At a glance
- Cradle-to-grave design process promises to revolutionise construction industry
- But BIM’s risks have yet to be fully defined, especially at its most sophisticated level
- Brokers need to be aware of the types of BIM contracts their customers are entering into
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Building Information Modelling, or BIM, may be an alien concept to many but a paradigm shift is taking place within the construction industry over its adoption.
The race is on for many in the construction sector to embrace this revolution, as by 2016 all centrally procured UK government construction projects, no matter what size, will have to be delivered using BIM.
Benefits of BIM
One recent £60 million project revealed the effectiveness of using BIM in its design and construction.
The spectacular 13,500-capacity First Direct Arena, Leeds, which opened its doors earlier this month for the first time, used BIM in the design process right through to applying the finishing touches to the iconic entertainment venue.
And for BAM Construction, who completed the design and construction of the Leeds Arena achieving Level 2 BIM with the project team, it was the first time that the contractor had used BIM on a major scheme.
“It was a unique design and we had to have confidence that the Leeds Arena would come together on site without any real problems,” said Mark Taylor, North East BIM Co-ordinator for BAM Construction.
“BIM definitely reduced the risks and costs involved. The 3D modelling helped us understand the project better, allowing us to de-risk it and plan it better. There was more work up front, but the benefits were seen later on site on a project where so many major elements where fabricated offsite. A clash on site can cost upwards of £3,000 to resolve in delay and rework.”
BIM – which can be described as a cradle-to-grave design process whereby a rich digital 3D model of a building project is produced that can be used by the design team, construction team and building owner right through the lifecycle of the project – has moved, in a few short years, from the margins and into the mainstream of the UK construction industry.
New way of working
The UK public sector holds much influence within the construction industry as it accounts for as much as 40% of the sector’s workload. So, BIM is likely here to stay. And the benefits of this new way of working, which can produce large time and cost savings due to the certainty of the designs, are obvious.
“BIM is essentially taking the place of drawings, the written word and paper – and more recently the computer-aided design (CAD) approach,” said Andrew Marsh, a partner at law firm DAC Beachcroft. “And it was this interaction between these bits of paper that often caused difficulties in the co-ordination of the design, and then clashes on-site caused by arguments over the design.
“BIM is the progression of this design process that will eventually dispense with paper and use 3D modelling on a computer graphical representation. It revolutionises the whole concept. The theory is that BIM will save time and money as a lot of the risks will be identified pre-start.”
However, there are different ‘levels’ of BIM complexity, which range from zero, which is the traditional computer-aided design (CAD) approach, right up to the aspirational Level 3 that allows multiple teams to collaborate to virtually design and construct an entire project before the first shovel hits the dirt.
Leap into the unknown?
From 2016, the UK government will be demanding Level 2 for its contracts, and it is intended that the industry will move to a fully integrated Level 3 some time thereafter. It is thought that just over 10% of UK projects currently use BIM, although that figure is much higher in other countries, such as the US, where over 60% of projects rely on it.
“The UK is at a pretty formative stage regarding BIM, and at the moment Level 2 is an aspiration,” said Andrew. “There is a distinct difference between the ambitious and fully collaborative Level 3 and Level 2, which the construction industry can generally cope with at the moment.”
And it is this big leap into the relative unknown between Level 2 and Level 3 that is worrying some insurance industry experts.
Essentially, in Level 2 all stakeholders retain their own model and there is conduit up to the main model, which is traceable, regulated and controlled. In Level 3, the expectation and ambition is to have one model that stakeholders constantly feed into.
This brings with it a potential plethora of added risks, surrounding intellectual property rights and ownership of the model, as well as confidentiality of the data supplied. This is not to mention the increased levels of complexity that will be needed in all future construction contracts and possibly even multi-party insureds under a single insurance contract.
But, like most emerging technologies, if BIM is used properly then these issues are by no means insurmountable.
“I am sure the market will drive Level 3,” said Andrew. “But with Level 3 you are entering a different ballgame as far as risk analysis comes in, because how do you keep the traceability and keep the controls in place?
“And then there are functionality issues, as not everyone is necessarily going to be plugged in to the same software or have the level of sophistication required when an engineer needs a drawing down to finite dimensions.”
Best customer practices
BIM is the progression of the design process that will eventually dispense with paper and use 3D modelling on a computer graphical representation. It revolutionises the whole concept
Andrew Marsh, DAC Beachcroft
Critics can also see a two-tiered construction sector emerging because using BIM is not cheap. So there may be some at the smaller end of the scale and those that have little involvement in public sector construction work who may not embrace BIM at all.
“But if you talk to many large commercial operations, the large design and build contractors, they are actively using BIM,” said Andrew. “And they are actively stating that the people they are doing business with are going to have to keep pace with that and have the software and expertise to operate on that playing field.”
Best practices are also developing regarding BIM, including the BIM Protocol, and brokers should certainly be advising their customers to make their insurer aware that they are entering into any BIM contracts.
“It is your obligation to make a full disclosure to your insurer, telling your insurance partner what you are doing and how you are doing it,” said Andrew. “And if you follow best practice and the standardised documents that are coming out, like BIM Protocol, then BIM is manageable within current contractual frameworks and insurance arrangements generally speaking.
“The danger seems to be bespoke contracts and arrangements that are produced off the standard – then you are into areas of unknown and that is a risk.”