BIM continues to make its mark on Australian building projects
Building information modelling is producing results for projects worldwide. Is Australia up to speed?
From Shanghai Tower to WeWork office spaces, building information modelling (BIM) is transforming the construction, operation and maintenance of buildings and infrastructure around the world.
But BIM is much more than just a 3D model of a structure, says Oliver Hughes, Co-Founder and Director of Digital Construction Week UK. “Ultimately, BIM is a process,” says Hughes. “It’s the creation and management of accurate, shareable information concerning the lifecycle of a construction project.
“For some, it’s a new way of working, but one that should augment the work you’re already doing. It’s not about reinventing the wheel as much as understanding how to better make the wheel and helping everyone understand that process.”
Belinda Hodkinson, Founder and Director of Magnae, a digital advisory firm promoting built-environment productivity, says a BIM model can streamline workflow efficiencies within and between disciplines at each stage of project delivery, and throughout operations and maintenance.
“This is primarily achieved by using the information embedded into the model to make better decisions,” she says. “As every project requires information, BIM is useful for every type of construction project, from buildings to civil infrastructure, utilities and more.
“There is no construction too small or too large that cannot benefit from BIM.”
BIM’s benefits are different for each discipline and each stage of a project, says Hodkinson. “The best way to look at it is it helps you to deliver better outcomes because you’re building a digital replica and testing it before you physically build it,” she says. “The key is having all the stakeholders involved to collaborate and coordinate the solution together from the outset, rather than the traditional siloed approach.”
Hodkinson cites the example of an architect or engineer selecting a particular structural layout to enable heating, ventilating and air-conditioning runs, only to discover on-site the construction team has changed the layout to something easier or cheaper. Inevitably, the project costs more because the utilities must be redesigned.
“BIM certainly doesn’t stop this happening, but having a model with the information and working with the construction team and fabricators earlier does help to reduce rework issues like this,” she says.
Hughes believes BIM creates greater certainty on projects, and improves efficiency and ultimately profitability. “If applied properly, there can be even greater improvements and savings at the operation and maintenance phase of a project, too,” he says.
“That said, it can be a long process. The investment, training and time needed to get it right can be daunting. But if the UK’s BIM journey is anything to go by, the results are well worth it.”
The UK has become a global leader, Hughes says, partly due to a government policy mandating collaborative BIM on public works from 2016.
BIM in Australia
BIM has been employed in different ways in different places, Hodkinson says. Everyone is on their own BIM journey, and Australia is no exception.
Hodkinson was an early adopter here, implementing BIM as early as 1999. Progress has been slow but steady since then. “From about 2005 to 2012, Australian clients were becoming more interested in the value BIM could deliver for their businesses,” she says. “This ranged from state health departments to defence, and retail and commercial clients that had larger asset, facility or estate portfolios.
“Since 2013 this has increased significantly to other markets such as transport, water and energy and we have many government departments requesting BIM or digital deliverables such as digital engineering.”
BIM is struggling to cut through in the residential market, Hodkinson explains, but she believes states and cities creating 3D ‘cadastre’ and digital twins are helping to address this issue.
“The widespread use of BIM is significant,” she says. “Chatting with solicitors and lawyers in Australia, you would struggle to say BIM isn’t considered a standard delivery method.”
Room for improvement
With no formal national mandate, however, there’s still room for improvement, Hodkinson says. “Government procurement is one area that would help Australia expand the use of BIM, and it is progressively growing, but unfortunately it isn’t the same in each state.
“The key to achieve this at a national level is to have departments such as Treasury and Planning work with the other national initiatives in artificial intelligence, blockchain and smart cities. When you connect all of these initiatives together, Australia should be able to drive BIM as a valuable part of the overall technology ecosystem.
“We all just want to do our jobs well; BIM and these advanced technologies will help us get there. We just need our government to be at the forefront and helping to guide us.”
Hughes has no doubt of the benefits of collaboration through BIM. “There’s been a real disconnect between design, construction and operation,” he says.
In a show of support for the Australian market, Hughes says he’s looking forward to launching a local version of Digital Construction Week at DesignBUILD in 2021.
“I’m not convinced Australia is trailing other countries; it’s perhaps just at a different stage of the journey,” he says. “What’s really exciting to me is the ability to learn from others and the mistakes or challenges that have already been faced. It could well offer the opportunity for Australia to leapfrog many others.”
Hodkinson, too, is optimistic about BIM’s potential in Australia. “Australian culture is to get in there and get the job done; we thrive on it,” she says.
“With the complexities facing the construction industry, we’re struggling to be productive because we’re using a hybrid of BIM and traditional deliveries. This is slowing productivity down and hurting many of the sectors within the construction industry. If we approached BIM from a holistic perspective and understood how to utilise technologies that supported BIM processes, we’d be making a bigger impact on our country.”
She would like to see a situation where data provides governments, citizens and owner-operators with enough information to help us stay safe, healthy and productive.