There is a problem in how we are using BIM and delivering projects throughout Australia, as much of the knowledge about how a building is constructed is lost in various phases of the development.

As things stand, substantial knowledge is lost as the design team hands over to the builders and again when the construction team hands over to the building owner and facilities manager.

As a result, whilst BIM might have been used in design, the facilities manager is left to make sense of voluminous paperwork – much of which may or may not be the latest revision. Accordingly, the technology is not being used to its best potential in the phase of the building which is most important and where most of the expenditure will occur – the time during which the building is actually operated and maintained.

At a recent Digitize 2017 conference hosted by Siemens in Sydney, Siemens senior program manager, building information modelling, Wolfgang Hass and Investa Group executive and head of commercial development Mark Tait outlined their thoughts about how Australia can derive greater benefits through BIM.

According to Hass, significant opportunities are being missed to use BIM during the operation phase the building life cycle.

Part of the reason, he says, is that BIM in its early days was used by architects and software engineers to transfer data from one CAD system to another, and was seen almost exclusively as a design tool.

In addition, he says, tendering processes are such that there are limited opportunities to involve facilities management and maintenance personnel within a project’s design. Indeed, when BIM files are being prepared, the team who will be maintaining the building is often unknown. This makes designing BIM files with maintenance in mind difficult.

Even if this was not the case, there are issues in maintaining a complete set of data over the building life cycle, Hass said. As storage mechanisms evolve, data integrity will need to be maintained as it is transferred through various mediums, he said. There are also questions about who owns the data from an intellectual property standpoint.

According to Hass, one consequence is that those tasked with maintaining the building may not fully understand what materials have gone into it. Hazardous materials such as asbestos, for example, may need to be removed. Yet in absence of complete digital files, facilities managers have no idea what materials are in our buildings, where they are located and how much there is.

Hass says the building sector must change current approaches which see it dig a little bit before planning a little bit and then digging and planning more. Instead, he says building should be done in a two-staged approach whereby builders first build the digital model and then deliver upon the physical form.

Tait agrees with Hass about the importance of BIM and what he calls integrated project delivery (IPD) – the practice of having all project team members work together in a harmonious manner throughout all phases of the building process.

He contests notions about use of BIM and IPD adding to project costs. Whilst these do bring forward substantial investment up-front in design, they ultimately save money during construction by helping us to build correctly the first time and avoid rework.

Beyond that, he said there are benefits in using BIM throughout the project.

First, as mentioned above, it saves money during construction. Take for example, construction of the Ark Building (now Coca Cola Place) in North Sydney in 2008. Without BIM, a clash detection that showed issues with a concrete culvert causing problems for the building's new door would have resulted in three months’ worth of rework had it not have been detected. Courtesy of 3D digital design, however, the clash was detected and the builder was able to cut off and truncate the culvert with a delay of only 24 hours.

Tradespeople, as well, may resist this initially but will eventually jump on board where they can see opportunities to create a better return for themselves by being able to do things once and once only. By using clash detection, for example, you can avoid someone who installs a duct run having to come in and perform a diversion and rerun after it is discovered that this clashes with someone else’s sprinkler line. Unions like this as well as workers who are able to go onsite and perform tasks once are less exposed to dangerous rework.

Indeed, he says, there have been occasions whereby projects have been offered lower prices on trade contract work because contractors had seen that they made more money when they avoided rework.

Maintenance is another advantage. On many occasions, Tait has seen documentation about a building consist of only paper – a phenomenon which makes keeping track of maintenance or changes performed throughout the operation of the building next to impossible. With a full model which is available online, changes can be uploaded and all team members will have access to the latest revision.

For tenants, BIM is also critical. Where a facilities manager receives notification about the air temperature within the back corner of a room feeling too hot or cold, they can use the model to determine exactly which heater services that locality. That speeds up rectification time and boosts tenant satisfaction.

In terms of strategies, Tait says a critical concept revolves around integrated project delivery – having all team members work together in an integrated approach. In Investa’s case, Tait says they get everyone together around the table at the start of the project. This includes the architect, engineers, the head contractor and trade contractors and – most importantly but most often neglected – facilities management and maintenance personnel.

Projects delivered in this fashion, Tait says, are more likely to be delivered on-time and to the required standard as team members have ‘buy-in’ and work in a more collegial and harmonious manner.

Bringing facilities management into the fold is particularly important, Tait said. Investa now has a policy of bringing facilities management personnel to the table right up in the early design phases of the building and speaking with them about what they want through their BIM files.

Second, Tait said, use of BIM throughout the project should be mandated and driven by the client – with architects showing models of how it works and demonstrating to the client how it will drive better outcomes if necessary.

This is critical, he said, as digital modelling is typically one of the first items which builders and/or cost planners will attempt to eradicate where project costs are tight.

It is also critical to have at least one party coordinating BIM efforts. On one of Investa’s projects at 60 Martin Place/151 Clarendon Street, much of the work in respect to BIM was performed offshore as Leighton sent a fair amount of work over to India. This created a ‘gap’ especially within the subcontract market and particularly in respect of the hydraulic consultants and installers as much of the subcontract market was still in the learning phase and unsure about much of the work had been done. Once AECOM were bought in as centralised managers, these challenges were able to be resolved and a better outcome was delivered.

When mandating BIM, Tait says, contractual expectations and requirements must be laid out in full. In the case of 567 Collins Street, which Investa bought into in 2010, these were spelled out in seven pages of detailed requirements within the construction contract.

A further aspect, Tait said, is to be clear about exactly what you want in the digital built model at the point of handover. This can be achieved by having facilities managers and maintenance personnel go through and pick out the critical features of the model which are important to them. This makes working with the models and delivering upon requirements at handover more feasible from the viewpoint of the builder and subcontractors as they do not need to document everything but only what is needed.

In addition, Tait encourages the adoption of 6D BIM, which incorporates not only the clash detection capabilities of 3D but also time related information and construction sequencing (4D), cost (5D) and project life cycle information (6D). Whilst the clash detection elements of 3D modelling are invaluable, Tait said, the scheduling elements associated with later stages of the building enable commercial property owners to give much greater certainty to their clients about when they will be able to move in.

Scheduling and cost information has other advantages as well. When one financier recently asked about progress regarding time and costs with a project (prior to the release of the next tranche of funds), an analysis of photographs of progress taken from site compared with the scheduling elements of the BIM model was delivered and the funds were released within 10 minutes.

The life cycle elements of the model are also critical as they enable property owners to show tenants exactly what the building should look like upon the conclusion of the tenancy. This helps to prevent disagreements between what the tenant believes they should have to make good and what they actually in fact are obliged to make good. By showing them with a BIM model what the building looked like prior to and after fit-outs were completed, tenants can be shown clearly how the premises should look when they leave.

Throughout Australia, benefits available through BIM are significant.

If it is to deliver on its maximum potential, we must change our work mindsets, drive its use throughout the building life cycle and be designing our buildings with long-term maintenance in mind from the beginning.