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BIM and its obstacles

BIM By Kirsty Hogg, Technical BIM Lead, London – 03 February 2022

3D model of a service room including pipes and boiler tanks

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Kirsty Hogg standing in the lobby space of an office

Kirsty Hogg

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The question I have been asked the most over the last 18 months is ‘have I found the Covid restrictions and lockdown challenging at work?’. The simple answer is no, not really. We’ve obviously had to adapt to working remotely as a team and using software tools to communicate in ways we might not have before, but in terms of the job I do in the BIM sector, working remotely was the least challenging hurdle!

There is a tendency in the engineering and construction sector to never admit a weakness - this is a massive obstacle for BIM to really work. Fundamentally, BIM requires collaboration and that cringe-worthy term, working as ‘one team’. Hand in hand with collaboration workflows are geometry and data models. For me, both the modelling and collaboration have big obstacles to overcome before BIM is truly efficient.

I’ll start by explaining what I mean about geometry and data models. I’m sure that BIM professionals across the industry will agree with me when I say that the software options available to us for modelling just aren’t there yet. In fact, I’m not sure I can see into the future far enough to tell you when they will be!

Anyone who has been to a BIM conference, read an article on BIM success in construction or perused LinkedIn can be forgiven for thinking that everything works fantastically well and huge cost savings can be made if you just produce a 3D model.

This comes back to my point about not wanting to show weakness. In public, very few engineers, architects or contractors are willing to admit that getting fantastic models with perfect data is incredibly hard. We quite rightly want to talk about our successes and show what we can do.

Unfortunately, this has given software developers a 'get out of jail free card' to a large extent. We are all shouting about the software packages we have used and how amazing the end product was, but what we aren’t doing is explaining how difficult it was to get there.

Modelling software has pretty much stagnated over the last 10 years, with only minor updates and improvements. Whichever software provider you choose - Autodesk, Bentley, Graphisoft etc. - they have their positives, and they have their negatives. Some are great at calculations but complex to learn and roll out to large companies, or difficult to share amongst varying software file types, even with IFC!

You would need to take bits of each software and use them together on a model to have the ideal modelling platform for BIM. Apart from the fact that the cost would be exponential, and interoperability would be a nightmare, you simply couldn’t train enough people in your business to be proficient in all these different types of software. Your BIM departments would be huge, and any cost savings would immediately be lost.

The construction industry and local governments have written guidance and standards for delivering the optimal BIM project, and these documents are now international standards, but the problem is achieving these standards on a project.

The software needs to move past basic geometry and data input and focus on how to deliver the actual requirements of a BIM model - without having to purchase multiple different add-ins or develop your own scripting or coding apps. If the software companies are truly telling us that the product they have created is to produce BIM, then it needs to be built around the demands of the industry, the standards and what the clients are expecting.

Currently, consultancies and contractors are having to absorb the cost incurred to produce quality BIM projects because all the rhetoric in the media is that BIM is cost efficient and can speed up project delivery and certainty. I wish that was the case, but I have witnessed only small gains in efficiency and certainty - and that is in large part because the software available is just not being developed at the same level as the industry standards.

Obviously, a potential client isn’t interested in the logistics of a design and construction team getting to the end point of a project. They don’t want to hear what software can and cannot do. They have their industry guidance and requirements documents that tell them what they need in their facility, and it is our job to deliver that. How we do that is of little interest to them, and to be fair, why should it be? However, because of this and because consultancies and contractors are working to very tight margins and often incurring costs to themselves, this creates barriers to collaboration.

Relationships between design and construction partners can be fractious as the costs start mounting up and which side of the fence they are going to fall on. The efficiencies we could gain by working together and sharing our knowledge and experience is lost in a thick fog of contractual obligations and legal wranglings.

I urge all my peers in the industry to repeatedly voice their concerns with their software representatives, keep up the pressure for these enormous multi-national companies earning billions of dollars to develop their software to what we, their clients, need!

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