Where exactly are we at with BIM?

Darren Smith, digital buildings solutions adviser at the Electrical Contractors’ Association, looks at figures that reveal there’s still a long way to go on our BIM journey.

In 2011, the government issued its Construction Strategy, including a masterplan to accelerate the adoption of digital technology in UK construction. The ultimate goal was (and remains) widespread implementation of BIM across a project’s lifecycle – defining four BIM “levels” to help clients and suppliers understand how BIM and digital technology should be used (see below: BIM Breakdown).

Despite a generally muted industry response since 2011, it would be wrong to dismiss the potential of BIM, and it is far from finished business.

BIM by numbers

However, BIM does admittedly have a long way to go. The quarterly Building Engineering Business Surveys from 2018 found that among ECA Members, 69% of respondents in our sector had never been involved in a BIM project, and 24% had used BIM on only up to a quarter of their projects.

The figures for firms engaging regularly in BIM projects are still small – some 4% had encountered BIM on 25-49% of their projects, 2% had used BIM on between 50-74% of projects, while just 1% had used BIM on more than 75% of projects. Yet our sector need not feel inadequate – 2018 information from leading assessment body Achilles suggests that ECA members engage with BIM far more than most companies in other sectors of construction.   

Conversely, statistics also clearly show what we stand to gain by fully embracing BIM. Recent research on behalf of Innovate UK identified eight specific benefits from the use of properly integrated BIM:

  • Time savings at both the construction and operational stages of the building lifecycle;
  • Materials savings – by optimising materials for the life cycle of a building;
  • Cost savings from fewer changes during construction and improved clash detection;
  • Health and safety improvements;
  • Risk reduction through more accurate estimates of costs, delivery timelines and risks associated with a project;
  • Improved asset utilisation including planning the use of space, faster maintenance and refurbishment in operation and optimum placement of plant;
  • Improved quality for end users, due to better oversight on design, better 3D visualisation for clients and earlier input the design process;
  • Improved reputation through a better experience for clients and end users.

Taking the leap

Some firms may see BIM as a leap of faith. However, developing BIM capability has been shown to improve project integration and information sharing – and is likely to become increasingly important for forward-thinking firms as BIM and digital engineering continues to evolve.

Carl Collins, digital engineering consultant for CIBSE, has worked on all British, European and International BIM standards since 2008.

He says: “Any firm that cannot demonstrate some BIM ability (in the commercial arena) will be losing work, and this situation will only increase. Further to this, the digitisation of construction is creating far more efficient and agile players, so if you can’t compete, again, you will lose work.”

Future-proofing BIM

Collins further observes that there are plenty of new BIM standards in the drafting stage – mainly through European and International standards bodies – and these should be acknowledged by contractors, as they may be quoted in tender documentation.

Topics such as “BIM for health and safety” and “BIM for security” are already being discussed – the former for all contractors and the latter especially for electrotechnical contractors. With the ever-increasing connectivity of electrical components and systems, electrical contractors should carefully consider how they will use technology and information exchange processes going forward.

In the end, BIM should not be viewed as a series of requirements that have to be met as an additional piece of work. As Collins puts it: “Instead, look to what can be done when project teams actually communicate better, with better and more reliable information – and watch the benefits materialise.

“Ask not what you can do to share your data, but what sharing data can do for you.”

BIM breakdown

BIM levels were designed to support industry to ensure appropriate standards for effective and fair procurement. Each of the four levels represents an increasing maturity in use of digitisation and collaboration in a construction or infrastructure project:

Level 0

Projects will use only 2D computer-aided design (CAD) drafting. There is very little collaboration. Any data that is exchanged is typically done so via paper or print. Essentially, this is CAD, which by itself is not BIM at all.

Level 1

Projects will use a mixture of 2D and 3D CAD drafting. They will use a common data environment for the electronic sharing of data. This will often be managed by the main contractor and may be shared among team members. Projects may also use some standard data structures and formats. Could possibly be referred to as “basic (or barely) BIM”.]

Level 2

Projects will use intelligent, data-rich objects in a managed 3D BIM environment. All parties working on a project are able to combine their BIM and design data to collaborate and share information through the use of a common data environment (CDE). The CDE enables users to carry out checks against data validation strategies to make sure they are on target. Respectable BIM.

Level 3

Projects at this level are fully collaborative. They use a single, shared project view for data integration, which all parties can access and modify as allowed through process and security controls. Advanced BIM, and way beyond common industry good practice.

Image: Zoryen/

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  1. Very good article

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