Is BIM a Test of Mettle?

Render of One Smithfield Square.

Published on: Thursday, 31st October 2013

A recent survey found that 70% of engineers believe Building Information Modelling (BIM) presents a major obstacle to their business growth. As such there is nervousness as many stand back from embracing BIM. But as Roy Burns, Managing Director of Metsec Lightweight Structures explains, the key is about looking for the opportunities BIM provides, not the challenges.

Certainly when it comes to the specification of structural solutions for buildings, the landscape has changed. While materials, systems and methods have innovated over the years, in response to changing demands in the way our buildings perform, so too has the routemap for creating these structures.

In 2011 Paul Morrell, the government’s then chief construction adviser told the construction industry that it should adopt BIM, or risk becoming ‘beta-maxed out’. While by 2016 it will be obligatory for all those tendering for government projects, there are massive opportunities for everyone within the industry to optimise on the savings and cultural changes BIM can help facilitate.

However, the reality is a perception that BIM is expensive – requiring new software investment with new skills. This is what is holding many engineers and sub-contractors back from closing the gap on BIM as an industry-wide modus operandi. Engineers and architects still need to work together with sub contractors to inform the design with tangible data, ensuring loading and tolerances are correct. However, the emergence of BIM as a new working practice has altered the way each party interacts with one another. It has shifted not only the way buildings are designed and built, but also the way they are operated and maintained. Paul Morrell said: “There is a huge gulf I think between those who get it and those who don’t. Probably the biggest misunderstanding is that some people think it is about software... It’s more about cultural change than it is about software and I think that’s not understood.”

In addition to enabling collaborative working from a 3D model, a BIM methodology also contains a huge volume of information, which is shared in real time. All parties working on a project can access one set of data for a truly integrated approach. This means everyone works together towards a shared goal, with architects and engineers determining immediately the effect of changes to even very small elements of the building design. They can therefore detect clashes that impact on compliance, performance, cost and feasibility of a project at a very early stage.

When used effectively by everyone in the supply chain, BIM has the potential to unlock huge savings in time and cost – from specification and then throughout the operational life of a building. The real advantage for the engineer and the rest of the design team is that by designing and redesigning the building many times in BIM, it can get built out flawlessly onsite.

Gearing up for BIM may seem daunting but it’s worth remembering that there will be a direct cost to any business that fails embrace BIM. Some investment in software is required, but the government is not mandating any specific software platforms, so businesses are free to make their own decisions on how to implement BIM working.

There are two types of software available and the type selected will be determined by who is responsible for creating the BIM model: a main contractor or part of the design team (structural engineers and architects), or a collaborator in the model (specialist contractor or supplier). For those contributing to the design it will be necessary to have the right software in place to support the data. On the other hand, a specialist contractor or supplier needs to ensure it has the ability to supply information into the model and have access to that information from product and system suppliers.

When creating the design intent within BIM, engineers and architects work together to manipulate, navigate and review a 3D model. They will need to understand not only how the building design process works, but also the concept of BIM and be able to use the software accordingly. Alternatively, for contractors supplying information in BIM, they need to know their suppliers can provide data in BIM and that these are easily accessible for download and sharing. Using products from suppliers who can provide all the information needed for BIM modelling will ensure contractors and engineers can collaborate easily with others on the design intent.

Metsec is a BIM level II supplier. This means it can provide the cold rolled steel data needed for a design team’s BIM model. BIM files are available to download from www.metsec.com/bim/downloads/ and the intent is to ensure that all engineers, installers and sub-contractors are well equipped to share design information with the construction team, delivering a robust design intent and ensuring end clients receive the best in performance, quality and value for money.