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Working towards BIM success

Part 1: the first steps

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Many construction stakeholders find themselves being asked to “deliver BIM” as per the government mandate from April last year. But how many are really prepared? In the first of a series of articles Liam Southwood, director of BIM services at IT consultant and software developer NittyGritty looks at getting started.

Understand why you are doing this and set your goals

On your project, what are you, the design team and the client trying to achieve? Understand the BIM levels set out by the mandate and seek to deliver your professional service in a realistic manner within this framework.

In my experience, most people who say they are delivering or have delivered Level 2 have got nowhere near it. Make sure the project drivers align with, and are incorporated back in to your business.

Delivering BIM usually involves significant investment in equipment, software and skills; it’s unlikely that you will see a return on this at your first attempt, so make sure that the effort pays off as quickly as possible by re-investing in your next project as soon as you are able.

Take a look at your tools

A good building information model is a generally a database, which also contains geometry. It should be the single source of truth for your team and it is the exact opposite of a loosely distributed CAD file system.

What does this mean? In a CAD project, you could lose one, or many files from your server without it impacting overall delivery of the job. BIM files are consolidated into fewer, larger files, each of which is critical to the project.

Therefore, server, networking and backup systems need to be able to deliver in the event of a problem. Often this implies greater storage requirements as more “milestone” copies are kept as an insurance policy.

Because the data is consolidated it will generally require better desktop hardware to run. Most (but not all) software will require a Microsoft Windows PC.

Then there is the software choice. Most of the industry uses AutoDesk Revit software for design authoring. Like Adobe Creative Cloud and Office 365 this can only be acquired through a rental agreement. Tools from other vendors are available but suffer from a lack of user base in the UK.

What are your skills?

Staff are most business’s biggest cost, and asset. When applying the transformative change of adopting BIM, you will be bringing them on a journey – and leadership is the key. This involves much more than just teaching people how to use Revit (for example).

Many senior staff will have made a career delivering projects, using certain tools in a particular way. Asking them to ditch this life experience to adopt a completely unknown workflow would be foolhardy and is doomed to fail. It is crucial to harness their experience and align it with those who are keen to learn to get the best results.

At Nittygritty we are big fans of KnowledgeSmart skills assessments which we use to understand where the gaps are, to target training as effectively as possible.

Identify BIM champions. These are likely to be staff who care not only about their professional responsibilities but who also have a bit of “geek” in their DNA. They will want the model to be clean, free of errors and warnings and be passionate about the BIM process.

Lastly, you need to know who to ask when you don’t know how to get the best from your tools. Often, the hardest thing is to know when you’ve reached this point as a lot of effort on early BIM projects is invested in re-learning how to “draw”.

There’s a huge, and growing web repository of knowledge base articles, blogs and videos to draw upon. Vendors can offer some assistance through escalation paths and independent consultants like us can fill in the gaps. 

Where do I start?

Use a structured approach. Set a central location for libraries and adopt some standards. A huge amount of work went in to developing the UK Level 2 protocols and standards and there’s no sane reason to deviate from these (even if you don’t like BS 1192 drawing numbering!).

Agree responsibilities on your project(s) and deliver to these – my advice is to aim low and succeed.

Put some effort into making sure your printed output looks good. This should be seen as an ongoing, developmental process into which everyone has a say.

Care about your data. Many designers focus solely on geometry and graphic output at the expense of the ‘I’ in BIM. If your team really get it they will be just as interested in Level of Information as they are in 3D form. This will allow you to identify your quick wins: integrated options, schedules, specifications, environmental modelling and phasing for example.

How am I doing?

We recommend regular team get-togethers to set goals for the week ahead, identify where support might be required and review progress from the previous meeting.

You may wish to uninstall CAD tools from those who are working on BIM projects to prevent regression but you will need to keep an eye out to ensure that your team aren’t just using an expensive shiny new tool to deliver lines and text (CAD) in 3D.

Following articles will cover: 

  • Building on initial projects 
  • Consolidating and expanding your BIM services 
  • The future of Digital Design 

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Staff are most business’s biggest cost, and asset. When applying the transformative change of adopting BIM, you will be bringing them on a journey – and leadership is the key.– Liam Southwood, NittyGritty