Staging BIM challenges and best practices – a summary of the BIM Praktijkdag 2015

It becomes difficult for companies in the AEC industry not yet working with BIM to catch up. ICT developments follow each other rapidly. Back in 1997, a supercomputer beat the then chess world champion Garry Kasparov. While this was a revolutionary event at that time, the victory does not surprise us any longer these days. Even our smartphones possess similar processing power as the celebrated supercomputer from that time. This example was used at the congress “BIM Praktijkdag 2015” to illustrate today’s rapid ICT developments that organizations working with BIM need to deal with. The congress served as a stage for the practical challenges and best practices of Dutch construction companies implementing BIM. This blog post is a summary of the most important lessons I got from this congress.

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The adoption of BIM within the (European) AEC industry is clearly growing according to a representative of UPS Marketing Consultancy, the first speaker at the BIM congress. Besides the Netherlands, most BIM activities in Europe take place in the United Kingdom, Sweden, France, Belgium and Switzerland. A market study in the Netherlands showed that the penetration of BIM is increasing across the whole range of companies that form the AEC industry, but contractors are leading, followed by installation firms. The construction companies perceive better collaboration with other parties and more efficient working processes as the biggest benefits that BIM can bring. A lack of (interoperable) industry standards, skepticism among employees and outdated ICT infrastructure are, however, seen as the biggest challenges that constrain further developments.

Despite BIM penetration is growing, the readiness of organizations working with BIM still remains limited. Colleagues of mine have developed a BIM maturity model to measure with seven criteria the “matureness” of organizations within the specific subsectors of the Dutch AEC industry. They found that sector-wide the organizations assessed scored best for the criterion ‘strategy’, which means that support for BIM is generally acknowledged and formalized in long-term plans. The researchers also conclude that the largest challenges are to change the culture and attitude of employees. More education, training and clear company guidelines for implementing BIM are therefore needed to further professionalize the AEC industry. The full report of the study can be found here.

Multiple speakers at the congress also drew attention to the lack of BIM in the maintenance phase of a project. After a building is completed and handed over to the owner, it is not yet common for them to keep using the 3D model as a source to retrieve and bring building information. This is striking when one considers the whole life-cycle of a building. One explanation is that owners do not recognize the potential of BIM yet: some housing corporations even seem to reinvent the wheel here. Other problems are that BIM tools do not yet have bidirectional links between the 3D model and diagrams and lists commonly used in the installation branch, and that it takes a lot of effort to keep migrating the 3D building model with every software update along the years. A best practice mentioned at the congress was the renovation of the Dutch Railway museum, for which the original 3D building model of 2003 served as a basis for some changes to the building.

Future BIM developments are also expected in the area of virtual and augmented reality. While virtual reality recently sat at the bottom of Gartner’s “through of disillusionment”, during which excitement over a technology has dropped down to a point where it becomes unfashionable, it is now maturing beyond this stage. Some Dutch brokers, for example, now use the Oculus Rift to offer virtual tours in houses for sale to potential buyers. The speaker of National Aerospace Laboratory was, however, even more excited about the use of augmented reality, where the real world is supplemented (rather than replaced) with computer-generated content. This technology has also many potential uses within the AEC industry, for example to visualize the location of cables and pipes on top of a floor; the speaker even predicted that the Microsoft HoloLens will become mainstream within only 5 years. For a wider implementation of virtual and augmented reality, improvements are nevertheless needed in the techniques to keep track of movements and to determine the viewer’s position.

Finally, the congress provided a stage to share some best practices of BIM implementations in real-world projects. Suppliers and advisors collaborating in the Built4U concept, for example, use BIM to maximize prefabrication and minimize construction time and nuisance in renovating dwellings. In the large A1/A6 project, the consortium SAAone integrates the designs of different disciplines in a central 3D model every week, and links project documents and evidence of the quality of the work (verifications) to the relevant building objects. The supplier Jordahl H-Bau has cut costs by 11 % through what they call “intelligent Revit families”: parametrized products in Revit that integrate business-specific information regarding the geometry, material, structural characteristics, costs, logistics and more.

The BIM Praktijkdag 2015 showed that the interest in BIM is clearly growing and the AEC industry finds itself in a process of professionalization. There are, however, still many practical challenges to take in the nearby future.

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