Robin Lawson, managing director of building services engineering company, Ameon, looks at BIM in 2021 and shares his hopes for the sector
It’s always a risk being asked to foretell what might happen in our sector in the next twelve-month period. After all, somebody would have had the task of doing just that at the start of 2020!
However, despite the spectre of Covid still looming large, the construction and allied sectors seem to be riding the wave.
One thing is for sure in 2021, and that’s a need for the industry to be nimble and flexible because if 2020 taught us anything, it was to expect the unexpected. For example, none of us foresaw the additional hours required on-site to undertake socially distanced tasks, or the elevated transportation costs caused by the need to use more vehicles to socially distance workers in transit, as a consequence of Covid-19.
So far, the additional cost burden is borne by contractors, and without any sense that the government may offer support, it remains a symptom of Covid that cannot be cured by a vaccine!
The post-Covid landscape may well be approached with some trepidation but it looks likely that the new developments boom will continue apace, which is positive. Indeed, our own enquiries register suggests that investment won’t slow in 2021, and those enquiries are for major high-rise residential developments already in the pipeline prior to Boris Johnson’s announcement that the government would build the UK out of recession; therefore one could expect that there’s more to come.
We completed recently our 10,000th residential apartment, in a little over five years, in the development hotspot of Manchester, and we haven’t slowed our pace during Covid; therefore we’re perhaps better placed than some in the industry to benefit from the continuing boom in city living.
The confidence of developers to invest in the urban landscape suggests that city centres will continue to be the lifestyle location of choice for the under 30s, with Manchester, Salford and Liverpool leading the way in development volume in the UK.
The high-rise, low-carbon, residential developments of these cities continue apace, and are perhaps the perfect illustration of what BIM was made for.
Leading with technology
BIM demonstrates perfectly the technology-led nature of the sector. It has arguably made building design ‘sexier’.
It’s certainly come into its own as a tool for improving collaboration and co-ordination of developments. And as an early adopter of BIM, Ameon has always been one of its staunchest advocates, and we’d like to see its potential realised even more in 2021, because it can provide even greater benefits.
The hours involved in keeping BIM up to date are significant but it’s more engaging for designers, and certainly for clients.
BIM was a godsend for the advent of carbon modelling and continues to be vital, as the specification of increasingly sophisticated security technology applications such a facial recognition and high definition CCTV becomes the norm on all manner of residential and commercial developments.
In the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, fire systems are more and more advanced and, more generally, as people’s expectations of comfort increase, the built environment relies more heavily on technology for thermal efficiency.
This all goes to illustrate the value of BIM in the design process. It is a fantastic construction and building control tool, and with allied advances in VR it has also become a peerless sales and marketing tool for developers too.
Despite the pros, BIM could be much more effective, particularly as a facilities management support. To ensure this, it needs to model a building’s full attributes, down to the finishes and even the exact specification of door handles, light switches, taps etc, rather than a model containing generic components. It would save countless hours, provide precise information for the myriad trades, specifiers and facilities managers that will rely on a BIM model as they interact during construction and beyond.
The addition of information such as scheme interiors, RAL colours, and also the exact specification of blinds, carpets, furnishings and the like, will make BIM technology much more useful, and to many more professions to boot.
I think we should look at BIM as an organic operation; an evolving data bank of encyclopaedic information, which not only details a building’s components but also its DNA, so to speak.
It’s right to say that the precision wished for is evident in good modelling examples but if it were to become the standard, then we would all get the best from BIM.
It would require more time and precision during the modelling process, and we all know that time is money but to invest greater time here will save countless hours poring over separate information during any design changes, refurbishment projects, or simply during maintenance and repair. Surely, it’s what BIM was created to do.
Looking at other changes that could have an impact on our sector will include a nod to the government’s 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.
It was launched late last year but is unlikely to be ripping up any trees (metaphorically speaking) this year, to such a degree that we will see huge changes in the way we operate or plan.
One area though, where we may see some sense of the plan in action, should come in pursuit of the government’s target to fit 600,000 heat pumps per year in residential properties by 2028. This is extremely ambitious and requires specialist heating engineers, conversant with such green technology if it is to be achieved.
Companies such as ours employ technicians experienced in the field but there will still be a shortfall of qualified engineers, which will necessitate mass recruitment and training in the UK, and if the programme doesn’t start now, the government’s target will be unattainable.
If nothing else, this year promises to be interesting, if not accurately predicted; therefore, I may not see my wish for BIM’s more forensic development!
However, it remains one of the great technological developments in construction.
In a commercial sense, our performance for clients and our experience is as important as any technological advancement but I like the fact that we have both on our team.