Detractors of BIM say claims about its cost and productivity benefits remain unsubstantiated, while advocates point to the need for better client education and application of the right level of detail.

While BIM has recently emerged as one of the biggest trends amongst industries involved with the development of built environments, there are some who believe that the technology is failing to deliver on its much-touted benefits.

David Chandler, veteran construction consultant and former chairman of Coates Hire Limited, is one such detractor, contending that the merits of BIM remain overhyped and unproven.

“For now I call BIM a slick marketing toy that is not making a lot of difference in the field,” he said. “At the moment BIM is being used as an elite tool where designers shield what they think is their IP, and others use it for clash detection and risk management.

“It’s just the same old game played with new toys.”

According to Chandler, key to the success of any new paradigm in the construction sector is achieving improvements in the areas of costs and productivity.

“I believe unless we are doing construction – better, smarter, faster (at least by 50 per cent) and cheaper (at least by 20 per cent) then we will not be in the game,” he said.

“So when BIM is held out as the great panacea for the industry, I question who is talking about driving cost down measurably compared to benchmarks. Not a single design award has a cost or value for money metric – it’s just a beauty contest.

“No designer talks about how they enabled speed or conflict free construction, and no designer talks about process improvement and on-site productivity improvements.”

Christopher Byrne, BIM teacher at Swinburne University of Technology, concedes that the critics of BIM have a valid case in certain circumstance, but he also notes that the effectiveness of the technology is dependent upon choosing appropriate levels of usage.

“The BIM detractors do have a point,” he said. “Some of the argument that BIM is overhyped is definitely correct.”

According to Byrne, problems arise when an inappropriate level of BIM detail is applied without full consideration of a given project’s specific needs.

“What we’re finding is that people are being told that they must do BIM, without getting the level of detail right,” he said. “For instance, if the client is building a shed, it doesn’t need level of detail 5 to manage the building afterwards because it’s just a shed.

“But if BIM consultants are telling you that you do, then the detractors are right – it’s just blowing the costs out. If you’re doing a complex multi-storey development, however, then BIM is still the way to go.”

Byrne cited a specific instance where use of the wrong level of BIM resulted in unnecessary costs.

“I saw a project that involved nothing more than the storage of heavy machinery under a roof with four pillars. Yet people were trying to sell BIM execution plans that weren’t required, just because the sheds were slightly different,” he said.

“So the amount of work required to deliver that as a BIM project was ridiculous, but if they had just gone with level of detail 1 or 2 for BIM – which is basically 3D design, clash detection and materials used, then BIM would have worked.”

Byrne said client education and the introduction of standards would go a long way toward improving BIM usage in Australia.

“At the moment there’s a lot of snake oil salesmen out there,” he said. “In Australia there is no set standard or mandate, so the consultants have a field day.

“The difference in the UK is that they have standards and they have a mandate – so consultants are just about gone because you follow the checklist and you’re there.

“Many people also still don’t understand BIM – as soon as the clients need to know what they need to know about BIM, then BIM will work.”