy, space utilisation and head count information. “This continues right through to facilities management opportunities,” she said. “By 2025, the UK government aims to lower costs by 33% across the lifecycle of the project, of which operation and maintenance make up approximately 75%.”
While the industry has certainly heavily promoted the benefits of BIM, it is still a daunting proposition and big investment for a practice. “I still have to promote the concept of BIM to some clients. HLW now only works in Revit, and not all buildings are modelled, so that’s a cost we have to bear,” Turner said.
But continuous education and on-the-job success is helping make the conversion easier. Monswhite reported that an experienced property director he worked with on a refit project was inspired by BIM after seeing the building fully laser scanned and modelled. “He actually said to us: ‘This is the first time I’ve understood what I am buying in 20 years,” Monswhite recalled. “For them it was a safety issue that was the key driver, actually being able to understand the asset in some detail and plan the fit-out in a safe and sequenced manner.”
Filling the gaps
Michael Burke, Structure Tone International’s director of preconstruction services and BIM, says the industry is far away from the finished product.
“We’re not there yet with all elements of BIM,” he said. “But what we’re selling is an innovative approach, taking lessons learnt from our US cousins and previous jobs, but also going to conferences and learning how we can take specifics of BIM into our everyday working practices.”
Burke also questions how much of the supply chain is embracing the technology. M&E contractors are applying it for certain elements, as are some of the larger ceiling and joinery contractors. But the tier-two and tier-three contractors are often not quite there yet. “If we’re going to push the BIM specifics, we need them on board,” he said.
And what about the next wave of technology? “The future will also be about augmented and virtual reality, so clients can actually stand in the middle of their reception, say, based on drawings and see what it will look like,” Burke added. Drones, too, will become more commonplace as a tool across the industry.
Who owns what?
Intellectual property is becoming much more prevalent in a BIM-led world, even in data structure. “I think when there’s a problem, that’s what makes clients nervous,” said Burke. “They’re probably thinking to themselves, ‘It’s hard enough in 2D to understand the demarcation between consultant/client responsibilities, never mind model data’.” But, in reality, BIM actually makes this difference easier to understand.
A potential solution? A common platform, suggested Monswhite. “We allow everyone to freely collaborate through contractual mechanisms so the protection is there for the client, the protection is there for everybody involved, but they’re able to behave in a different way, and that helps with the cultural issue.”
The whole idea of BIM, after all, is to be collaborative and enjoy free-flowing information, said Rutland. Although people are often scared of liability issues, these don’t change in a Level 2 BIM process.
“You all have liability for your own problems,” said Monswhite. “You’re sharing information the same as you were before, just in a different medium.”
The “light-bulb moment” for a lot of project managers is when they see a tool like Revit in action. “The designer is placing things in 2D, and the 3D is appearing in other boxes. They say, ‘All of this is connected? You don’t draw it?’ No. That’s when it happens,” Monswhite explained. “Once they realize it’s good stu_, they’ll come back for it again.”
BIM adaptation or the Level 2 challenge?
The UK government has provided BIM recommendations and standards, such as the PAS1192, setting out guidance for delivering the ideal BIM project. But, explained Dan King, BIM manager at Structure Tone International, “delivering what is documented and delivering a useful and reliable, data-rich BIM model are two different challenges.”
What concerns King the most is the misconception of fully achieving Level 2 BIM. “To say so-and-so has achieved it creates unrealistic targets for an industry struggling to deliver full Level 2,” he said. “Contractual and legal misunderstanding, along with an inexperienced supply chain, makes a true Level 2 BIM project an unachievable goal without full subcontractor buy-in.”
For BIM adoption to truly work, King explained, all members of a project team need an understanding of the BIM standards and processes required throughout the entire project timeline. “The practical adaptation of BIM on a project should be unique to each member of the team, with an understanding of how their deliverable will be used further down the BIM project line.”