Flying the flag for digital transformation in construction

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BIM has changed and evolved so much over the years, but the UK cannot rest on its laurels if it is to uphold its reputation as world leaders, says Sean Keyes, managing director at Sutcliffe

With 73% of construction companies in the UK using BIM in 2020, it is safe to say that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are currently flying the flag for digital transformation in the sector, with the four nations combined also having the highest number of companies using BIM at level 2 and beyond.

For years the UK has invested heavily in keeping its construction companies ahead of the curve, and with all public sector projects now requiring Level 2 or above, the last five years has seen a huge surge in companies from SMEs to multinationals progressing from a Level 0 and 1 standard to 2 and beyond.

As BIM continues to become mandatory in many other European countries, the UK cannot rest on its laurels if it is to uphold its reputation as world leaders, with Germany in particular adopting a forward-thinking approach to its building information modelling approach.

A digital evolution

Launched in the UK in 1973, BIM has evolved beyond recognition and the sky is now clearly the limit, with the hope that one day in the foreseeable future the current figure of 73%, will rise to 100% of construction companies using BIM.

Having used BIM since 1985 himself, civil and structural engineer firm Sutcliffe’s managing director Sean Keyes has seen the digital aspect of his role change beyond recognition over the years, with BIM Level 0 and Level 1 the go-to models while at the University of Liverpool as a fresh-faced student in the late 80’s.

A huge advocate of the digitisation of the sector, with Sutcliffe Level 2 BIM accredited themselves, Sean Keyes has stated that it is incredibly important that the future generation of engineers continue to push for higher standards in the industry, with those joining the construction sector from school and University now ‘tech wizards’ in many cases.

“At Sutcliffe, we aren’t necessarily looking for a wealth of experience when our apprentices join us, but what we are looking for ideally is a young man or woman who knows their way around a computer and can create models in an efficient and skilled manner.

“Those leaving education and coming into the industry think differently to my generation and that is a huge benefit to the industry as a whole. Those in their teens, 20’s and 30’s require a much higher understanding of BIM nowadays, but it is also crucial that the older generation of engineers showcase that the more ‘simple’ methods of BIM Level 0 and 1 are faultless too, with these more traditional methods the foundations of the whole construction sector, even to this day.”

Sean Keyes continued by saying: “I’ve seen BIM change and evolve so much over the years and even Auto-CAD which is at a Level 0 standard has developed and is a package that everyone from apprenticeship to directorship level uses in the industry. 

“Over time as computers and software have gotten faster, we’ve been able to move from basic 2D designs to visual 3D models containing more in-depth technical data and this has been a huge progression in the industry, especially in terms of the maintenance and upgrading of buildings. 

“What we can’t forget though, is the old fashioned methods that have worked so well for us over the years. Using paper as a visual form of modelling is still very useful, especially in day-to-day tasks and it is very important that we combine everything from low level drawings to high-scale Level 3 modelling in all projects.”

Benchmarking high-quality standards

Despite the economy slowing down due to the pandemic, the multi-disciplinary, BIM-accredited chartered consultants, are well on track for another record year-end themselves in no small part down to their commitment to BIM, representing five years of growth for the company, with a number of big projects with a construction value of £250m already secured for this year.

Sutcliffe is continuing to lead the way in the Liverpool City Region and with plans to progress towards a Level 3 BIM standard in the future, Sean Keyes continued by reiterating the fact that BIM is the clearest way of seeing a companies quality and capabilities in the industry, with Sutcliffe themselves winning a host of prestigious contracts over the years due to their Level 2 standards.

“Being externally assessed and accredited, being Level 2 truly benchmarks quality and high-class standards in the industry. Gone are the days that companies can work on multi-million-pound projects in the public sector without being formally accredited and being gold standard, will only continue to help us as we move forward into 2022 and beyond.”

Working on a plethora of public sector projects across a range of sectors from education, health and blue light to name just a few, Sutcliffe’s long-standing managing director is confident that the UK will continue to be world leaders in BIM, with his own company leading by example, as he finished by saying.

“Being BIM Level 2 showcases our quality and by benchmarking our professionalism and skill-set, we are in a position to encourage a higher degree of engineering skills. The UK construction sector needs to be continually using the best software and we need to be training our engineers to use these programmes in order for us to continue as world-leaders, something in which I have every confidence in doing.”

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