As the construction industry in Australia continues in its efforts to derive maximum value from Building Information Modelling (BIM), a recent report provides an interesting snapshot on how our industry is progressing overall and what we need to do going forward.

Analysing survey data collected from construction firms in nine of the world’s top construction markets, the Business Value of BIM for Construction in Major Global Markets report released by McGraw Hill Construction earlier this month highlights a number of areas where important progress has been made in Australia but demonstrates that more needs to be done in order to unleash the full power of BIM as a transformative tool.

Importantly, the report suggests that despite having been slower than their counterparts in the US and Britain in adopting BIM initially, contractors in Australia some other countries are now catching up and overtaking these early adopters.

Whilst virtual coordination among trades and communicating the design intent remain among the top-valued pre-construction activities for use the technology, major uses of BIM amongst contractors include multi-trade coordination, modelling for constructability, determining quantities from a model and schedule (4D) and cost (5D) integration.

The report also highlighted differing uses for BIM amongst different types and sizes of contractors. Whilst general contractors were more active (compared with contractors overall) in their preference for visualisation of design intent, for example, trade contractors were more active in using BIM to determine quantities from a model.

Also, relative to contractors overall, large contractors make greater use of BIM for multi-trade coordination and virtual job site planning and logistics.

Encouragingly, the study indicates that Australian and New Zealand contractors are slightly ahead of the game in terms of deriving business benefits from investment in BIM in some areas, albeit with our market needing more time and experience to match benefits claimed by contractors overseas in other areas.

So what does all this mean?

ACIF and its government counterpart the Australasian Procurement and Construction Council (APCC) have long argued that the full benefits of BIM as a tool for enhanced productivity cannot be realised without re-thinking the selection and management of project teams. The push for project team integration to allow bespoke trade contractors (those producing unique elements whether structural, façade or services) to better contribute to design is gaining momentum here and in other countries, but as the report shows, it still has a long way to go.

Collaboration amongst members of project teams in the construction industry is a good thing. It is a vital input to efficiency and productivity, reduction in wasted effort, and minimisation of disputes.

BIM will produce best results (design to achieve project sponsors’ objectives, minimal changes, optimal buildability, designed-in operational efficiency) when all those who can contribute are involved in designing and planning for the work they will perform for the project.

Having a main contractor/project manager and bespoke trade contractors as part of an integrated team driving collaborative use of BIM, means they can ‘pull’ the design documentation they need to install, and commission. The wasteful ‘business as usual’ approach is to ‘push’ on to them the documentation designers think they need or are accustomed to producing.

This in turn means that designers should have more time, and fees, to produce what is needed and valued, without wasteful iterations of documentation that are not needed.

There is a large gap between best and least use of BIM to drive more efficient pre-construction activities. In the US, 82 per cent of contractors treat multi-trade coordination as a top pre-construction activity, compared to 28 per cent in Germany. The Australian position will be released in a dedicated Australian report expected early in 2014. If the results are closer to the German numbers than the US results, we have a big job to do.

  • I feel that while BIM is a benefit to those who use it, its use is will be limited while it remains only an optional technology. State Governments have tried to increase the use of BIM but the current levels of restricted investment by the State Governments have not helped.

    Being a person who often is involved in managing large asset portfolios I don't need to be convinced about the long term benefits from introducing BIM on new projects. However the fact remains that we have a very large stock of pre BIM assets and retrofitting it to these is not easy or without substantial cost. Maybe more knowledge about how BIM can be applied to existing assets would help wider use and higher levels of benefit being realised.

    So I guess what I am suggesting is that until BIM becomes an embedded technology that is used more widely for existing assets it cannot deliver the sorts of benefits we need.

    • The other problem, Peter, is the cost of early implementation of the technology being appropriate to the asset class. In this case there are many competing 'technologies' that may be more appropriate. Remember that CAD was going to solve all of our quality ills in the 90's and so far it hasn't. Just worked on a project designed in 3-D and the compounded errors were frightening.

      My previous experience in government would lead me to believe that whilst there was the ability implement BIM at an early stage, the ability for ongoing exploitation of the BIM technology did not exist. I know for example, that QLD Project Services invested a significant amount in the development of a BIM system from scratch … don't know what has happened there though, SAP updating and integration was always going to be a major concern.

    • I agree Tony, and the QLD Project Services work seems to have stalled given the changes they were undertaking, and their next combined entity Building Asset Services (BAS) has been silent on where this is all heading. Apparently their IT systems were being integrated and improved so there may be a further push through their new procurement focus.

    • They're going to have to do something about the SAP platform first … it was a very old version then. The cost of upgrading and retraining will be enormous and I think that the task was beyond them a few years back — it seemed to be heading down the QHealth road. I was always intrigued with the accuracy of the financial reporting given that the SAP platform was so useless.

  • The upfront costs would necessarily be far greater … I don't think that non-institutional developers would be prepared to carry these cost risks.

    I might add that when I was more of a cost management consultant, I was a QS in the 80's and early 90's, I had my software tweaked with as many macro calculations as practicable based upon databases. It was a lot of work to set up but cost planning and analysis could be very quickly undertaken as well as estimates produced in considerable detail.