Comment: Building, BIM and benefiting the bottom line

If you're a business leader in the construction sector, chances are you've heard of BIM '“ Building Information Modelling

CSIC is on a mission to spell out the business benefits that BIM can bring, says Hastie. Picture: Rui Vieira/PA Wire
CSIC is on a mission to spell out the business benefits that BIM can bring, says Hastie. Picture: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

You might even know that despite the common misconception, it isn’t a piece of 3D software – it’s a collaborative process whereby all parties in a design team work together to deliver a better building for their client.

Quite simply, BIM puts all the information that you and your client will ever need about a building into one easily accessible place. It compels the design team to consider the building beyond its handover and gives the client better tools to maintain and operate their building.

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Think of the mountain of plans and drawings you would normally give to your client when their building is complete. BIM replaces them all with one accurate, reliable 3D model with information embedded into it – the single source of truth, as some people call it. This model can tell you anything at the touch of a button, from what insulation is in the walls to how often a sensor needs to be cleaned.

You may already have a good understanding of all this, but still be burying your head in the sand and wondering why you should care. What’s in it for your business, other than a big bill for new software and a lot of staff training requirements?

Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) has been offering free BIM workshops and seminars around Scotland for the past year, aimed at everyone from the complete beginner upwards. In my experience, the people who usually attend are the “hands-on” people in a construction business. They tell their managers that BIM is a fantastic idea, but those decision-makers aren’t convinced.

Persuading business-leaders to adopt BIM can be tricky, because, let’s face it, most people don’t like disruption or change. CSIC is on a mission to demystify the process and spell out the business benefits BIM can bring, like increased productivity and decreased wastage. And with more clients now asking for BIM, and tenders increasingly listing it as a requirement, you can start to see why considering BIM might be a good idea.

I believe the trick is to break it down into small, manageable steps. I won’t lie – there is a cost outlay for the software itself, and a training requirement at the start. But once that is in place, the benefits – such as increased productivity – will far outweigh the initial investment.

With BIM, designers work in three dimensions instead of two. The design team, from the architects to the mechanical and electrical engineers, will each work up their own 3D model of the building. Because they are all compatible, these models can be layered on top of each other and exchanged, allowing problems to be spotted and resolved at an early stage, saving time and money.

BIM is also incredibly useful for easily figuring out the consequences of design decisions. If you change the pitch of a roof, for example, the model will tell you instantly how much more or less wall you will need, and the resulting cost implications. You could use the 3D model to calculate how much the sun will heat your building, and how this will change depending on how it is oriented on site. The model can also be adapted for offsite manufacture – and by constructing elements of a building in a factory, you can engineer much greater efficiency.

We’ve just introduced a free e-learning platform to our BIM programme, so if people can’t get along to our workshops and seminars, they can log on and learn about BIM at their own pace. Our first e-learning module, available now, is aimed at the complete BIM beginner. The second, added soon, will be crucial as it is aimed at business-leaders who have yet to be persuaded to begin their BIM journey.

So if this means you, watch this space – soon you won’t even need to leave your office to find out why forward-thinking construction businesses are getting clued up on BIM.

By Colin Hastie, BIM consultant, CSIC