Interview: ChapmanBDSP’s Loukas Mitsou – ‘Industry will struggle on April deadline’

Loukas Mitsou, head of digital engineering at consulting building services engineer ChapmanBDSP, on main contractors’ performance on Level 2 BIM, a lack of early M&E engagement on projects, and a “definite” BIM skills shortage.

What BIM trends are you seeing from the main contractors you work with?

Main contractors on the mostly private sector projects we work on frequently require BIM Level 2, but this is typically focused just on modelling in 3D and only occasionally do they ask for attached information, or 4D, and it is unusual to see a Common Data Environment (CDE) in place on projects. Even when we supply a 3D model, this must often still be accompanied by 2D printouts.

The Battersea Power Station Development is an exception to the rule, where the main contractor is adhering to most Level 2 requirements, a set of Employer’s Information Requirements was issued by the client, a BIM Execution Plan was developed, and detailed graphical and non-graphical information are required.

What’s your view on the industry’s readiness for the April BIM Level 2 mandate?

It will struggle, many design practices have moved towards working in 3D environments using clash detection and workloads set out under BS 1192, but they are a long way from ticking all the boxes required by the mandate.

What processes are you implementing to achieve compliance?

We are under less pressure than most because we don’t currently work on any government-funded projects. However, BIM Level 2 is still a target and we are trying to ensure compliance with BS 1192 and PAS 1192 documentation and are putting processes in place for collaboration and data exchange.

We don’t just want to meet the mandate, we want to future-proof our business and stand out from the competition, and to that end we are looking at technologies that could complement BIM Level 2 and take it even further on projects, such as virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence.

Are private sector clients holding back on Level 2 to see what happens on public projects next year?

That is a factor, they want to see a few case studies and hard metrics demonstrating the benefits. It is also about pacing themselves, they don’t want to initiate changes that will create waves. Even so, I expect BIM Level 2 to quickly extend into the private sector.

Are M&E consultants and contractors ahead of the curve on BIM?

There is a lot of MEP modelling going on and a good understanding of the level of graphical detail needed, but the information aspect is often overlooked and there are still debates about what information should and should not be modelled.

Part of the problem is a lack of guidance from those further up the supply chain. For example, clients rarely produce EIRs, they might want to tick the BIM Level 2 box with the mandate in mind, but they don’t really understand what they need to do to achieve it in terms of deliverables.

Even if they know what the deliverable should look like, they don’t really understand what they want to achieve with the end product, whether it is for facilities management, operations and maintenance with a CDE in place, or going further and looking at sustainability or decommissioning.

Are M&E consultants getting involved earlier in projects as a result of BIM’s emphasis on upfront design?

That isn’t happening at the moment, we are still typically engaged after the architecture and structural engineer’s models have been completed and information from the main contractor has been passed on to us.

It is too late and M&E involvement, even in the very early stages, is crucial to improving clash detection and helping reduce construction time, money and waste. The collaborative spirit of BIM means all parties should be engaged from the outset to share designs and information and avoid inefficiencies further down the line.

Is there a BIM skills shortage?

There is definitely a BIM skills shortage in the industry, a lot of job candidates claim to know BIM when they are really referring to some kind of 3D capability, sometimes involving Revit. This comes down to a general lack of understanding in the industry of what BIM and the related standards actually are. There is also too much focus on knowledge of the software, both in the UK and abroad, rather than BIM processes, information and standards.

We need to raise industry awareness of what “actual” BIM is and move away from the perception that you can simply buy BIM knowledge off-the-shelf by training in Revit, ArchiCAD or Tekla.

What are the specific challenges of embedding BIM within the M&E sector?

The main problem is the existing working culture, some people still believe that BIM is just a bubble that will burst at some point and then disappear. Many companies, teams and individuals are in a comfort zone they don’t want to step outside of, or change existing methodologies that have been putting food on the table for many years.

SMEs are put off by the perceived investment required to achieve compliance, the software can cost thousands of pounds per license and several licenses may be required, then there is the cost of new PC hardware needed to run it and BIM training. However, with proper assistance from larger companies, the BIM Task Group and the government, SMEs can overcome these issues.

A major challenge is educating SMEs on their specific role on the BIM journey, many see the big players making major investments and think the same must apply to them, but that’s not necessarily the case.

In addition, company policies related to digital technology can hold back progress. Even something simple like Cloud storage brings down barriers, people think it’s not a safe way to exchange data. This links to legal issues, such as who has ownership of the model and information at different stages and who should assume responsibility if something goes wrong? All these challenges need to be considered when a company starts implementing BIM.

M&E is critical to creating Asset Information Models, will that be a game changer for the sector in the future?

Absolutely, M&E’s input into BIM and the CDE is of paramount importance to FM, optimised O&M, decommissioning and sustainability and as we move toward the world of Big Data and smart buildings and cities. The sector will become increasingly important on projects as a result.

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