A French tech start-up is developing a Blockchain-based solution it claims will transform BIM into a truly collaborative and legally binding process.
Bimchain.io is running proof of concept trials designed to integrate its distributed ledger technology, similar to that used in Blockchain-based systems such as the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, into BIM processes, tools, and data.
The project is backed by Autodesk and the Plan Transition Numérique dans le Bâtiment, the French equivalent of the BIM Task Group in the UK, and a market-ready product is expected to launch some time next year.
The aim is to create a new collaborative process that bridges the gap between 3D digital modelling and the formal and legally binding paper-based processes related to project administration, building control, insurance and payment.
Arnaud Gueguen, founder and CEO of Bimchain.io, told BIM+: “We don’t want to become just another BIM platform or third party tool, but to build a bridge between these two worlds.
“Blockchains are immutable, public and therefore ‘trustless’, you can track who contributed, changed or validated any data within any composite 3D BIM model at any time. This could have major implications for projects including reductions in cost, time and quality risks.”
The project has developed plugins for different software used in construction, including Autodesk products, and is now working with BIM managers to develop a “workflow tool” that sets out when different parties in a project, such as the architect, main contractor and specialists, commit to validate data at certain synchronised points.
“One of current challenges with BIM is to achieve a high level of quality, which a fully contractual 3D model, filled with validated and certified data, can enable,” said Gueguen.
The intention is to link validated proofs of contributions to the 3D model with automated payments, a form of smart contract that guarantees all stakeholders are committed to achieving the level of quality required.
However, the process of triggering automatic payments requires some tweaking. Blockchain is currently only able execute cryptocurrency payments, which are not widely accepted in construction. Instead, it is thought the system will trigger legally binding documents that detail the payments required.
Another potential obstacle is the transparency of data sharing inherent to blockchains which, though beneficial in terms of the potential to cut disputes, is at odds with the sensitivities and intellectual property concerns of many construction companies.
“We still need to determine the limit on what information is shared and what different parties are willing to share,” said Gueguen. “We believe a country like the UK, which is more contractual than France, or Scandinavian countries, could deploy our solution more fully.”
Bimchain.io has been in discussions with Bouygues UK, Saint Gobain’s UK arm, and industry think tank dotBuiltEnvironment to explore the options across the channel.
According to Gueguen, insurers in France are interested in the platform’s transparency and open to the idea of reducing their premiums if they can track project programmes in granular detail.
“It's something we can use to sell the idea to project owners, who may not be into the transparency but could benefit them in terms of reducing their insurance premiums. The relative benefits and risks are still open to question and debate,” said Gueguen.
The ultimate aim is to create a decentralised version of BIM, which instead of running in a central common data environment on a cloud platform run by a third party, is based on peer-to-peer data exchange with no one party able to control or claim ownership of the data.