Parm Bhangal, managing director at Bhangals Construction Consultants discusses BIM and how deeply it has established itself in the world of construction
BIM has been making big news again recently with its grip on the construction industry predicted to soon reach record new highs.
A decade ago, the UK began to be recognised as a global BIM leader when the government launched its Construction Strategy in 2011 which aimed to reduce the cost of government construction projects by up to 20% by 2015. Key to this strategy was the government’s plans to increase the use of BIM in its projects and its expectations that the construction industry, as a whole, would follow suit.
The strategy coincided with NBS, the global leading technology platform for firms involved in the construction of the built environment, releasing its annual BIM Report. It asked the industry for their views on BIM and, at the time, nearly half of respondents had not even heard of the technology. A decade on and the organisation’s latest BIM Report, reflecting the views of more than 1,000 industry professionals, revealed 73% are now using BIM.
Increased recognition of BIM
Although the UK led the way with BIM, its growth has not been confined to these shores. At the beginning of 2021, a new report by Lucintel revealed the global BIM market is expected to reach an estimated $9bn by 2025 thanks to rapid urbanisation, growth in infrastructure projects and the increased recognition of BIM as a tool that can help professionals to plan, design and manage building projects more efficiently. The key question here for those who remain unfamiliar with BIM is how does it enable the construction trade to operate more efficiently?
In part, it does this because BIM models can show how much material is needed for a construction project and thus help architects, designers and contractors to reduce waste. This can not only save clients’ money it can also reduce the environmental impact of projects.
During the construction process, all parties involved can also view a BIM model at the same time which can lead to clearer communication and fewer opportunities for misunderstandings. Connected to this are potential associated boosts to productivity levels.
The technology can help construction firms to assign tasks to workers more efficiently and the software also checks the model for mistakes which, in turn, can reduce the amount of time spent resolving outstanding problems on site.
So, does it automatically follow that BIM is on the threshold of taking over the entire construction industry? At this stage, it is unlikely.
Proponents of BIM are keen to shout about its benefits and use them as evidence that it will soon shape the future of the entire construction industry. However, technology alone is not enough to make the claim that BIM’s reach will soon be all-encompassing. There are other things which would need to happen before there could even be a possibility of such assertions being turned into reality.
Whilst the latest BIM Report reveals the extent of the growth of the technology it goes on to add that if you scratch the surface ‘it is not the resounding success that it should be’. The report revealed that even now only 40% of respondents use BIM as the norm and the take-up amongst smaller practices is far less than this.
Many companies working on small construction projects often do not use digital tools at all. They would first need to move forward in their use of digital tools before they could even consider moving into using BIM. Of the small practices surveyed for the BIM Report, almost two-thirds were yet to adopt BIM because they believed their projects were too small to warrant its usage and more than half felt that the technology was not relevant to them.
The rising demand
Whilst many larger firms started turning to BIM because it was a prerequisite if they wanted to bid for government construction projects there was no such driving impetus for smaller firms. Indeed, the biggest barrier to smaller firms taking up BIM remains a lack of client demand for the technology.
If BIM is to become embedded in the industry as a whole, the entire market would first need to move in that direction. Clients would need to be educated about how BIM can potentially help them to save money and visualise their projects if we are to see client demand levels for the technology increase. However, before this happens businesses themselves would need to be educated about how to use the technology; from the architects designing the plans right through to the contractors who execute those plans. The statistics show that currently that is just not happening.
If we want to move to a future where this technology becomes the norm more universities and colleges need to invest in high-quality BIM study programmes to educate the next generation of designers, architects and contractors.
If we are moving in this direction, it may seem obvious why future designers and architects will need to know about BIM but it is equally as important for contractors to have this knowledge too. Contractors need to be able to understand the BIM models if they are going to execute them correctly onsite.
Effectively, we are talking here about training an entire industry in how to use BIM and make the most of the possibilities it offers. Unless this happens, BIM will not become the norm in the construction industry any time soon.
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