The BIM boom

BIM has become the Philosopher’s Stone to the construction industry

An acronym for Building Information Modelling, BIM describes the process of designing a building collaboratively, across all disciplines.
An acronym for Building Information Modelling, BIM describes the process of designing a building collaboratively, across all disciplines.

It appears that BIM has become the Philosopher’s Stone to the construction industry, offering all manner of solutions to architectural and construction problems.

However, Hady Amal, industry sales manager, building MENA, Bentley, pointed out, “It’s all about managing the process, as it’s exactly that — it’s not a product, but a process,” he said at a recent BIM information-sharing breakfast held at the Ritz Carlton, Dubai.

BIM enables a virtual information model to be handed from the design team to the main contractor and subcontractors and then on to the owner and the operator, affording accessibility by all stakeholders during the life-cycle of the project, each handling their own specific section, amending and adding their own exact expertise to the single, shared model.

This reduces the chance of structural and design clashes that may cost the project and delay delivery.

While the system sounds almost magical, and there is a growing wave of devotees to it, there are a couple of challenges that impact on the construction sector when deciding to use the BIM alternative, from the availability of specialists, to what exactly the savings are. Also, what precisely makes a BIM specialist; how difficult is it to learn a 3D drawing program?

Bart Leclerq, head of structural design, WSP, Middle East said, that while everyone is enthusiastic about the system, there have been “stops and starts in embracing it” within the region, but added that interest is growing.

Professor Mohamed Marzouk, professor of construction engineering and management – Cairo University, Egypt, and coordinator of BIMIDE3 Tempus Project, commented: “Specialist skills, whatever they are, will always benefit any project.

"Where they are missing they either cause delay, or the project runs with imperfections. BIM is no different and a lack of BIM specialists should be noted as a risk, and the optimum strategy for dealing with that risk needs to be identified.”

He added: “As a stop gap, experienced users could be sourced from elsewhere in the region, but producing locally trained specialists must be the best approach for the longer term.”

He continued that, in order to up-skill an industry’s practitioners, a number of approaches, ranging throughout the spectrum of education and training, are possible.

“Traditionally, construction professionals accumulate skills, knowledge and experience through ‘learning-by-doing’ or on-job training (OJT). Essentially, this is learning from often costly mistakes. Many industries have developed alternative — safer, cheaper, and quicker — ways to equip their professionals with the necessary skills, through virtual media, which provide risk-free learning environments. BIM technology offers the opportunity to exploit these possibilities in the construction sector.”

A first attempt at an intelligent regional system is currently being implemented in Egypt, through a project funded by Tempus, an EU funding program.

The project aims to bring BIM and Integrated project delivery (IPD) technologies and processes to the construction industry in the region, through establishing six centres of excellence, at six universities, and facilitate knowledge transfer from technology leaders in European countries.

“These centres will promote a regional goal to support capacity building of industry professionals. “Additionally, the project will provide a roadmap for existing industry professionals to escalate their knowledge.

“The target groups of the project are engineers and professionals from different, but related backgrounds, involved in the construction process within the region. Moreover, various stakeholders from the industry, including owners, manufacturers, facilities mangers, and end users of constructed assets will benefit,” explained Marzouk.

Training and up-skilling staff in the BIM system is on the increase, with in-house training being the most common. “As this is an emerging need, there is a shortage of ready-trained and experienced resources that can be recruited for a quick fix and the need for training and development cannot be ignored,” said Professor David Greenwood, professor of construction management, Northumbria University, UK and director of BIM Academy.

“Adapting to BIM is a learning curve for all organisations; some are addressing it by training – either within the company or drawing on external ‘BIM specialists’ to provide training. Asta has been running BIM training for a while in the UK and seen courses to be very popular both in terms of general awareness on what BIM is and in terms of learning to use specific tools.

“This move to BIM is a gradual and evolving process and the sooner companies start the sooner they will be ready. However, whilst skills are being developed, the UAE has a short-term option of outsourcing from others in the region.”

The level of training however, is a consideration. Marzouk believes that there are two main characteristics to ensure that a BIM specialist is effective: “First, the specialist should have a strong engineering background which helps in understanding the concept while implementing the model. Second, the specialist should be proficient in using BIM software.”

Rod Stewart, MD Qatar Business, Atkins and MD for regional property business, has a simpler outlook: “BIM is no different from what used to be two-dimensional CAD drawings; it just allows us to draw and capture design and information in three dimensions and it requires no-one more ‘clever’, it simply requires training in that tool. We don’t need specialists, we just need ordinary practitioners – it’s no different from learning how to do drawings in AutoCad,” he commented.

Andrew Milburn, associate, Godwin Austen Johnson, is more emphatic: “This isn’t all about propaganda, it’s about dragging the construction industry out of the Stone Age!”

Ioannis Spanos, senior sustainability manager in KEO International, explained that recently the company invested extensively in BIM training, specifically for engineers, architects and technical staff. He commented that while this was an expensive process initially, the cost is off-set against the reduction in lost time and correcting mistakes on projects.

He also noted: “BIM specialists coming from the West have a higher skills base than from other regions,” and while this difference could cause delays on local projects, he was emphatic that this is not the case with KEO, “as training has been provided”. He conceded that the start-up of any project has difficulties to begin with around processes and procedures, including implementing BIM.

There is increased interest in BIM from within the AEC industries, according to Tekin Guvercin, CEO, Asta Powerproject: “This revolutionary technology and process is beginning to reshape traditional forms of design and construction by allowing project stakeholders to visualise, in a simulated environment, what is to be built,” and emphasised that BIM is a strategic initiative that requires top-down executive support to succeed.

Suhail Arfath, head of consulting, Middle East, Autodesk, emphasised that planning is vital in BIM application, as it’s not a case of “one size fits all.”

Marzouk added: “To implement BIM in a construction project, there are major costs that should be considered e.g. software licences, new hardware, new staff and software training. In the longer term, producing BIM specialists is not a big concern for a number of reasons.

First, there is high unemployment rate in some countries in the region, therefore, outsourcing would address the issue. Also, BIM software developers are constantly improving the user-friendliness of their products to give their software an edge in the market and third, in our knowledge era, e-learning and self-learning are booming. Moreover, there is ample free material on the web to help improve skills.

For instance, developing a BIM model for an infrastructure project in a project with a budget of $7bn needs around 50 BIM specialists. However, the cost of the specialists is much less than the ROI that would be gained from adopting BIM.”

BIM operators are much sought after and this need puts them in a strong position to demand high fees – which many do. In the past this put projects requiring those skills on their ‘back foot’, with little ‘local talent’ to call on. However, the growing trend towards in-house training is ensuring that the deficit in the skills market is slowly being eroded.

“One of the ways to overcome such limitation of BIM specialists is to outsource from the countries in the region,” Marzouk mooted. However, based on his experience of the Middle East, he suggested construction companies consider detailed risk analysis when considering this option: “With the benefits that would be gained from BIM adoption in construction projects, it is worth performing risk analysis and finding professional solutions to the shortage
of specialists.”

The general message from the industry is that BIM works best if everyone on the project team has a working knowledge of the process; as it is no longer the sole domain of the designer. However, users across the board caution utilising random ‘third parties’ in the BIM process, emphasising rather the up-skilling and in-house training of project staff, including designers, engineers, architects and project managers alike.

This caution was stressed by Elizabeth Peters, Aecom, who pointted out that identifying risks in a project is vital to its successful outcome, and said: “Risk is not knowing what you are doing.”

There is little doubt that BIM is very much the future of construction and the sooner it is embraced and the sooner investment in training and recruitment takes place, the sooner the benefits will be rolled out globally.

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