It’s costly and controversial but for those that can afford it, BIM pays off

Whether you like it or not, BIM is here - and here to stay. Building information modelling is to be made compulsory on all public projects and is being heralded by the government as the catalyst to revolutionise decades of antiquated practices and adversarial relationships. But how does it work in practice? What’s it going to cost your business? And will it really breach your intellectual copyright by opening up your thinking to the masses? Thomas Lane this week tells the inside story of how BIM is being used on Manchester council’s library refurbishment project. Under this integrated, online, 3D-modelling process, each member of the supply chain is empowered with a shared set of design information and site scenarios that enable them to troubleshoot hitches, solve conflicts before they happen, flag up possible snags, and translate designs into reality before any activity even begins on a project.

But what of the costs? It’s clear that for the big players, which have made significant investments in new technology, the cost savings can already be quantified. For the smaller firms, however, BIM is slightly trickier. The costs of BIM can look daunting at first glance. For a mid-sized architectural practice, for example, investing in BIM is likely to cost £350,000 or more. And yet this investment will give it a clear competitive advantage. Sadly, the fact that the majority of SME subcontractors and their extended suppliers cannot even dream of investing in BIM means there is an added cost for the companies that do embrace the change. As NG Bailey found when it acted as subcontractor on the Manchester council refurbishment scheme, companies have to create traditional 2D drawings simply to manage their supply chain downwards. And how sustainable is that?

At the heart of the criticisms of BIM is the issue of who owns it on a project. On the refurbishment scheme, there was an agreed set of terms and principles for the companies to embrace - BIM was the tool that connected and enabled the spirit of collaboration and progression. Already the professions are hailing BIM as an opportunity to promote their vested interests, or, in the case of architects, redress the balance of power over ambitious project managers and consultants who have captured their fees and wrestled control of projects away from a profession held in much higher regard on mainland Europe. Lawyers too are scrambling to understand the ramifications of the liability issues and the inevitable wrangling that will ensue if a BIM project begins to go spectacularly wrong. But, for now, the concept is a pure one. It has credentials and solid backers - BAA has pioneered it at Heathrow and the government’s construction adviser Paul Morrell has made it his baby. On paper it works, online it works even better. So, if you can promise not to break it, it’s over to you - if you can afford it, that is.

Tom Broughton is brand director of Building