Workshop considers local approaches to BIM

March 16th, 2018, Published in Articles: PositionIT

The BIM Academy, a training partner of the BIM Institute, hosted a two-day workshop in Pretoria in February, drawing 28 construction professionals including civil engineers, quantity surveyors, technical directors, office managers and planning consultants, CAD specialists and academia.

Themed “Enhancing the BIM process for Africa”, the workshop looked at local approaches to implementing building information modelling (BIM), including delivery aspects and information exchange processes. Vaughan Harris, the director of the BIM Institute presented the workshop and encouraged input from the audience.

Vaughan Harris explaining BIM collaboration and workflows.

Vaughan Harris explaining BIM collaboration and workflows.

As a process rather than a software solution, BIM allows for new ways of working and automating tasks such as measuring quantities. But it also requires new ways of thinking about workflows, job roles and information. With data at its core, it is also the enabler of other technologies such as VR/AR, machine learning, the Internet of Things, and the Internet of Construction (the IoT for the construction industry).

Since information underpins BIM, it is important to understand classification systems/codes and standards, which enable information exchange irrespective of the BIM library being used.

According to Harris, BIM Level 2 (which describes how information in a model is used and exchanged) is not viable in for South Africa. This is because in the South African construction sector complies to SANS 10400 building standards and SMM7 measuring standards, while the UK, where BIM Level 2 is used, comply to BS1192 building standards and PAS1192 rules of measurement. Since the coding systems reference different standards, South Africa and other African countries will need their own classification system and BIM library.

There is currently no single global BIM standard or protocol, but various standards, specifications, and levels of implementation exist. The workshop looked at international implementations of BIM in the UK, Australia, Canada, Norway, the US and Singapore, outlining the different data formats used, the drivers of BIM in each country, and the different libraries and classification systems.

South Africa lacks a classification system and currently uses AEC(UK) BIM protocols. An Africa BIM Library is in the works (WIP Project). As BIM is still in its early stages, the most common local data exchange formats are DWG, Excel and PDF.

Developing standards and classification systems require wider BIM adoption, but paradoxically BIM adoption often relies on established standards and classification systems being in place. Furthermore, BIM adoption is usually a top-down process, which is why it is often driven by governments. This however is not the case in South Africa, and begs the much debated question of how to establish a BIM adoption strategy.

The workshop drew participants from various construction disciplines.

The workshop drew participants from various construction disciplines.

Clients often drive BIM and are ideal drivers of adoption since they stand to gain the most from these implementations. Harris suggested that construction companies inspire a BIM approach in their clients by asking them how they manage and monitor their buildings, energy usage, occupancy, and productivity, and so establish a BIM approach at the outset of a project.

Since contractors are the pillars of the construction process, getting them to adopt BIM is as important. One way to achieve this is by educating contractors on its benefits as a design tool that can help avoid rework and better manage risks, while improving performance and maintenance. Yet, this group remains the hardest to convince.

Academia could be another driver of adoption as it exposes students to the latest technologies and skills during their training, but this knowledge is often undermined or stifled once students enter the conservative construction industry. Associations and councils can also play a role in BIM adoption, but in their duties and through job reservation they usually end up restricting adoption rather than advancing it.

In all of this, the role of the supply chain in BIM is essential and should not be overlooked, as they provide the data needed in BIM without which it would be a lot more difficult and less useful. One way to spur adoption among suppliers is to request their product catalogues in digital format – even spreadsheet format – rather than having “dead data” in a glossy catalogue, said Harris.

More accurate construction documentation (i.e. fewer documentation requests), effective building operations and improved innovation are often overlooked in the face of the BIM adoption challenges such as the industry’s culture towards new technology, the reluctance of users and the industry to face growing pains for the eventual benefits, and the absence of a policy framework to drive BIM.

If not properly implemented, BIM can introduce risks such as legal complexity, liabilities, and significant disruption to teamwork. However, Harris believes that BIM failures often highlight failures of working with information. A high level of technology proficiency is therefore important when adopting BIM.

BIM roles and responsibilities were also discussed as something that is usually defined by the BIM execution plan, along with liabilities and details about the preferred data exchange format. Recipients also received a BIM manual which contains principles the BIM Institute deems important, and which is aligned with the BIM National Guide – a guide that has not yet been standardised.

Beyond the technical aspects, BIM requires a shift from a product-based to a process-based mindset, and collaboration (which is fundamental to BIM) will only be possible when users look beyond traditional roles and organisation structures.

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