In the 1987 classic comedy Beverly Hills Cop 2, detective Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) assumes temporary occupation and enjoyment of a multi-million dollar Beverly Hills mansion under construction by pretending to be a building inspector and ordering the contractors to down tools and leave the site.

The problem, Foley comically asserted, was that the contractors were working off an old and out-of-date set of plans. At the ‘meeting’ with the owners (which of course never happened), Foley asserted that the owners had ordered new plans under which the house would contain no right angles and would be ‘round as a doughnut.’ Work would have to stop, Foley bluffed, until the owners returned from holiday and this whole ‘mess’ could be straightened out.

Had the bemused and frustrated foreman had access to what we now know as building information modelling, he could have opened his laptop, checked the most current version of the model, pointed to a single source of truth and seen right through Foley’s ruse.

As things stood, he had no way to prove whether his version of the plans was current or not. The contractors left and the mischievous Foley was left with free access to five bedrooms, a bar, a jacuzzi and a swimming pool.

Access to that single source of truth is one advantage which contractors and project managers stand to derive from greater use of building information modelling on site in construction. Over recent years, BIM has made significant inroads in the design world. Barely known amongst designers five to 10 years ago, BIM tools such as Revit are now widely used in design. On sites, however, its use among contractors and subcontractors remains limited.

That raises questions about the benefits which BIM provides to contractors and subcontractors, the barriers to greater BIM adoption on site and the strategies required for effective implementation of BIM in construction. To explore these issues, Sourceable spoke with Autodesk regional director Andy Cunningham.

Whilst he acknowledges that BIM use in construction is not widespread as yet, Cunningham is optimistic that action in this space will happen amid efforts to spread the benefits of the data generated through BIM further down the building chain.

Only five years ago, he points out that BIM as a concept remained somewhat fledgling in design. Now, its use across architecture and engineering is common. As efforts to expand the volume of digital modelling information flowing down the chain continue, Cunningham says use of BIM or at least BIM related outputs amongst contractors, subcontractors and eventually maintenance personnel would grow.

As well, the growing cost and complexity of projects and budgetary pressures will drive growing pressures for BIM adoption in the marketplace – albeit with BIM not having been mandated on government projects down under in the same way that it has been in the UK.

“In construction, BIM is not quite common terminology yet,” Cunningham said, asked about BIM’s relatively limited uptake in the building phase of projects.

“There are efforts to create awareness of the benefits of BIM for construction. The insights from BIM can be applied to all phases of a project. There are some ways to go for widespread adoption but the construction industry has started exploring and implementing solutions in this space.

“I would imagine in the next few years, BIM or an extension of it, ‘Connected BIM’ as we call it, will become more common in the construction space. Today, we are still talking about extending the data and insights from the design phase downstream. That is happening but we are not yet really referring to it as BIM as such.”

According to Cunningham, the benefits of BIM from a contractor or subcontractor’s perspective revolve not so much around the model itself but rather in the data and knowledge which comes from it. Ultimately, its practical value on site lies in its ability to assist contractors to get things done correctly the first time and to avoid errors, costly and dangerous rework and waste.

It achieves this in two ways. First, the 3D model can simpler to comprehend and more intuitive compared with 2D drawings. Where the BIM model is maintained and accessed via cloud computing, contractors, subcontractors and any other party who has been afforded access will be able to view the most recent addition at all times and thus access a ‘single point of truth’ in relation to the plans.

This, Cunningham says, is critical. Especially on multi-storey sites, he says it is not uncommon to have contractors starting work on the ground floor at the same time as engineers are still nailing down the design of higher floors. In such situations, change is happening constantly. Any misunderstanding or failure to respond to sudden changes on the part of contractors may mean that they are working in the wrong space, wasting the wrong material, pouring the wrong pour or putting the wrong element into the building.

Asked about barriers to greater use of BIM in construction, Cunningham says these revolve largely around notions of BIM being primarily a ‘design’ tool. Further education is needed, he said, about the value of outcomes of BIM models and processes which are most pertinent to the construction space.

Asked finally about optimal strategies to implement BIM in construction, Cunningham says it is first important to identify why you are going down this path and the benefits you hope to derive from BIM. As well, it was necessary to adopt a common data environment.

He says there is no one magic switch to turn on end-to-end BIM adoption. Instead, it is important to identify key project areas which could benefit and to expand from there.