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Martyn Day, X3Dmedia, on design - BIM is likely to become mandatory for public projects

When it comes to production drawings, design technology has long since liberated architects and technicians from drawing boards

Computer Aided Design (CAD) systems, such as Autodesk’s AutoCAD and Bentley’s MicroStation, improved accuracy and productivity by digitising the manual drafting process. While other industries, such as manufacturing and process plant design, have since adopted 3D systems that automatically generate any 2D plans and drawings, the building industry has been reticent to invest in the next generation of model-based design systems.

Current estimates are that Building Information Modelling (BIM) design systems are deployed on only 10 per cent of projects in the UK, compared with 60 per cent in the US. Despite the promised benefits of improved profitability and productivity over traditional 2D CAD, the UK construction industry is not ready to adopt for a combination of financial, cultural and contractual reasons. In these straitened times, acquiring a new design system, with additional training and changes to a firm’s business process, is understandably unpalatable. Even those firms that have made the jump admit that moving to adopt a BIM system does require considerable investment and pain on a number of projects before any benefits are seen.

But early adopters, such as Mott MacDonald, Aedas, Ryder and Laing O’Rourke are now through the pain barrier and taking an evangelical approach to promoting BIM. At the recent Autodesk BIM conference in London, all these firms gave presentations outlining the positives and negatives of BIM technology and workflows over ‘traditional’ 2D CAD. The overall impression given was that the promised benefits of co-ordinated drawing production, simplified management, better project team integration, increased productivity, improved scheduling, reduced risk and less waste, were all achievable given a pragmatic adoption methodology.

Should the experiences of industry peers not be enough, the acceleration of adoption looks set to be assisted by the current government. At the same conference, the government’s chief construction adviser Paul Morrell advised the audience that BIM deliverables ‘will become a key part of the procurement and delivery of all public buildings’. With a cost-cutting agenda, the government is expecting a report in March 2012 to the Construction Clients Board advising mandatory BIM usage in all projects to reduce costs and add long-term value. This could have significant impact on the design processes and technology used by the 40,000 companies working on government infrastructure projects.

While most UK architects have not adopted BIM, the system is generally perceived to be the future of building design. For now it seems that firms with a multidisciplinary outlook are taking the lead, seeing obvious benefits of tighter internal integration and better co-ordination with others on projects. When BIM deliverables become mandated by government, these firms will be best placed to bid.

Next year’s governmental report will undoubtedly set in motion extensive changes to how the industry works, leaving many architectural practices to up-skill and invest, to stand any chance of inclusion in government projects.

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