BIM Conference 2013 – Review from Elrond Burrell, Architype Ltd

When I first read about “BIM Conference 2013” (Coventry, 6 June 2013) I was attracted by the line “The BIM Conference 2013 focuses on a more practical and ‘hands on’ evaluation of the BIM process to meet your business needs”. I’ve been critical of recent BIM conferences for being too light on practical aspects and the actual outcomes delivered so this seemed like an antidote. The conference also appeared to be an interesting mix of familiar BIM presenters such as Mark Bew, Tim Cole and David Jellings and less commonly known ones such as Rob Annable and James Anwyl.

It was a pleasant conference with a (mostly) different group of people from other recent BIM events I’ve attended and the presentations ranged from some very good strategic discussions through to a demonstration of using IFC to round trip between different softwares. What follows are some notes from presentations that I found particularly valuable, with an emphasis on my interest in the application of BIM for sustainable design, energy performance and environmental impact.


Mervyn Richards stood in for Mark Bew in representing the government view and did a great job despite being put on the spot and getting caught out by some unexpected slides! A little comedy is always good among the serious information though. Some key points were:


  • The government focus is cost saving first, carbon savings are to follow.


I seriously question the wisdom of this since the government is also clear that operational costs are 100x build costs (OpEx = 100 x CapEx) and reducing carbon emissions is closely tied to reducing operational costs. I can appreciate that this is a short term goal and the government wants to see quick financial wins and success stories to build momentum for the Construction Strategy. However, there are concrete limitations on how far Capex can be reduced without equally reducing the quality of the built assets getting delivered – ultimately it’s a zero sum game – if you don’t spend anything you can’t build anything! Conversely it is possible to radically reduce the operation energy needs of a built asset and hence radically reduce OpEx, while maintaining the same budget and actually improving the quality of the built asset. I’m not theorising, we’ve done exactly this at Architype and so have others as you’ll read about below.


  • BIM can reduce waste by reducing “bad information”. Inaccurate, incomplete, uncoordinated and ambiguous information is bad information.


This all good from an environmental perspective. Most contractors have waste management strategies in place to minimise site waste, but there is little a contractor can do if the construction information has waste built into it via bad information. Using BIM to reduce bad information gives the design team an opportunity to positively impact on waste reduction and site efficiencies also.


  • For “Level 2 BIM” the level of detail required in the model is the level of detail required to answer the “Plain Language Questions”, no more no less.


This puts the “Level Of Detail” (or “Development”) questions and arguments to bed in a sense by turning the focus away from the process and onto the outputs. Obviously this approach can’t happen until clients start to provide briefs with clear information requirements (EIRs) and PLQs though! It will be interesting to see if clients start including energy performance or comfort targets in the PLQs which will be a sharp wake up call for design teams and contractors unused to delivering buildings that perform well in use. (i.e. most of the industry!) This may not happen with central government clients until the Government Soft Landings programme is rolled out (it’s required by the Government by 2016 as part and parcel of the BIM requirements), but smart clients who are familiar with the scale of their business OpEx will pick this up rapidly.


  • COBie tells you what information needs delivering.


There has been intense discussion, debate and criticism surrounding COBie in the global BIM community over the last few years. In simple terms though, COBie is just a standardised way of structuring data as a deliverable output. Clearly this statement is not strictly true then, because COBie can only ever tell you the format of the information that needs delivering, someone still needs to specify what information is in the COBie output. That said, the construction industry must move away from fragmented working and fragmented data to keep up with all sorts of demands, not least on project budgets. BIM provides an opportunity for unified working and COBie is the government’s choice for unified output data. We absolutely need unified structured data to be able to compare apples with apples and thereby learn from our mistakes and successes. Nowhere is this more critical than in sustainable design where all sorts of green credentials are claimed but rarely backed up with any performance data. Design predictions are all very well but it is only genuine performance improvements that actually reduce energy use and carbon emissions.


David Jellings of the OPEN BIM Network gave a presentation on Open BIM that I have seen several times before and I hope most readers have also seen it by now! His message is an important one about integrated process and sharing information.


  • For Open BIM we need a common language, a platform to communicate and a willingness to communicate the common language.


