BIM: The bigger picture

Matt Pennell, UBM

Written by Matt Pennell, UBM

Is BIM better for certain types of projects than others? The BIM community sometimes sees it as a cure-all – not merely good for buildings but also for the built environment as a whole. Last year some senior managers at a multi-billion £ major contractor explained how BIM was now becoming a major civils tool. BIM software was guiding earthworking machines via GPS to do the groundworks for the M25 widening. I guess in practice you can use BIM for just about any feature of the built environment, no job too small or large.

This week the potential of BIM at the micro level was flagged up in Building, 3D printing has widely been used in the world of industrial product design but hardly in the construction industry. Advocates of 3D printing claim that the construction industry will adopt it in time and that very complicated bits of kit such as HVAC systems can already be manufactured by printers allied to BIM. That is perhaps the next great evolution of BIM. For now BIM comes into its own at a macro level – the bigger the project, the greater the benefit of using BIM. The potential to save time (during the design phase and with logistics) and maintain integrity of inventories makes BIM very attractive for large scale projects.

It’s for this reason that clients, architects and contractors that wrestle habitually with large scale projects are coming to BSL. KPF, for example is renowned for designing skyscrapers and have been responsible for a large chunk of the blueprints behind London’s tallest buildings this century. Ferrovial Agroman is a large European contractor, chiefly known in the UK for owning a portfolio of airports including Heathrow. While a new runway is not on the drawing board for Heathrow, the small matter of a £3Bn development plan is. Populous is arguably the world’s leading stadium designer, and its extensive UK portfolio includes the Olympic Stadium (and conversion works for post-Olympics usage). These grand project specialists will be joined at BSL by major contractors such as Laing O’Rourke, Morgan Sindall, Willmott Dixon, ISG, Mott MacDonald, and Hochtief. All of these are multi-sector operators that have interests in large scale office and resi schemes, and civils projects such as roads, rail and bridges.

Understandably, grand project clients are buying into BIM in a major way too, and BSL has a particular appeal to big retailers, with Sainsbury’s, Asda and John Lewis signing up. BIM has come into its own in the supermarket sector. Retail sheds generally have a simple shell type design, however where retailers skimp on complexity or exterior decoration they make up for in the fit-out, with most stores undergoing a complete refurb every five years. There are few other building types where this happens. It’s this need for frequent changes within the context of a simple structure where BIM’s stage 4 capability comes into its own.

Maybe one day soon BIM will feed into the manufacture of water fountains or garden sheds – there is no area of the built environment off limits. However for now it’s the biggest projects where BIM will bring the biggest benefits. As the press thinks the UK is hopeless at delivering grand projects (glossing over the smooth delivery of The Shard, the Olympic Park and  Heathrow T5), the time and cost savings possible via BIM could transform our attitude to such landmarks. A welcome development for both project team leads and the whole supply chain – some well delivered national monuments will  give construction the morale boost it needs in these austere times.

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