BIM’s big bid
If the saying is true that a week is a long time in politics, then the last year in the GCC construction industry has been a veritable lifetime.
A market that was taking tentative steps towards a recovery 12 months ago has progressed in leaps and bounds, with the volume of announced, restarted and planned projects in the UAE alone in 2014 expected to be valued somewhere in the region of $315bn.
And while Building Information Modelling (BIM) was one of the buzzwords last year, it is now a common part of the vocabulary used by the consultants, architects and contractors involved in reshaping the Gulf’s construction sector.
With each passing year, the list of major projects across the globe demanding use of the system grows.
Jeddah’s 1km tall Kingdom Tower, Abu Dhabi International Airport’s Midfield Terminal Building, and Doha Metro are just some of the mega-projects underway in the GCC to have embraced the method. Now it is not so much a case of whether BIM will be implemented on a large project, but how it will be executed.
Paul Madden, business development director at BAM International said: “It is now well accepted that BIM is probably the most efficient tool for managing the full life cycle of any building – right from the concept stage through the construction and during the operation and maintenance phase.
Indeed, BAM has embraced BIM to such a degree that it has set a mandate for fully integrating BIM support into all of its projects by 2020.
“BIM allows a building to be built digitally before the actual construction,” Madden continued. “The advantages of digitally constructing a building cannot be overemphasised as this will assist us, as a main contractor, to optimise the site set-up, streamline the construction methodology and extract accurate quantities together with a correct visualisation of the project.
“These were far-fetched thoughts during the era of blue print and 2D drawings.”
Unlike with traditional 2D drawings, the theory behind BIM is that the data in a BIM-led project remains consistent, co-ordinated and more accurate across all stakeholders, regardless of how many times the design changes, or who changes it. As a result, BIM is designed to ensure building and infrastructure projects are created and completed faster, more economically and sustainably.
According to Tim Cole, executive vice-president of research and development with BIM software provider Causeway, “the world did not change overnight just because we realised that BIM was a great way to help transform project outcomes”.
And while progress is certainly being made, he believes BIM needs to be embraced better to allow its reach and benefits encompass the entire lifecycle of the built environment.
“BIM is often described as being a process and not a technology, perhaps by those hoping to avoid stirring an underlying fear of technology,” said Cole. “I think BIM is best described as a technology-enabled process that is built on collaboration and early engagement’.
“Take out any one of these elements, and the benefits are greatly reduced.”
Earlier this year, leaders from Europe’s architecture, engineering and construction industry expressed their support for a European Parliamentary vote to modernise public procurement with new rules to help boost competitiveness.
As part of its vote, the parliament agreed to recommend the use of electronic tools such as BIM for public works contracts to ultimately enable more efficient construction and building projects in Europe.
The UK, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland and Norway already require the use of BIM for publicly-funded building projects.
And the implementation of DM Circular 196 means that BIM must also now be mandated on major projects in order for them to obtain approval from Dubai Municipality.
Dominic Thasarathar, who handles strategic industry relations for construction, energy and natural resources at software supplier Autodesk, said: “It’s great to see governments are on board. It’s pushing everybody in the right direction.
“It’s reset the bar. Three or four years ago you could go to a client and say choose me because I use this great process called BIM therefore I can reduce costs. Now everybody’s saying that.
“What I’m starting to see happening is companies are looking beyond the individual project and saying, ‘what can BIM now do for us at the enterprise level?’”
System providers argue that BIM technology can cut the cost of building projects by up to 20% right from the tender through to the execution phase.
Madden explained: “BAM has recognised the importance of the use of BIM in tenders. It has a centralized technical team comprising of very experienced and certified BIM modellers supporting the tenders.
“They create the 3D, 4D and 5D models from the available 2D information.
“The process of model creation itself enables us to identify any design discrepancies and understand the design completeness. These are then raised as tender clarifications.”
Elsewhere in The GCC, with BIM being used on some of Qatar’s headline construction programmes, there is confidence that the technology will become even more important over the next 12 months as significant contracts are awarded.
Rene Schumann, managing director of Hochtief ViCon, said: “This year will be another important and interesting year for Qatar in its BIM history, especially through significant projects like the football World Cup and rail projects, which require BIM from the tender stage.”
However, despite its many advantages, Mohannad Altabbal, general manager for BIMES Middle East, warned BIM alone is not the answer to all problems.
He said: “BIM has previously been promoted as an easy, magical software solution. The number of times I have heard the phrase ‘with one click’ is quite saddening.
“BIM is not just about software. The big challenge is understanding the change that comes along with BIM and that requires a change of mentality.
“Many were promised big results, yet they couldn’t deliver what they used to deliver in 2D. This had a negative impact on BIM in the region, and we are trying to change that by focusing on the real, achievable BIM goals.”
If the full potential of BIM is to be realised throughout the GCC then a shortage of qualified BIM engineers is a particular issue which needs to be addressed, with adequate training put in place to keep up with market demand.
Atkins MEP head of department, David Crowder, said: “We expect demand for skilled BIM practitioners to increase substantially as more major projects come on line, but while this is a welcome step forward for the region’s infrastructure sector, it could result in a skills shortage unless we start to see significant investment in training.”
And Thasarathar believes governments have a role to play.
He added: “For me, as a technologist it’s easy to say what it will do, but the legislation and practices and everything has to catch up. You can only move as fast as the market will support. I don’t see them as major stumbling blocks, I just think it’s a question of accepting how long it takes to permeate and cross the different stakeholders.”