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Is BIM changing traditional GCC building methods?

Experts explain how BIM technology is rapidly changing the traditional methods still being applied in the GCC construction market

SPECIAL REPORTS, Sectors, BIM, BIM technology, Building, Construction, Gcc, GCC building methods, Gcc construction market, Traditional building methods

In November 2013, Dubai Municipality issued a circular mandating building information modelling (BIM) for specific architecture, and mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) works in the emirate. The municipality’s regulations were applicable to buildings over 40 storeys tall, or those which span more than 27,871m2, as well as government projects, including hospitals, universities, and schools.

The municipality’s mandate came at a time when BIM was still finding takers across the global public sectors. With this in mind, the municipality updated its existing mandate in August last year, expanding BIM’s usage in architectural and MEP works for all buildings above 20 floors, or those which span more than 18,580m2, government projects, and all buildings requested from a foreign office.

Gone are the days of rustling paper and spending countless hours on handwritten records. Enabling virtual communication from developers to post-handover operators, BIM offers project parties insight throughout the construction cycle. A recent study found that the international BIM market will reach $11.7bn by 2022, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21.6% from 2016 to 2022. What’s more, regional experts believe that the Middle East is catching up with this trend.

Paul Wallett, regional director at Trimble Solutions Middle East, says: “Large-scale, government-backed projects – especially in the UAE, like the Dubai Opera House, Abu Dhabi Midfield Terminal’s central building and piers, the UAE Pavilion for Milan Expo 2015, along with Qatar and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – are increasingly using BIM. Government BIM mandates, such as the one by Dubai Municipality, are essential for driving the technology.”

But despite the increasing prevalence of this technology in the region, industry experts say that BIM adoption is still very much in its infancy in the Middle East. Vivek Kale, solutions director, design integration sales, from Bentley Systems, says: “Large-scale projects would benefit significantly from information management beyond building, to include infrastructure, featuring the site, roads, and utilities. Based on our years of experience, the projects in the region are challenged by three key aspects required for a BIM methodology – people, process, and technology.”

He adds that the infrastructure industry has a limited number of subject-matter experts who have the required experience.

“BIM processes applicable for large, multi-disciplinary projects are not structured, tested, or easily available. Simply put, the core technological challenge of large-scale projects is a lack of interoperability among the various content creation softwares, as well as a non-existent vocabulary for describing ‘infrastructure’ objects.

“Although information modeling offers significant gains during the capital expenditure (CAPEX) phase, there are even further BIM advancement gains to be realised during [operations].”

Part of the reason for the Middle East lagging behind in BIM adoption may be the peculiar character of the market, which includes low labour costs, and an apprehension of adopting new technology due to financial factors.

Wallett says: “Widespread BIM adoption is lagging in the GCC and Middle East, due to the low cost of labour and lack of implementation of government mandates. In the United States and the United Kingdom, high-level BIM usage is estimated at 40%.

“Meanwhile, most GCC contractors continue business as usual, with basic tools and low-cost labour, and only the most innovative and advanced companies are investing in BIM technology and training.”

When compared with other parts of the world, where BIM has really taken off, it is clear that the role of the government in pushing the technology – and making people more aware of its advantages – is key. Matt Wheelis, Auodesk’s Atlanta-based construction industry manager, agrees. He says that there is a growing demand from people in the Middle East to learn about the technology.

“One of the things that I have observed here is that there is an [eagerness] to learn. What is really needed in the market is the whole supply chain to become aware of this big opportunity, because it’s high time that people get a hang of the benefits.

“It definitely helps to be educated about not only how the technology works, but most importantly how it will affect the business processes in a positive way.”

Understandably then, the UAE’s GCC neighbours, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, are looking towards BIM adoption in their construction markets. This situation has motivated firms that utilise BIM to implement in-house training schemes to ensure a proper understanding of the technology. However, Kale warns that organisations should take steps to avoid rushing into the BIM process with unrealistic expectations and without management backing.

He says: “They must understand the timeframe they are working with. That said, as more owner-operators expand the use of BIM processes beyond building into the wider realm of infrastructure, we will see a broader adoption of BIM processes.”

Experts predict the Internet of Things (IoT) will transform construction by 2025 through automation, prefabrication, and 3D printing. With multinational firms increasingly working on GCC projects, and studies showing the Middle East is posting one of the world’s highest cloud-traffic growth rates, cloud-based model sharing is expected to witness greater uptake.

Instead of sending large model files via email, cloud-based models allow real-time collaboration around the world. Wallett adds: “GCC contractors should adopt BIM completely, in order to prepare for the IoT era, and mega events such as Expo 2020 in Dubai and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, and deliver innovations on mobile devices and augmented reality.”

The application of BIM is manifold; whether large- or small-scale, the more BIM projects take place in the region, the more awareness will spread and, in this way, the industry will grow.

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