Building Information Modelling (BIM) has been around in the US for a while; now it is coming to the UK. What is it and why does it matter?
Meaning of BIM in the UK
There is no universally accepted definition of BIM, but in the UK many commentators have adopted the description suggestion by Keith Snook:
“Building Information Modelling is digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility creating a shared knowledge resource for information about it forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life cycle, from earliest conception to demolition.”
BIM is more that just 3D drawings
BIM envisages a transition from traditional two dimensional CAD drawings, to three dimensional modelling. While three dimensional modelling is not new to CAD, BIM uses data sets to create a virtual model of an entire project. The virtual model can then be used to create elevation drawings and so on. Crucially, BIM allows changes to those drawings to be integrated back into the 3D model without further editing. As well as decreasing workload, this helps identify design issues at an early stage and avoid errors consolidating changes in multiple drawings.
While three dimensional modelling is important, it isn’t revolutionary. The real key to BIM is its use of non-graphical information. Some commentators have described these aspects of BIM as elevating it from three dimensions, to four (including programme data) and even five (including costs elements).
In short, BIM envisages a virtual model giving users more than just measurements. For example, a model of a wall can include estimating information, details of its fire rating, even its energy performance characteristics. Just as BIM’s graphical information can be exported into an elevation, the non-graphical information can be used to create schedules and other documents. BIM can also use hyperlinks to point to information that isn’t contained in the virtual model itself, such as specifications or a manufacturer’s product information sheet.
Benefits of using BIM
BIM aims to provide an accurate, living model of the project. The ideal BIM model takes in information from all the parties involved in designing and building a structure, combines it into a single model and then allows that information to be accessed by anyone who needs it. If one piece of information is changed, it is fed back into the model and its impact on the virtual model is, in theory, identified.
Those in favour of BIM believe that it offers:
• Improved design.
• Easy access to project information.
• Co-ordinated construction documents.
• Shorter construction times.
• Reduced costs (the government estimates a minimum net saving of 5% on construction costs).
• Improvements to the environmental impact of a building.
• Long term efficiencies, as BIM models are intended to facilitate the re-use of processes and information.
In fact, BIM isn’t limited to design and construction. A BIM model can remain live throughout a building’s existence, being updated to take account of any additional works.
BIM is government policy
Research shows a huge variation in the UK construction industry’s awareness of BIM. The National Building Specification’s March 2011 report, Building Information Modelling, included survey results showing that 43% of respondents were unaware of BIM, let alone using it already.
That will have to change. In March 2011, a the Government Construction Client Group’s BIM Working Party published a strategy paper recommending the implementation of BIM in government projects above a certain size by 2016. The government accepted this recommendation in its May 2011 construction strategy.
It doesn’t end there. The government hopes for continued development after 2016, aspiring to “fully open process and data integration enabled by web services” (what it calls “iBIM”) and ending in the nirvana of “lifecycle management”.
Unless government policy changes, anyone who wants government work needs to get to grips with BIM as soon as possible.
All construction parties need to understand BIM
BIM needs a model manager who takes charge of the virtual model. That person is sometimes known as the virtual design to construction manager (VDC)).
No doubt the number of professionals advertising their skills as a BIM model manager will grow sharply in the next four years. However, understanding BIM is not just important for potential model managers. All parties to a construction project need to understand BIM because it will form the basic information tool for the entire project. This raises a multitude of pratical and commercial issues, such as questions about resourcing, staff training, collaborative working and early involvement of the design team.
Issue for lawyers
From a lawyer’s perspective, the government’s strategy paper suggested that the impact of BIM on contract drafting would be minor. The government may even publish some suggested amendments to standard form contracts one day but, until then, lawyers should consider issues such as:
- Risk transfer and liability. When does a party stop being responsible for the information it has provided? To what extent can a construction party rely on BIM information? Who is liable for mistakes in the BIM model? Where is the line between the responsibility of the lead consultant and that of the model manager?
- Insurance. Do existing insurance provisions work in a BIM project? Are there new insurance products available that work better with BIM? For example, the government aims to promote integrated project insurance for its BIM projects.
- Scopes of services and project protocols. Do existing contracts reflect the way in which services will be performed in a BIM project? The government hopes that standard service schedules will be adopted throughout the industry, but is that realistic? Also, how do existing standard form contractual requirements for project and programme information tie in with BIM? Can a party’s BIM requirements be set out in a BIM protocol that forms part of the contract documents or (in the NEC) works information?
- Copyright and intellectual property. Will copyright licences require amendment? For example, does existing wording limit a building user’s ability to use a BIM model throughout the life of the building. Who owns copyright in the BIM model as a whole?
- Sensitive data. Is it possible to hold commercially sensitive data separately from the BIM model, so that it cannot be accessed by everyone?
- Procurement. How should the need for a “BIM-enabled team” be expressed in OJEU notices and assessment criteria?
Publishers of standard form construction contracts are already making provision for BIM in their documents (for example, in the JCT Public Sector Supplement). However, many detailed drafting issues remain unaddressed or even undiscovered.