The key point I take from this is the need for people to be willing. We still find many consultants that promise BIM but are unwilling to actually get stuck in and share a model early on and collaborate digitally through an iterative design process. This is doubly frustrating because the advantages of BIM are missed and the opportunity of integrated sustainable design are also missed. Sustainable Design, like BIM, requires consultants to step outside their discipline silos and engage in the desired project outcomes from the outset rather than just discipline specific outputs. For example, for energy performance the building structure needs to do more than just hold the building up, it also needs to coordinate 3-dimensionally with the building insulation to avoid thermal bridging, but this can’t be considered and coordinated unless the structural design and model is developed and shared in parallel with the architectural model. It needs to go through an iterative process also, not just be supplied as a fait accompli once the architectural design has reached a certain stage. The same applies to the M&E model and other consultant models. The model mustn’t be seen as an output, it must be seen as a design tool and it must be shared.


Rob Annable of Axis Design Architects gave a cool illustrative presentation on the benefits of using BIM (primarily based around ArchiCad in his case) in an SME architectural practice. I have seen Rob present before and I am always impressed at the breadth of value Rob gets from BIM for his practice and their clients. He touched on all of the following and more; extended data from 3d site topography, renovation phasing visualisation and documentation, project visualisation and documentation available on mobile devices for the whole project team, interactive visualisations for public consultations, 3d detailing to resolve site issues, live digital collaboration, interdisciplinary coordination and visualisation, and documenting and scheduling projects.


  • Specific areas relating to Sustainable Design that Rob touched on were; environmental performance comparisons between design options, whole building energy modelling, energy cost reporting, thermal bridge analysis, daylighting analysis.


These are all great tools and very useful to have in the BIM authoring software for integrated design and presentation use, rather than off “in the cloud” somewhere as Autodesk Revit offers for some of them, or in a 3rd party application. They do come with the same caveat as cloud services and 3rd party applications though – they really are only as good as they are accurate. If they are only accurate to +/- 20%, as many of these tools are, then comparing between two options is getting close to meaningless. It wasn’t clear from Rob’s presentation unfortunately how accurate the ArchiCad tools are. There is a lot more to be said about this topic and it may well get revisited at a later date.


James Anwyl from Eurobuild gave what I would easily rank as the star presentation of the day and one of the top BIM presentations I have seen in quite a while. He presented Eurobuild’s BIM process and outcomes on Hadlow College, the first Passivhaus education building in the UK (2010) and then a range of other projects. What made it such a good presentation was that it covered the big picture, shared the nitty gritty details of how the process went and presented the actual results achieved, including some excellent BIM ROI analysis for the Hadlow College project. Some key points were:


Eurobuild acted as the main contractor as well as the architect (and arguably the BIM manager) and so they digitally rehearsed the site logistics and erection sequence for each, day, resulting in a super efficient process with the full shell erected in just 3 days. It’s not a huge project, around £500,000 in contract value, but this is still excellent.


They chose to model the M&E package from the consultant’s 2d drawings. It took 1.5 days of their time but meant that all the associated builders work penetrations could be prefabricated in the wall panels offsite, less waste, accurate quantities on site, ductwork could be fully prefabricated, a 20% reduction of site labour time for installation and a whole host of other benefits – all clearly scheduled out and quantified in terms of time and costs.


They produced a website for all the H&S manuals, O&M manuals, building operations manual and generally useful information for the clients to have easy direct access to. James reported that this took the same amount of time to produce as paper manuals would but is clearly far more accessible and user friendly.


The finished building has a measured reduction in heating and hot water of 80% and electricity of 70% while also costing 15% less than a comparable PFI school. This is what I have written about before – BIM successfully producing genuinely excellent outcomes for the client with measured reductions in cost and carbon emissions. The BIM process is important, but knowing that measurable results are produced is ultimately what counts.


On other projects James also covered exporting data for use in the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP, the Passivhaus design tool), compliance analysis and EPC output, thermal zone visualisation and analysis, thermal bridge analysis, along with whole building energy and cost comparison between an existing building and a proposed refurbishment.


I hope these notes provide a flavour of the day, particularly from my focus on sustainable design. There were other presentations of value including some on BIM protocols, contracts and PII, and excellent networking opportunities. The UK BIM Crew had a small presence there (Rob Charlton, Rob Jackson, Olly Thomas to mention but a few.)


My challenge to upcoming BIM conferences and events is to match the LOD (pun intended) of the presentations I have reviewed here and to ensure presenters are sharing measured outcomes.


Elrond Burrell, Associate at Architype Ltd