BIM Voice – Trevor Strahan: Bridging the BIM gap

BIM Voice - Trevor Strahan

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Trevor Strahan, Principal Architect and BIM Consultant at Morgan Sindall Professional Services (MSPS), a leading multi-disciplinary design consultancy, discusses where there are gaps in understanding and engagement with BIM, and how they threaten to undermine the effectiveness of the 2016 UK Government BIM mandate.

Since 2013 (and for some of us even longer) we’ve been principal champions of BIM. We have been very vocal in our support of the benefits that it delivers to architects, engineers, contractors and crucially all of their clients ever since news hit that Level 2, collaborative BIM would be mandatory on all publicly funded projects by 2016.

Three years have flown by, and that day is now practically upon us, but despite our best efforts, there are still considerable doubts as to whether the advice has been realised and if the Government mandate is even achievable.

We know there are significant gaps in understanding and engagement with BIM – gaps that threaten to undermine the entire reasoning behind the legislation, primarily to reduce costs. This is because by failing to engage with all stakeholders from the outset, the data within BIM may not be tailored or compatible with facilities management operations post-handover. Moreover, without analysis and definition of what data will be useful there may be an overabundance of unstructured data (potentially every single component within a building from architraves to zinc flashings), data may lack necessary detail and even be inaccurate. As such, its ‘value’ is all but gone.

New Mandate

When commissioning designers and engineers to start work on a building, part of the new mandate is that clients issue Employer’s Information Requirements (EIRs). EIRs dictate what information should be delivered, as well as the standards and processes to be adopted by the project team. They should consider data language and compatibility with the client’s existing systems and databases if appropriate. The chosen format for delivery of BIM asset data in the 2016 government mandate is COBie (Construction Operation Building Information Exchange), which in essence is a very detailed spreadsheet, can be outputted from BIM systems and is accessible for users without BIM software.

COBie Data in Model
COBie Data in Model

Ensuring this information is accurate, relevant and within a scope understood by all stakeholders from the beginning is key to ensuring the success of BIM in any project. It is therefore critical to form a collaborative environment in creating EIRs, helping clients to understand what is possible from BIM and what will be useful to their project. This will focus the design team’s efforts on the data that is valuable and not waste time, effort and money on literally thousands of data entries. Not only can the completion of a full COBie spreadsheet for all modeling objects be unrealistic and unmanageable during the design phase, but this data will need to be updated and maintained by the client post occupation to ensure it is reliable, a commitment that shouldn’t be underestimated.

The concept of a collaborative approach is by no means new advice, but it is at this initial stage where we see that the advice has not been fully heeded. MSPS provides a BIM service to ensure BIM is not an end-game or tick-box deliverable, but instead includes all other contractors, and provides hands-on, practical advice from the EIR stages all the way through to project completion. This will ensure BIM is a genuine part of the design and construction process, with BIM information clearly understood, managed and maintained so that it doesn’t become obsolete during the building’s lifecycle.

The secret, if there is such a thing, is to help clients to better understand how much information is required. By way of example, a rural primary school that will only ever require one or two caretakers to maintain the building is not going to need thousands of rows of data, nor will they be used.

Testing from the outset is also important to ensure the structure of the data works and that coding has been correctly applied. All model authors need to label items within the building in the same way; we’ve seen examples where different parties label even simple details such as ‘level one’ and ‘first floor’ differently, resulting in duplicated and unstructured COBie data.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is a good example of an organisation embracing BIM, partly because they were early adopters of COBie and also because BIM is so important in the build of extremely large and complex facilities such as prisons.

Airports and other large transport hubs are another area where BIM is, and will continue to be, extremely useful. This is because airport infrastructure, retailers, eateries and security services all share one overall structure – a structure that is regularly updated, extended and refurbished. Accessible and reliable information pertaining to exactly where building systems are situated and interact is therefore vital. The time and cost in designers’ fees in working out and second-guessing building systems and geometry is a perfect example of how BIM will save money when properly created and maintained.

MSPS' Carnwath Primary School BIM
MSPS’ Carnwath Primary School BIM

Some 80% of a building’s lifecycle cost is in facilities management and energy consumption, highlighting how much room there is to reduce those costs through accurate data via BIM. Designing for FM through BIM will ensure that better design and construction decisions are made, not just with regards to cost and building best practice, but also health and safety risks that can be reduced through visualising access and maintenance.

Level 2 BIM data and models need to be managed; they don’t just happen by chance. But they are achievable, and with the correct expertise and processes in place can deliver the real value that was originally envisaged.

For more from Trevor, connect with him on LinkedIn.

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