While Australia continues to grapple with BIM, the UK continues to innovate.

Businesses there are needing to get to grips with Building Information Modelling (BIM) as it becomes mandatory for public sector capital-build projects from April 1, 2016.

One Council in particular, Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, is pushing the boundaries in this regards with their West Midlands Virtual Hospital (WMVH) initiative; a digital-engineered 3D hospital “walkthrough” embedded with a BIM platform. It complements the development of a real-life hospital, the soon-to-be-constructed £353 million Midland Metropolitan.

Architects, medical engineers, buyers, healthcare estates managers browse WMVH to view prospective suppliers and source compliant materials, products and services. They can download BIM objects linked to product data and specifications from suppliers who interest them.

“We believe the adoption of BIM technology is key to the future success of our region’s supply chain, boosting business and workforce skills,” said Steve Massey, supply chain development officer at Sandwell Council.

SMEs can present their BIM execution plans, parametric designs, drawings, dimensional tolerances, product life ­cycle data and COBie data­formatted specifications using easy -to­-configure 3D analysis.

Architects and engineers can then click and paste BIM objects presented by regional suppliers, from medical equipment to structural elements, to use within their design considerations

It is free to register as a buyer, specifier or supplier. Each user creates a personalised profile page, suppliers can upload technical specifications, drawings, datasheets, case studies plus a link to their own website.

Suppliers to the WMVH have a badge on their profile page showing their firm’s level of skill in using BIM. Badges range from one star (“We’re aware of BIM but haven’t yet implemented it in our business – we would like support and advice”) to five stars (“Fully BIM compliant.”) This nurtures engagement with BIM and allows the Council to see who needs extra support.

“To be able to compete in the global marketplace, every materials manufacturer, engineering firm and product installer will need to get to grips with BIM in the coming months,” Massey said.

The winning hospital bidder will be contractually obliged to use the WMVH as a design and procurement tool, giving them a fully specified digital building.

According to Council research, the WMVH is a first­ of ­its ­kind digital design and procurement tool, which they believe has the potential to be the catalyst to change the way that hospitals and healthcare facilities are procured in the future.

site model 3“The entire supply chain needs to be educated about technology choices to become proficient in digital engineering, new innovations, processes to exchange building efficiency data, changing supply chain work methods adopted as the dynamics of BIM and the built environment changes,” said Massey.

“A poorly ­implemented BIM adoption could be disastrous for the Council and adversely affect or preclude the authority from bidding for Central Government funds aligned to regeneration projects in the future.”

Recognising that BIM adoption is draining on the whole supply chain’s resources, the Council has established and resourced a state-of-the-art BIM training suite, offering SMEs an affordable route to get to grips with BIM.

The 12-workstation facility features a full range of BIM model viewing software, e-­learning platforms and affordable vocational training, including basic CAD use skills, 3D modelling, engineering design services, BIM consultancy on BIM adoption, product design and BIM object creation. It is another first for a local authority in the UK.

Internal viewIntegrated into the BIM suite business model is the ability to white­label, sell or franchise its functionality and e-­learning tools to other public sector organisations, from the Fire Service to the Police, as well as the private sector, therefore making the BIM suite self-­sufficient.

“Our aim is to put the West Midlands at the forefront of BIM adoption, not just locally but globally,” said Massey. “We want to provide a cost-effective framework for small, medium and large businesses to embrace new technologies whilst raising awareness of the significant business opportunities that BIM presents when looking to enter new markets or gain a global advantage.”

WMVH has already won awards for small ­business friendliness from the Federation of Small Businesses. It recently won the National Construction News Awards for BIM Initiative of the Year and picked up two further awards at the WM Constructing Excellence Awards, securing Sandwell Council a finalist place in the National Constructing Excellence Awards in London later this year.

The judges of the National Construction News Awards said, “Sandwell is pushing at the limits and its virtual hospital is beyond expectations. You can recruit a lot of people to BIM this way.”

WMVH_Slide2The proof is in the figures.

To date, 1,500 users have registered to the platform, supplying thousands of products and components, while several BIM workshops have been arranged to date, resulting in over 120 regional companies attending to learn about and equip themselves on BIM.