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Does GCC construction understand what BIM means?

Contractors must understand the various components of BIM to maximise its benefits

Autodesk’s Arfath says the use of BIM is mandated into contracts for Riyadh Metro.
Autodesk’s Arfath says the use of BIM is mandated into contracts for Riyadh Metro.

Earlier this month, the Bahrain Society of Engineers (BSE) organised a seminar aimed at improving the knowledge of building information modelling (BIM) in the Kingdom. Jointly hosted by Mercury MENA, an engineering services provider, the Digital Construction – Building with BIM conference was attended by BSE’s members, as well as construction and property development professionals from around the Kingdom.

Remarking on the decision to host the seminar, Masoud Ebrahim A-Hermi, president of BSE said: “We are pursuing the enhancement of local standards in engineering practice, which includes the use of BIM technology in architectural and engineering firms. Through this forum we would like to generate increased awareness towards BIM and promote its uses for the end benefit of construction managers, architects, engineers, and facility management personnel.”

A-Hermi’s remarks highlight the evolution BIM is currently undergoing in the region. Slowly but surely, the GCC’s construction professionals are taking their first steps towards the realisation of BIM principles in their operational structures.

Yet, a key obstacle towards greater BIM uptake remains the ambiguousness of its full extent and components. While it is often thought of as an all-in-one product, BIM, in fact, is “part data standards and part process standards”, as Stephan Jones, segment manager at Trimble MEP, tells Construction Week. Trimble, which acquired Amtech in 2014, has worked on projects such as Muscat International Airport, Yas Mall, Dubai Metro, and Zayed University in the region.

“Each part one acts upon the other,” Jones says. “Standards, such as buildingSMART International, apply to the production and storage of information within a common data environment. Among other things, they also reinforce specific standards for managing work in progress, including reviews, and the associate process of coordination and collaboration.

“By applying BIM standards, information becomes more consistent. It is recognisable, shareable, and filterable, and can therefore be more effectively used for coordination.”

Appropriate information input remains a frequently-overlooked aspect of maximising BIM’s potential on a project, Jones remarks. The period between design creation and on-site construction is a critical part of this process.

Project designs, be they 2D or 3D, are prepared based on architectural and engineering principles – these drawings then form the basis of actual construction work, and are later used for historic reviews during operation.

Bhupinder Singh, senior vice president of Bentley Software says the scope for communication at this stage represents a growth area for the deployment of BIM opportunities in the construction sector.

“The challenge is to decipher how to take a set of discipline-based data, re-factor it to be spatial and constructible, and then re-factor it back [for building operations].

“As a tech provider, we’ve done a lot of work over the last five years to solve this problem and build a common environment to allow for that process of changes,” Singh tells Construction Week.

“It’s been exercised over the last two years in the context of big oil and gas plant projects, and there’s nothing to prevent that same technology – which is bridging the gap between the office and the field – to be applied to other domains, such as civil or commercial construction.”

The uptake of this approach would represent a sizeable shift in both, the regional and global construction BIM industries, where standard coordination continues to comprise fact-checking at “specific key stage waypoints” instead of at regular intervals, Jones laments.

“However, the information preparation is often found to be lacking,” he continues.

“This results in many false positives, a huge results’ set, and little measureable value. It is reasonable to predict that coordination or rules-checking will ultimately open up the possibility for [their] tools to act as advisors, consultants, and educators, as designers choose options that don’t meet incumbent standards.

“Inevitably, coordination will cease to be a secondary remote process. Rather, it will be embedded in the [original] design or engineering software,” Jones adds.

Advocates claim BIM results in the reduction of on-site changes to planned design and construction schedules.

Ian Hauptfleisch, general manager of Construction Computer Software (CCS) Gulf, says virtual construction carried out through BIM can result in an enhanced understanding of the design changes required, how they are budgeted, and who pays for them.

“I don’t think anybody can dispute the advantages of BIM as a total solution, but there are multiple facets to [the technology],” he tells Construction Week.

“Somebody has to design what a building is going to look like, and this person is typically very skilled in engineering or architecture. The devil lies in the details – you can’t just say ‘it’s going to be a concrete column’. We need to know exactly what type of column it will be, how it will connect to a slab, and so on. Those details come with experience.

“So if you take somebody out of university and say ‘go and design me a building’, they probably won’t know the constructability of it. Yes, they may put a nice picture together, but the key point is how much it will cost you, and whether all these pieces fit together,” Hauptfleisch explains.

“BIM in this region and in a lot of the world is still an idea, and hasn’t been implemented to its full potential,” CCS Gulf’s chief adds.

“Some think BIM simply means a 3D model, but it’s the intelligence in that model that is significant. I don’t think anyone disputes BIM’s advantages, but [its acceptance] is still an educational process, and needs to be adopted by governments and scholastic institutions, as well as be made mandatory.”

Suhail Arfath, head of Autodesk Consulting for the Middle East region, tells Construction Week he encourages owners, design firms, and contractors view BIM adoption as transformation of their business model.

“We work with local contractors and consultants, such as in Saudi Arabia, where we engage in discussions with authorities such as Royal Commissions, and marina development boards,” he says, adding Autodesk has succeeded in reaching some level of maturity in terms of rolling out BIM in the Kingdom.

Furthermore, certain BIM components are being mandated into the scope of project works – as was the case with Riyadh Metro. However, Arfath continues, Saudi Arabian organisations will have to unite and collaborate to roll out an overreaching BIM mandate at the national level.

“Every stakeholder needs to see a benefit in BIM, or else they won’t adopt it,” he tells Construction Week. “Around 60% of the GCC’s infrastructure projects missed their budgets and schedules, creating an opportunity for BIM to help simulate delays and identify the dynamics affecting the project in a virtual environment.”

CCS Gulf’s general manager too is optimistic about the scope of BIM uptake in the region, especially in the UAE. The company’s systems, BuildSmart and Candy, have been in operation for over three decades, and Hauptfleisch says CCS has witnessed how market sentiment for construction technology adapted to the economic crash of 2008/9.

Hauptfleisch expresses confidence in the UAE’s resilience to economic changes, adding regional contractors are likelier to adopt the technology as major events such as Dubai Expo 2020 and FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar near their completion dates.

“Companies need proper controls to restrict cash-flows and make sure the job going ahead can be done with limited fluidity,” he says. “Construction is a cyclical industry, and we expect a few ups and downs, but projects for Dubai Expo 2020 and FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar have to go ahead [irrespective of those hurdles]. Now more than ever, these projects’ budgets – implemented two or three years ago – will have to be managed with discipline.

“[Informing the industry about BIM] is paradoxical, because you want companies to spend money on the software to save money down the line, but a lot of companies can’t see the latter,” Hauptfleisch concludes.

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