BIM: the collaborative route to improved efficiencies

Gas 310 BIM 2With the increase in uptake of BIM across the building services industry, Chris Meir looks at the advantages this new approach offers to constructing and maintaining commercial buildings

Given the arrival of increasingly advanced technology over recent years in the buildings services industry, it would be natural to anticipate a corresponding rise both in effective planning and construction of buildings and in their performance efficiencies. Yet there remains a worrying gap between predictions and the actual results. One way by which the Government hopes to increase productivity and efficiency is through Building Information Modelling (BIM).

BIM is a whole new working culture promoting the collaborative use of open, digital, shareable asset data between all members of the project team – project architects, specifiers, manufacturers, the entire supply chain –– throughout the entire lifecycle of an asset. Through BIM, the project team can insert, extract, update or modify information at different phases in the building’s lifecycle to support and reflect the roles of that discipline or manufacturer. The Government has mandated Level 2 BIM on all UK public sector projects over £5million from 2016 with fully collaborative Level 3 to be introduced from the same year. That said, the benefits of BIM apply now, to all sizes of buildings in the commercial and public sector alike, for both new build and refurbishment projects.

Carbon and capital building savings

So what are the benefits of working in the BIM environment for commercial buildings? The Government lists time and costs savings, greater efficiency, increased value and improved productivity at the design stage, matched by improved performance efficiencies, reduced carbon emissions and further savings in maintenance and operation throughout the operational life of the building. In short, it estimates that using BIM programs will bring a 20 per cent reduction in carbon emissions matched by a 20 per cent drop in capital building costs. If we factor in the impact BIM could have on reducing the performance gap in commercial buildings – which can result in them consuming as much as three times the energy predicted – the argument in favour of BIM is highly persuasive. Indeed, rather than an optional extra, it is becoming standard practice. A survey conducted last December by CIBSE reveals that the number of people actively involved in projects using BIM has increased from 43% to 68% with just over 40% of respondents having been involved in BIM application for just a year.

Efficiency savings

The 3D environment of BIM allows the commercial building owner and the design team to understand and visualise the finished asset more easily. BIM promotes improved planning and smarter overall design as the project team is encouraged to anticipate potential future problems and devise solutions to issues which could prove costly at an earlier stage. With this improved accuracy, the building owner or operator not only benefits from valuable time and money savings but from a more reliable budget and programme. The shared information contained within the BIM files brings improved communication within the project team who can collaborate more efficiently and effectively from the outset. For example, where heating is concerned, the installer may have certain constraints such as access to the boiler plant room or the need for prefabrication which can impact on time and safety. Similarly, BIM can help identify clash detection and encourage best use of space.

Putting the ‘I’ in BIM

BIM is more than a digital 3D model or piece of software. It is the accurate, relevant, regularly updated, digital data contained within a BIM file that will save architects, specifiers and FM Managers valuable time in research, encourage smarter design, and facilitate potential changes and updates to the project. Again, to use heating as an example, a BIM object of, say, a boiler is not just a shape to include in a drawing but includes manufacturer-specific data including the size, weight, heat outputs, carbon and NOx emissions, service and maintenance areas, and maintenance schedules. By providing such robust data, BIM can also assist in supply chain collaboration and with the procurement process or costing decisions, again resulting in time and cost savings.

Improved accuracy

Similar to a CAD block, the BIM file can be inserted directly into the design, enabling pipework runs, flues and pumps to be sized and drawn with little input from the design engineer, saving time and costs at the outset while offering increased accuracy. Moving the boiler or changing the model will automatically update the schedule so that the information is always accurate and up-to-date. If changes were to be made to the design or requirements of the heating system, schedules and quantities would be generated automatically. If the design was inaccurate – for example trying to run one pipe into another – this would be flagged immediately. Consequently, with less time required by the individual team members to update changes, accuracy is improved and efficiency savings are made. The outcome of the project is also more predictable, facilitating better time management.

Future savings

BIM is beneficial not only in the design process but throughout the lifecycle of a facility. The model is passed from designer to installer to operator, enabling the FM provider to make faster, more accurately informed decisions about the maintenance or replacement of equipment. BIM provides robust operational and maintenance data to assist with any future alterations or changes of use, including an asset register for planned maintenance. In this way it continues to produce time-saving and cost benefits throughout the occupancy of the building.

From the initial design stage through the entire lifecycle of the building, using BIM will help cut costs without cutting corners. A good example is the Manchester Town Hall Building, one of the Government’s pilot BIM schemes, where the BIM environment saved money on unnecessary temporary works, saved the programme a total of nine months, and demonstrated to the client the benefit of BIM in future maintenance and replacement operations. For the construction team and the building owner or user, the benefits of moving to a collaborative, digital construction world are clear. With increased support in the form of courses and best practice guidance now available, perhaps the question should change from ‘Why BIM’ to ‘Why not now?’.

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