What is BIM?

Author: Gillian Birkby

As we all know, many good things have come to us from across the Big Pond, especially in the field of technology. The latest of these to affect real estate and construction is BIM – Building Information Modelling. This promises to revolutionise both the construction process and the subsequent management of the assets created. The evidence so far is that it identifies design problems at a stage where they can be resolved much more cheaply, and leads to a significant reduction in material wastage and to savings in both time and cost.

So what is BIM? Those who are familiar with extranets and the Cloud as depositories of information will understand BIM easily; it is the next technological development in the gathering and manipulation of data for use during the construction process and subsequent management of an asset. If you have not yet used either of these, think of a social networking site such as Facebook but much more sophisticated, so that access to information can be restricted to certain people or companies. In addition, the information (including drawings and 3D models) can be divided into categories and merged with information from various parties to form a detailed matrix, which can include cost and programming data, going one step further than conventional modelling. For instance, the headquarters of BskyB in London, Harlequin 1, was developed using BIM, to achieve state-of-the-art naturally ventilated broadcasting studios and offices.

With BIM, in the early design phase the cost and programming implications of a change in design can be identified as the design is developing, providing much useful information for the project manager and client, as well as the designers. The detailed design information in the model is also structured in such a way that it can be used for subsequent management of the building in a far more informative and accessible way than traditional operation and maintenance manuals.

The government is keen to take advantage of the benefits of BIM and has commissioned the Construction Industry Council (CIC) to produce various documents to assist government departments in achieving what is known as BIM level 2. The CIC has recently issued a BIM Protocol which describes how each of the parties to a project will provide information for the model. This document will form part of the building contract and appointments of the designers. In addition, there is a document describing the crucial role of the BIM manager, sometimes called the BIM information manager. This person will be responsible for assisting the designers and others in developing the procedures for and input to the model, to which all the designers will then have access, and for managing the BIM process.

A specification, known as PAS 1192-2, has also been developed and this sets out the detailed information requirements associated with projects using BIM.

BIM has been used on a significant number of projects abroad and is already in use in the UK e.g. the extension of Blackfriars Station to the south side of the Thames. The use of extranets is now quite common during the construction process, and this is broadly equivalent to BIM level 2, but BIM has the added advantage that information is available in a more accessible form for subsequent management of the asset. If BIM is used appropriately, there are savings to be made in both phases.

Gillian Birkby, Partner, Fladgate LLP (gbirkby@fladgate.com)

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