The practical challenges of BIM


Hinesh Mistry, Water Global Technology Leader – BIM, at CH2M HILL outlines the current challenges of BIM, but also the confidence within industry that challenges can be overcome…

In 2012 the UK Government mandated that construction firms must achieve Level 2 Building Information Modelling (BIM) on all central government projects by 2016. With less than one year to go until the deadline, UK construction companies are aligning their efforts to meet the government’s compliance target, with a concern that firms who fail to meet this target may not be able to tender for work. During my time working in the sector I have seen first-hand some of the challenges that companies across the industry are experiencing in this. However, I have also witnessed the steps that many clients such as the Environment Agency have taken to tackle head-on some of these issues.

At a basic level BIM is a very broad term that describes the process of creating a digital model of a building or other structure, such as bridges, in a virtual manner and maximising the use of that information. BIM Level 2 specifically concerns information which is linked to a 3D virtual model that is used in the lifecycle of that asset. As such, there are a number of standards that have defined the requirements. In the work I have undertaken with government agencies to develop their BIM processes, this has posed several challenges.

The Common Data Environment (CDE) is the first of these, as it raises a number of practical issues. The standard (BS 1192:2007) calls for a single environment for all entities to work within for the lifecycle of that asset. There are two options; supplier provided CDE and Client provided CDE.

If a supplier provides this CDE, a client will require a log-in in order to access information — all of which is within the supplier’s system. If there are multiple suppliers, then there will be numerous systems, requiring clients to have multiple accounts and passwords. Further problems of access may also arise should one supplier leave the project. Secondly, if a CDE is provided by the client, all information will be stored on a central location. However, this is generally inconvenient for suppliers whose systems may not be suitable for authoring models. This is because each supplier will have a multitude of complex BIM authoring tools which together provide the BIM. As a result of these issues, a typical project will have, as a minimum, two common data environments; namely the client CDE and the supplier CDE. [see image above].

Another challenge arising is the enabling geometry to be viewed by any party. Currently, one of the few formats which is vendor neutral and can be viewed across different systems is Industry Foundation Classes (IFC). However, while this format retains the geometry of the model, it loses some of the intelligence which can result in a rather static model. Even the use of native formats, if not properly considered, can be costly.

The popular Revit design authoring package for example, which has been used in the building industry is not backward-compatible, which means that future Revit model users will need the latest version to open the latest files. However, with most UK government agencies recognising the need for vendor neutral model formats, there is confidence that software suppliers will have recognised this opportunity and provide the necessary output. And with IFC 4 under development, this vendor neutral format is here to stay.

A further hurdle for construction companies attempting to reach government compliance targets is information or data transfer. The approach that companies should take with regards to the transfer of information is defined in BS 1192-4 standard which prescribes the use of Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie), a spreadsheet data format, as the data exchange medium. This was selected as a means by which companies can package up data from various sources and deliver it in a standard format. It has been relatively successful in the building industry where the COBie template was developed, however, transferring this COBie template into the infrastructure arena can be somewhat more challenging as there are difficulties with mapping assets across.

There are two issues here. The first concerns mapping across the nomenclature to ensure that the language being used is applicable to the infrastructure, and the second is for design authoring applications to provide automated outputs directly in COBie format. This first challenge has been addressed by the Environment Agency, where the COBie data structure has been mapped to their data structure, which means that automated data exchange is a reality. As for the second challenge, continued and consistent dialogue, standards and interactions from all levels should help to ensure that the required technology will become available soon.

The final challenge for BIM is, and in all likelihood will always be, the need for a human user to create, navigate, and assess a virtual 3D construction and to transfer information across systems. However, whilst having to learn new methods of working may pose difficulties, undertaking this learning gradually using bite size chunks of information will pay dividends. Companies can help improve their employees’ understanding by facilitating their learning through the provision of materials and information sessions/briefings. In addition, once standards and workflows become automated, users will find they have more time to focus on the great projects they are working on.

Whilst achieving BIM Level 2 compliance in time for the government’s 2016 deadline may seem a little daunting, and whilst there certainly are challenges arising, the majority of these issues can be tackled.

The 2016 deadline is fast approaching but it will help to spur companies on to implement changes that they are more than capable of making with their skilled workforces. It may require a lot of effort in the short term, but once fully implemented, Level 2 BIM will be a positive development for the UK construction industry. It will enable more complex and imaginative designs, improve the design process, and benefit workers through increased risk mitigation and on-site health and safety. Challenges are there to be overcome, and I believe that these will soon be conquered as companies adapt, and technology develops to see BIM become the norm. ■

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Hinesh Mistry

Water Global Technology Leader (GTL) – BIM


Tel: +44 (0)19 9266 6951


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