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Analysis

The road ahead leads to Level 3 BIM

7 September 2016 | By Stephen Cousins

A 2025 target is real and achievable, writes Stephen Cousins.

The government’s strategic plan for Level 3 BIM, launched in March 2015, sets out a broad vision for “Digital Built Britain” and an environment where technology and digital data-sharing are second nature in construction.

It sees construction as one element in a step-change towards smart cities and data-driven public services, exploiting sensor data and the Internet of Things (IoT) to drive efficiencies and cost savings.

The strategy is due for implementation by 2025, with the BIM Task Group outlining a five-year preparation period (2016-20) and a five-year implementation period (2021-25).

The Digital Built Britain document breaks the challenge down into Stages A, B, C and D, split into commercial, technical and cultural streams. This is more specific, however, than the Government Construction Strategy 2016-20, which says only that government targets for 2017-20 are to “increase maturity of BIM Level 2 to a point that supports development of BIM Level 3 with a view to government adoption at a later date”.

Steve Massey: achievable

However, the broad consensus among clients interviewed by BIM+ was that the 2025 target was realistic and achievable. Terry Gough, BIM champion for Peterborough and Stamford NHS Foundation Trust, comments: “The goal of reaching BIM Level 3 by 2025 is achievable as long as the industry is given a clear brief on what it will ‘be’ and ‘contain’.

“The current outline within Digital Built Britain is just a representation of a thought process of what could be the Level 3 strategy. It needs to be fleshed out and a number of parties will be coming together over the coming years to give a clear steer on what will be required.”

Some client interviewees already have Level 3 on their radar and are working towards it. Steve Massey, supply chain development officer at Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, says: “We’re aiming to implement it by 2018, well in advance of the target. We plan to put all our projects on public viewing platforms, so they can be regularly updated.”

However, some clients felt that looking to 2025 was a bit optimistic given that Level 2 compliance is still patchy at best. George Mokhtar, BIM lead and associate director at Turner & Townsend, comments: “Right now there is a common view that we have already reached Level 2 BIM, but we really haven’t when you look into the detail.

“We have the principles of working on a shared data platform, the relevant documents and processes, but many people haven’t got to grips with every standard on the list, and until it is entrenched in the way people work, as best practice, we are not really at Level 2.”

BIM Level 3 will implement the very different process of all project participants updating a single, shared integrated building model in real-time, possibly in the cloud.

Karen Alford: benefits

Brian Churchyard, senior manager for construction design standards at Asda, has a clear view of what it will offer and says that the transition should be less painful than the adoption of Level 2: “The holy grail is having a single integrated building model that can be updated in real time, then projects become all about efficiency and pace, and replacing resource to reduce the operating cost of the business. That in turn will help us reduce prices for shopping customers.

“If your organisation is not doing anything now to establish solid foundations for Level 2 it will be difficult to catch up. If we get the naming protocols around Level 2 right and the level of information and data is robust, you could argue that the move towards Level 3 will be easier than moving from Level 1 to Level 2, assuming the software catches up!” 

But real-time collaboration on a shared model will raise concerns related to copyright, intellectual property and liability, which might be resolved by using new forms of appointment and software with different levels of permissions. In this respect, Digital Built Britain calls for the establishment of a new contractual framework for projects procured with BIM to ensure consistency, avoid confusion and encourage open, collaborative working.

Trina Ratcliffe-Pacheco, building design manager at University of the West of England Estates, summarises: “Level 2 BIM doesn’t pose an issue in terms of the security of intellectual property or identifying people’s responsibility for data within the model. But moving towards Level 3 will require a big shift in the way the industry works. It could require different forms of contract that protect clients and the supply chain from others tampering with their models.”

BIM Level 3 aims to ensure that 3D models and intelligence created in design and construction can be fully leveraged by building and facilities management teams. To be effective, teams will exploit intelligence from a multitude of connected IoT devices, including sensors, able to talk to each other in real-time.

Jon Kerbey: future proofing

Karen Alford, BIM and GSL programme manager at the Environment Agency, believes the target is essentially a realistic one: “In the next four years we are going to see a considerable change in the ability of the industry to work together, coordinate and deliver more efficiently using BIM. We are not fighting a technology battle we were before, now it is about us harnessing the benefits and cross-industry working will be essential to achieving the 2025 goal.

“The key benefits for us will be around asset management, having the ability to bring in data from other asset owners in a structured way, onto a shared platform with management authorities and third-party asset owners, running analysis and being able to incorporate new technologies, like sensors, to provide better intelligence on asset performance.

“We have done some initial experimental work and through just eight lines of code we determined how many days an embankment in a location will be exposed to frost. That level of analysis, the growth in open data, and knowledge-sharing worldwide, the search for information and bringing it back to analyse and build intelligence about how assets perform in different conditions, could transform our operations.”

Level 3 BIM was also very much in the sightlines of HS2, where Jon Kerbey, director of BIM, says: “The 2025 target for BIM Level 3 will come during [our] lifespan, it’s another complexity we had to build on top of so we can make sure we are almost future proofing our contracts. We are essentially procuring with Level 2 in mind, but how can we make sure we take advantage of Level 3 concepts, principles and objectives when we reach that date?”

And although the private sector clients in our online survey were less convinced than their public sector counterparts about the achievability of Level 3, Matthew Richardson, architect and project designer at McCarthy & Stone, viewed it as perfectly possible: “Trying to implement it for all public sector building types could make it a tall order without the very firm support of government.

“For the private sector, working on a much smaller scale with a smaller palette of building types, it should be easily achievable. As a developer, I don’t see why you couldn’t exceed that target very easily.”