Analysis

Interview: Clive Webb - The BIM challenge in Wales

30 July 2015 | By Stephen Cousins

Many firms are using the current state of flux with BIM as an excuse to win jobs based on cost rather than supplying a service that will be required in future to achieve BIM Level 2 throughout the supply chain.– Clive Webb, chair of the BIM Hub for Wales and director at Boyes Rees Architects

Clive Webb, chair of the BIM Hub for Wales and director at Boyes Rees Architects, on why uncertainty over a Level 2 mandate for Wales is holding back the industry and potentially losing firms work.

The regional BIM Hub for Wales was set up in 2012, what progress has been made?

A number of events have been held in north and south Wales, with support from the industry, but we still lack a cohesive organisation that works across all sectors and all disciplines needed to take it forward.

To some extent we were reliant on the Welsh government mandating the use of BIM in Wales, as in England, but so far this has not been set in policy, although there is a government recommendation for projects to work using BIM.

Recently, we have been working with the Welsh Government, the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), the CIOB and BRE to discuss how we can take the BIM Hub forward in Wales. The details on how we pave a way forward will be ironed out in a meeting next month.

Why is the Welsh government being so reticent on a BIM mandate?

I don’t know. Perhaps there is too much work going on to try to balance the books in various sectors of industry. I have previously attended cross-party construction groups where BIM was discussed as important and a document was published a couple of years ago backing the use of BIM, but that never translated into legislation. It is crazy because BIM can help the government save money in the long run.

What impact has a lack of BIM legislation had on industry adoption?

With only a BIM recommendation in place, local authorities in Wales have written their own Consortium of Local Authorities in Wales [CLAW] BIM toolkit documentation to take it forward. But we’re finding that councils and even government bodies asking for BIM on projects don’t understand its full potential and there is a lack of training within departments to use it properly.

They often see it as simply a 3D modelling, clash detection and design coordination tool, without considering the benefits on the facilities management side. Part of the problem is that departments for estates, FM and maintenance are not linked and often have different heads so there’s no concerted push to drive this.

Which BIM practitioners are leading the way in Wales?

Many consultants in Wales have to work across the border, in England, so they have taken on and embraced BIM. There are some local exemplar projects, Welsh Health Estates require that their projects, all worth £10m and below, are produced in BIM, but it is BIM Level 2 without the FM side.

Unfortunately, most main contractors in Wales are selling themselves on what’s being done elsewhere rather than what is being done in Wales and most are unable to manage projects using BIM at site level. And for firms in general there is the lack of knowledge and upskilling of staff to be able to achieve the savings possible using BIM.

Have any other initiatives been set up to help firms on their BIM journey?

There is Construction Futures Wales, an initiative set up by the Welsh government and the CITB to fund 1-2-1 guidance from experienced sector consultants, part of which can help businesses understand and upskill their workforces in BIM. We’re hoping to work with CFW to develop and publish some case studies of good and bad practice to help drive BIM forward.

The BIM Hub in Wales is also collaborating with the other BIM Hubs in the UK, but a lack of funding from the Construction Industry Council (CIC), which set up the Hubs, and the fact that we have to work on a voluntary part-time basis is holding up progress. As a result we are looking to possibly link up with BRE and other parties to drive it forward.

What are the main concerns of BIM practitioners in Wales?

How to drive BIM down through the supply chain, main contractors are aware of its importance but they tend to baulk when we say subcontractors with design responsibility, such as curtain walling, or M&E suppliers need to bring information into the model. When they go out for competitive quotations BIM is very much pushed aside in favour of cost or other concerns. Perhaps the biggest upskilling  issue is with the installers, who produce most of the detailed drawings.

Many firms are using the current state of flux with BIM as an excuse to win jobs based on cost rather than supplying a service that will be required in future to achieve BIM Level 2 throughout the supply chain. As a result, there will come a time when Welsh companies lose work to competitors across the border.

Shouldn’t it be easier to spread the word on BIM in a small country like Wales?

It would be easy if we had full government backing on BIM, because the majority of construction work in Wales is public sector, which has been sustaining the economy through the recession and beyond.

What do you think of the NBS BIM Toolkit?

As a practice we are looking to use it and trying to persuade clients to use it at the onset of a project. The BIM Hub in Wales recently presented the BIM Toolkit, with NBS, to an audience in Wales, which was well attended. We hope the NBS will supersede the CLAW BIM Toolkit, developed a couple of years ago and currently used by councils. Being web-based and not written word it should be more flexible and open the process up to more projects and clients.