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Stop talking about BIM - it's time to get on with it

27 January 2016

2016 marks a major deadline for implementing BIM on UK government funded projects. Tom Bartley of ICE’s BIM Action Group tells us why it’s time to get on with it – and about his experience of collaboration at our October BIM Conference

Stop talking about BIM - it's time to get on with it

It’s approaching five years since “BIM” earned its place as the built environment buzzword of the decade.

The publication of the Government Construction Strategy in 2011 sparked masses of debate, storytelling and spin, but with the 2016 deadline upon us, one thing has become clear: the time for merely talking about BIM has ended, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get on with it.

Conferences and events dedicated to BIM – Building Information Modelling – have popped up in every corner of the industry, with every niche group not wanting to be left out.

John Roberts, Laing O’Rourke and Tom Bartley, WSP/Parsons Brinkerhoff, presenting the results of the live link-up at ICE BIM 2015
John Roberts, Laing O’Rourke and Tom Bartley, WSP/Parsons Brinkerhoff, presenting the results of the live link-up at ICE BIM 2015

At the top of the pile in terms of quality and reputation remains the ICE BIM Conference, which is exemplified by the Cabinet Office BIM Task Group choosing to use the platform to release the final details of the Level 2 Mandate. In 2015, however, a new event popped up that clashed directly with ICE’s Conference. Casting its net wider than BIM or any particular sector, Digital Construction Week aimed to address the issue of digital transformation across the built environment. A pain in terms of competition for the conference organisers – but it presented the ICE BIM Action Group with an opportunity.

Collaboration at ICE BIM 2015

In the spirit of “stop talking, start doing” the BIM Action Group joined forces with the CIC’s BIM2050 Group to attempt something that hasn’t been seen before. Level 2 Live connected the two conferences through the magic of conference wi-fi, a Common Data Environment and a BIM Execution Plan.

The aim was to demonstrate to delegates that BIM is something tangible that can be seen and believed.

live link-up collaboration in progress at ICE BIM 2015
Live link-up collaboration in progress at ICE BIM 2015

We assembled a crack team of engineers and BIM technicians from across six organisations and planted a multidisciplinary group at each conference. The group was given little briefing about the project, but worked together prior to event to agree the process and technologies to define the BIM Execution Plan.

The task

We provided the group with a BIM Model from a real railway station project that is currently under construction and presented a six hour task:

“The client has made a last minute request to include 150m2 of retail and café space. They would like you to produce a design proposal and demonstrate the impacts on programme and cost.”

Which in BIM speak means “produce a fully coordinated 5D model”, a 3D federated multidisciplinary design model, a programme simulation and cost schedule. And that’s what they did.

In a pre-BIM world it would simply not have been possible to have an architect, structural engineer, mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, civil engineer, quantity surveyor and programmer from six different organisations working simultaneously using the same data and processes in such a tight time frame.

In fact, it worked much better than predicted.

How did it actually work?

The success pinned on the use of collaboration technologies. The Common Data Environment, courtesy of Viewpoint 4Projects, stored all the information in shared and published states for participants to upload to from their local work in progress area. This meant that everyone had access to the latest models as soon as soon they had been through a full iteration.

Between model releases throughout the day, the teams were in constant communication using team instant messaging platform, Slack. This enabled the teams to act as though they were completely co-located and asking questions of each other, for everyone to see as an open record. This included screen grabs of issues as they arose, technical questions and updates as to progress. At lunchtime we hosted a design review meeting through Google Hangouts, so that anything which needed a face-to-face discussion could be addressed. Email was banned.

What did we learn?

We did encounter one problem, though it was in the planning rather the execution. I had hoped that we could apply a software agnostic approach and use the open file format IFC for information exchange, but the teams all argued that proprietary software formats in general (and Autodesk’s Revit in particular) was much more suited for the job. We had to compromise to work within the time constraints we had given ourselves.

We had also hoped to produce a COBie output – a key BIM Level 2 deliverable that very few people have experience in. We had a button and intended to press it, but time got the better of us.

Having had a couple of weeks to reflect, we’re quite proud of what we achieved. I’m young enough to think that what we set out to do was quite simple, but there were enough people saying it was too much to attempt, that too much could go wrong. The design we implemented was only small (again with just the six hours available), but I am very pleased that we gave delegates the opportunity to see what BIM actually looks like, rather than just adding to the noise.

Learn more about BIM 2015

Hear from ICE BIM 2015 speakers and delegates

About the author

Tom Bartley is part of the WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff BIM Leadership team and completing an Engineering Doctorate in BIM for Infrastructure at Bristol University. He is Vice-Chair of the BIM2050 Group and sits on the ICE BIM Action Group.

With thanks to participants from WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, Ferrovial, Faithful and Gould, Arup, Imtech and BIM Technologies and technology suppliers Viewpoint, CADLine and Three.