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Lack of product support holding back BIM

25 April 2014 | By Stephen Cousins

A lack of reliable BIM object data is preventing the technology from reaching its full potential, the latest BIM survey has revealed.

The fourth national BIM survey, carried out by NBS and completed by more than 1,000 construction professionals, found that over three-quarters of respondents wanted manufacturers to provide them with BIM objects – the all-important geometric and attribute datasets for building products needed to create accurate BIM models.

In addition, more than three-quarters (77%) of respondents said they created their own BIM objects in-house and then re-used them, suggesting that the data could soon become outdated and obsolete. And 68% said they created their own BIM objects as needed for a project, a process that could lead to duplication across the industry.

“If you want a BIM model that accurately represents your design intentions, then you will need the appropriate BIM objects for that. Some manufacturers are producing BIM objects for their products, but a large number aren’t and these need to be made freely available,” said Adrian Malleson, head of research, analysis and forecasting at RIBA Enterprises.

Some manufacturers are producing BIM objects for their products, but a large number aren't and these need to be made freely available.– Adrian Malleson, RIBA Enterprises

“Commonly used, up-to-date, standardised BIM objects are a benefit to the industry, in the same way that standardised specifications have proven to be. When people create and re-use their own BIM objects there is no guarantee they are correct, the data can soon become out of date and when it is reused on a new project it is no longer appropriate,” he added.

The report also revealed high levels of confusion over BIM. Although 54% of respondents said they had used BIM on at least one project, up by 15% compared to last year’s report, 73% said the industry is not clear enough on what BIM is, while a third (32%) described themselves as “not confident” in BIM knowledge and skills.

Less than a quarter of respondents (24%) considered the current level of BIM standardisation as adequate, a situation that could be preventing effective collaboration on projects. Only a third of respondents (33%) said they used Industry Foundation Classes (IFC), the platform-neutral, open file format that allows models to be shared among the design team, irrespective of software choices. And just 23% said they used Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie), which allows the design team to use a BIM model to deliver the information that supports the use and maintenance of a building.

“Standardisation is required for BIM to become a success. If it is truly to become a tool for collaboration across disciplines throughout the duration of a building’s life then we need to get away from proprietary systems and adopt common standards, IFC and COBie being the most obvious examples,” said Malleson.

Among those who were aware of the different BIM levels required on projects, 42% said they had yet to reach the Level 2 of BIM maturity required for publicly-funded work in 2016. A total of 51% said they had reached at least Level 2 and 7% had reached Level 3. “A lot more will have to reach Level 2 in just two years, but the general curve of BIM adoption has gone so sharply upwards since we first ran the report four years ago, there is no reason for despondency as we move towards that date,” said Malleson.

On a more positive note, awareness of BIM is now nearly universal, rising to 95% in 2013 from 58% in 2010. Of those who were aware of BIM, an impressive 81% said they would be using it in one year, while 93% said they expected to be using it in three years, by 2016, and 95% in five years. Meanwhile, 58% said they thought the government is “on the right track with BIM”, and only 16% disagreed with that statement.

“Four years ago, a significant number of people weren’t aware of BIM and it was only a niche practice. This year, we’ve seen that BIM is becoming the norm, which is very encouraging for construction and for the government’s 2016 target,” concluded Malleson.