Australia: The building revolution - Building Information Modelling (BIM) on the way to 6D

A technological revolution is changing the way large projects are being built and managed in advanced countries in North America, Europe and Asia.

Governments and private owners are turning to Building Information Modelling (BIM) to deliver projects at a lower cost and as well as operate them more profitably.

Australia has been slow to adopt BIM, but can we afford lagging behind yet another innovation frontier?

BIM has been identified by governments globally as a better way to construct and operate projects over their lifecycle.

BIM discards the old way of building design where upfront architectural work is often done with little input from other project participants such as engineers, contractors and facilities managers.

Instead, BIM brings together all parties and connects them into a virtual 'design' forum to review the simulated structure, share information and raise issues.

All the design and construct elements (including civil infrastructure, structural and architectural elements, mechanical and electrical services, data and other communication systems) are integrated into the model along with spatial relationships, quantities survey and operational elements.

The resulting model becomes a shared resource that supports decision-making through the entire building lifecycle, including construction and facility operation.

For professionals involved in a project, BIM enables a virtual information model to be handed from the design team (architects, surveyors, engineers, etc) to the main contractor and subcontractors and then on to the owner/operator. Each professional adds their own data to the single, shared model.

This improves coordination among the various stakeholders (whether they are designers, contractors, fabricators) and allows for scheduling or design clashes to be detected early.

It also reduces information losses that can occur when a new team takes 'ownership' of the project, and means fewer costly misunderstandings between the design and the construction participants, and the facilities managers.

Australia is lagging behind other developed nations in adopting BIM. While Building Smart launched the Building Information Modelling Initiative last year, it is still trying to get off the ground in any meaningful way with Federal government budget constraints a key inhibitor.

By comparison, the US government is already using BIM in its delivery of projects and intends to further expand the role of BIM to support the asset management of the facilities with the overall purpose to leverage facility data through the facility life cycle. Similarly, it is now government policy in the UK, Singapore and South Korea to use BIM on government projects.

More collaborative contracting structures such as Integrated Project Delivery are emerging in the US whereas other governments are being more cautious and using BIM protocols. 1

Using BIM protocols does require care and consideration. BIM protocols can be considered a collateral contract and thus modify the legal regime as set out under the main contract. In addition, the parties' acts pursuant to the BIM protocol could give rise to various legal causes of actions such as estoppels, misrepresentation or misleading and deceptive conduct in the event of a dispute.

Regardless, both approaches are designed to encourage more collaborative working and more appropriate risk sharing under the contractual documentation required for the greater use of BIMs. It is the higher degree of risk sharing that encourages parties to work in a BIM environment.

Australia's apathy toward BIM means our major projects are missing out on technological advances that other developed nations have already embraced. Is this something that Australia can afford?

BIM is evolving rapidly. The current practical use of BIM is to provide a 3D virtual walkthrough of a project as it is built. In the future BIM will expand to include a fourth dimension (Time - Construction Sequencing), and fifth (Cost Information) and sixth (Facility Management) dimensions.

Each additional dimension integrates more information about a project, giving insight into cost saving opportunities and how the asset can be managed most efficiently.

Ultimately, the BIM model will contain all the technical information relevant to the asset's operation, and building sensors will allow the model to evaluate energy efficiency, monitor a building's lifecycle costs and optimise its cost efficiency.

So, who should be taking the lead on BIM in Australia? In other countries, governments have been driving the implementation of BIM in projects. However, in Australia, there appears to be a stalemate between principals and contractors.

Principals who see BIM as part of risk acceptance and allocation in the delivery of projects believe contractors should be responsible for investing in it. Other, more forward thinking owners are taking the lead on BIM use by having a different approach to project delivery risk allocation – one that fosters investing in technology and collaboration between assets owners, design consultants, contractors and facility management operators.

A detailed paper on the state of the use of BIMs and legal and commercial considerations has been published in the International Construction Law Review July 2013 edition, click here to view.


1 Singapore BIM Guide; CIC (UK) BIM Protocol

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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