Starting your BIM journey – Part 1: Discovery

In the first of three articles on starting the BIM journey John Adams, digital construction strategist at Glider BIM, outlines the discovery phase.

As leading-edge businesses and academia continue to explore the future uses of construction data, the gap between the digital haves and have-nots of the construction industry stretches a little longer each day. Although this gap will never disappear, there is a clear need to make sure we bring as many people and businesses along the path to digital adoption as possible, or risk worsening our skills shortage and failing to improve already flatlining productivity levels.

Rather than wait for that first project with digital requirements to arrive and then learn on the job, what can those who haven’t started their BIM journey do to prepare themselves for Building Information Modelling? This series of articles will describe a three-stage method intended to remove some fear from the subject and delivers focused results.

Part 1: Discover 

Although tempting to do so, throwing some of your team into a classroom isn’t always the best way to start your journey to BIM adoption. The subject is both broad and deep, and nobody knows it all, not even the fabled BIM experts. Your role defines your lens on BIM.

The construction industry is formed of hundreds of thousands of businesses, and most are small businesses with niche specialisms. The transfer of knowledge from these specialists into the design-construct-operate cycle is one of the key outcomes of implementing BIM because it can lead to improved design quality, safer construction processes, and smooth transition into operation with all the relevant data already structured for use at handover.

Each of these specialists prepares their information and delivers their service differently, which in turn makes BIM adoption bespoke to each of those businesses, which employ approximately 3 million people in the UK alone. 

The best place to start the discovery phase is to look at what your business delivers and how this aligns to the BIM requirements emerging in your sector. There are two big questions to answer which will influence your starting point.

Do you take any design responsibility?

Design responsibility isn’t just for architects and engineers. If you usually provide drawings during the construction process then you may be asked to provide a data rich 3D model as well which can be coordinated with other design elements. This is not always the case so the shift from 2D drafting to 3D model authoring should be viewed as a business decision. 

It is widely recognised that 3D design is superior for speed, accuracy, and the removal of duplicated effort, but its adoption takes time and resources. However, the National BIM Report 2019 shows only 7% of respondents who have adopted have regrets, which is a good indicator that BIM is a good investment, especially if approached from a perspective of business improvement rather than external pressure.  

The very least you will be asked to do is to follow the project file naming convention before uploading your design information to a shared project platform called a Common Data Environment. If you’re already starting to get involved in projects with BIM deliverables, there should be a BIM Execution Plan containing all the details of the platform and how to use it properly. 

However, if you are taking proactive steps to discover what BIM means to you, attending a local BIM event, or taking some time to watch some YouTube content, like the excellent B1M channel, will help you discover where you fit into a BIM project before you consider paying for training. 

Do you provide information, equipment or materials for a maintainable asset?

Even if you don’t take design responsibility, but you do provide information about components or systems which the building operator will need to maintain after handover, you may be asked to provide some structured data at key points in the project.

This is often in the form of COBie (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange), which is a structure for collecting information to assist in the operation of a building in a standard way. In its most simple format COBie can be viewed and edited as a spreadsheet, but many projects with COBie requirements are adopting specialist software such as GliderBIM to coordinate and inform this data collection process.

If you believe this will apply to your business YouTube will help you here too, with a collection of videos from COBie creator Bill East, which explain all the concepts in a clear way. COBie should not be feared as it is simply a new way of collecting information you already know.

If you answered no to both?

If you don’t provide design services and your role in the site process will need no further maintenance, you are in a minority, and the pressure to adopt BIM is decreased. But it will be of benefit to you to start understanding how to manipulate 3D model information as the industry moves in this direction. There are a variety of free model viewers available from the likes of Solibri, Autodesk and Trimble. 

In conclusion

What you do really does define your approach to BIM, but before you invest in new software, training or accreditation speak with your customers and project colleagues about BIM to understand the pressures they may be starting to face. 

Some sectors of the industry, such as universities and retail, are being asked to deliver BIM often, whereas other sectors are yet to start pressing, so it’s well worth understanding the digital maturity of our key sectors as part of your discovery phase. Once you have been through the discovery phase, the next step is to simplify the challenge and get beyond the jargon, which will be covered in the next article in this series.

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