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Building Information Modelling: Less Haste, More Speed

The future of engineering design is now upon us: central government projects will require the use of building information modelling (BIM) Level 2 as standard from 2016, and this belies the pattern for the coming years.

24th February 2014    |     Chris Evans: Director, Rolton Group

BIM is a broad term that covers many areas, but of primary interest to the engineering sector is the 3D modelling it facilitates; the benefits of this software will soon mean its use becomes mandatory across the board, starting with the biggest projects and working right the way through to the smallest.

The reason behind this push towards a new digital era is how intelligent BIM software allows us to be with our designs. Running a 3D computerised model through time and against a variety of weather conditions ensures it is fit for purpose, whilst integration of aesthetic and structural specifications means style and substance can reach a finely tuned, fully functional balance before any shovels hit the ground. The technology enables more off-site pre fabrication to increase quality and reduce cost, so when construction does begin there is far less risk of conflict rearing its head and wasting both time and money.

As with any paradigm shift, however, some teething problems are to be expected. If, for example, some members of the project team have access to the software but others don’t, its amazing capability for collaboration and error-minimising is somewhat reduced; a half in, half out approach simply won’t make this program sing, and uptake across disciplines is vital in order to get the most out of it. Whilst structural capabilities have been relatively quick to emerge, building services are still waiting on a full suite of services that will allow their designs to exist within the virtual BIM environment.

There is a secondary issue here, and one that has perhaps stunted its growth: the design templates that form the basis from which BIM models can be built are still in development, and therefore can’t yet be used to their greatest advantage. It is unrealistic to expect any business to jump in with both feet until these are in place, so there needs to be some serious movement here.

The other warning call that is starting to sound in the industry is this: reliance upon computer software cannot be allowed to supersede the importance of human creativity and common sense. Yes, BIM programs need to become well-understood and well-used in our repertoire, but if we are too hasty in welcoming this brave new age, we could lose sight of the lightbulb moments that only spark within the human mind. Design teams still need room to creatively develop visions well before turning on the computer, and there will always be a place for trace paper.

It is no longer a question of ‘shall we use BIM?’, but ‘how quickly can we get our BIM offering off the ground?’ The most prestigious projects will come to expect it very shortly, so it’s time to get moving in order to stay at the top of the game. With all this urgency in mind, however, we must remember to walk before we run. If we don’t, we risk launching ourselves in the wrong direction, ill-equipped to make full use of a promising technology that is sure to become an integral part of projects in the not too distant future.

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