Interview: Ashley Poole-Graham – Getting BIM buy-in from the team

Get the workforce implementing BIM on an introductory training course so they get a holistic understanding of the technology and its value before you send them on software-specific training– Ashley Poole-Graham, Speller Metcalfe

Ashley Poole-Graham, BIM manager at main contractor Speller Metcalfe, explains the challenges the firm faced as an SME attempting to implement BIM technology and working practices.

At what stage is Speller Metcalfe on its BIM Journey?

We have completed around 12 projects using BIM to date, four of them to Level 2 BIM, although we have not yet been heavily into COBie yet, which is heavily driven by the client’s requirements. We initially used Lonely BIM (used by firms in the early stages of BIM, only generating mono-discipline model/s) as a learning environment to practice modelling and to compare the accuracy of digital materials takeoffs to traditional takeoffs.

What advice would you give to SMEs looking to get involved with BIM?

It is vitally important that the software does not dictate your working processes, first expand your working processes, then purchase the software to fit around it. Get the workforce implementing BIM on an introductory training course so they get a holistic understanding of the technology and its value before you send them on software-specific training. We were initially wowed by the software vendors, so be mindful of their bias and fact they are going to say their software can do everything and anything. Go to the market and look at different options.

Is the cost of software, hardware and training a problem?

The level of outlay will depend on the number of employees using the software and the type of software required. We set up BIM champions for each department to provide a BIM knowledge base across the business, and they determined how each team was going to engage with BIM and the necessary software. For example, a site manager is not going to need to perform complex 4D or 5D modelling, they just need a viewer, whereas an estimator or QS might need to complete takeoffs.

We initially bought a licence for comprehensive Autodesk Building Design Suite software because we were doing most of the modeling ourselves, working up 2D design into 3D using Autodesk Revit, and using Navisworks for quantity takeoffs. We wouldn’t necessary do the same again. In terms of training, we just put eight estimators through training in 5D-capable Exactal CostX software, which cost £1,000 for a day.

Was it difficult getting the workforce to engage with BIM?

Yes, but mainly with the older guys who have been in the industry over 20 years and who were used to their way of doing things, particularly the estimators. A good starting point was to put them through BIM introductory training, then it was a gradual process of getting them to do onscreen 2D takeoffs, then using the software with their current workflow.

You also have to look at how BIM software interfaces with existing software and ways of working. The estimators didn’t like Autodesk Quantity Takeoff and preferred the functionality of an estimating-specific package compatible with Conquest, hence the decision to purchase CostX.

And the rest of the supply chain?

If it’s a design & build it is vital that the team you are going to appoint are capable in BIM. Level 2 BIM requires a managed 3D environment with separate discipline models, so as a minimum the structural engineer, architect, main contractor and M&E consultant need to be producing compatible models. We had difficulty finding M&E consultants and subcontractors capable of inputting their design fully in 3D, which even resulted in me having to work up their 2D drawings into 3D.

One important factor is that BIM data has to be structured in a certain way in the 3D models so that the 4D and 5D software is able to read it. We have seen concrete beams being used as footings in CAD, because it was easier for the architect to model, so when you try to schedule that in 5D the data doesn’t make sense.

What have been the principal benefits on projects?

It has improved quality and reduced programme times. A major onus is on the inner design team to get their production information coordinated prior to going to site, which gives us a better capacity to review their data and ensure it is all coordinated and correct, which in turn means less RFIs. 

Being able to coordinate the M&E is vital in terms of identifying potential clashes. On one occasion I developed a service strategy with our M&E team and in 2D it looked like there were huge service voids, but once it was modelled in 3D we saw that the number of steels going across massively reduced the amount of void. If it hadn’t been modelled in 3D it wouldn’t have been picked it up until we got to site.

What are your plans for the technology?

Whenever the opportunity arises, or when a tender comes in, we ask if the information is available in 3D, and we are always looking to procure new work that is being delivered in BIM. We recently held a client day, giving our repeat clients a workshop to help them understand what BIM is. Since then, we have seen several aspects we covered come up in new tender questions for their projects. It is a good feeling to know you are leading the industry down such a productive and important path.

Main image: Speller Metcalfe employed BIM at Habberley Learning Campus in Kidderminster, one of 12 projects the firm has completed using BIM

Story for BIM+? Get in touch via email: [email protected]

Latest articles in Analysis