As use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) on construction projects in Australia continues to grow, the nation’s air conditioning and mechanical contracting industry is forging ahead with efforts to create a framework to drive efficiency in the building process by working toward a national template which is expected to deliver a consistent way in which materials and equipment are defined in BIM.

According to Air Conditioning and Mechanical Contractors’ Association (AMCA) executive director Sumit Oberoi and Autodesk sales director Asia Pacific Rob Malkin, efficiency gains from use of BIM on building and infrastructure projects are being held back by the fragmented nature of BIM development.

They said this phenomenon can largely be put down to a lack of interoperability and standardisation with regard to information about how individual building materials or equipment is displayed on a computer or tablet screen when using BIM software.

Over the past four years, however, Oberoi said the AMCA has been working on an industry-wide template and content platform which he says will deliver a more rigorous and trusted way of standardising how ‘BIM objects’ are defined.

Known as BIM-MEPAUS, the platform will address a current area of frustration whereby contractors are forced to deal with different consultants who each uses their own BIM models that do not necessarily define building materials or equipment in the same way.

“We now have tools that are getting enabled to allow consultants, head contractors and specialist building services contractors to use and exchange information about how you define a piece of equipment in a standardised manner,” Oberoi said. “If you think of a component of building services equipment, where the industry in the past has broken down is that they are not actually defining it in the same way, or the parametric data and information that sits behind that object (in BIM) has not been the same.”

“You might have four of five consultants who each have their own (BIM object) libraries, but they may be best of breed internally but are not necessarily aligned throughout the industry. So when the contractor works with Consultant A on one project, that consultant will have a particular set of standards to which they want that project done. On a different project, the contractor might be working with Consultant B, who has another set of standards.”

He said the key next step will be to align standards and specifications to bring about greater efficiency and allow information to be exchanged more readily.

Oberoi’s comments come as the AMCA gears up to host a two day construction innovation forum in Melbourne this August – the latest in a number of efforts on the part of industry bodies and technology vendors to promote greater awareness of the technology and how it can be used effectively.

Oberoi said that while momentum surrounding BIM-MEPAUS continues to grow, its success depends on continuing to bed down the initiative’s standards programme and on expanding the number of forward thinking organisations and industry leaders who are on board.

While he believes close relationships with other stakeholders place mechanical contractors in an ideal position to drive change, he stresses the initiative is a whole of industry project in which head contractors, consultants, equipment manufacturers and suppliers have an important role.

“We see it as an industry initiative,” Oberoi said. “We are pretty pointed at this, because everyone has an interest in the success of the industry. We don’t just see it from a mechanical contractor’s perspective; everyone has an integral role within the workflow.”

Malkin, whose employer Autodesk is one of a number of technology providers closely involved in the initiative, said BIM-MEPAUS is generating interest not just in Australia but also overseas, and is timely in light of ongoing discussion about the need for greater transparency and efficiency in delivering public infrastructure.

He said greater reliability and efficiency through standardisation of the way materials and equipment are defined using BIM will benefit all stakeholders, including builders and manufacturers who are able to bid for work with higher levels of confidence surrounding what they can deliver.

“More government projects – PPPs – are happening,” he said. “This is driving increased scrutiny of public money being used for these projects.”

“The standardisation BIM-MEPAUS generates is going to help everything be delivered more efficiently and on time.”

“From this, everybody benefits. And as a manufacturer or builder, you can be more certain about your bids (for projects), and are able to go out and win more business because you can be more selective of what you quote and raise your confidence to win the job.”