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Sat 8 Jan 2011 12:00 AM

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Building on BIM

Contractors and consultants are losing out by being too cautious in adopting BIM.

Building on BIM

I recently spoke to the representative of a software vendor who expressed his frustration at a leading consultant dragging its feet in spending a couple of hundred dollars on BIM training. Obviously consultants, contractors and other stakeholders in construction are looking to all corners to cut costs, but surely training is not one of these.

The 2010 Middle East Building Information Modelling Market Survey, conducted by buildingSMART ME, underlines this point. There is a significant lack of professionally-trained BIM users in the region, with the majority of respondents stating they had been self-taught.

What this translates into is a low level of BIM expertise and competency in the region. The survey indicates that only 25% of respondents used BIM, while the figure is 36% in Western Europe and 49% in the US. In the GCC, BIM usage is also confined to its most basic functions, meaning a lot of its benefits are not being tapped into.

Typically, regional users will employ BIM for visualisation, 3D co-ordination and 2D drawing extraction. But there are myriad other advantages, such as scheduling, cost estimation, construction management and even facilities management. Contractors and consultants need a clear developmental path to embrace BIM in its totality.

While the regional market may be seen to be inexperienced – and, to some extent, insecure –  in its adoption of such new technology, the survey did point out that there is strong awareness of BIM in the region and its value to construction. About 79% of respondents indicated some awareness of and/or exposure to BIM, citing its major selling points as reduction in design errors and improved quality control and productivity.

The major stumbling blocks to large-scale BIM adoption are availability of skilled staff (51%), cost of software (48%), cost of implementation (34%) and availability of training. The issue of cost will only be overcome if contractors and consultants begin to understand the return on investment in both increased productivity and added value.

I also spoke to a major contractor about its adoption of BIM, and was told quite emphatically that while it used some kind of software, it was not BIM. It was clear that such a new-fangled concept had no place in the nuts, bolts and drawing-board environment of traditional contracting. Such attitudes are changing slowly as the construction industry becomes increasingly savvy in terms of deploying new technologies.

This is not to suggest that the road to BIM does not have its fair share of obstacles. Obviously no software package can replace a building-services co-ordinator whose 20 years of experience allows him to detect clashes on 2D drawings with uncanny intuitiveness.

What is needed is for such highly-skilled people to impart their knowledge to others. If you consider that the towering achievements of Dubai, in particular, were largely the products of 2D design, the large-scale adoption of BIM in construction could mean endless possibilities for the future.

Gerhard Hope, is the editor of Construction Week.

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