What is Building Information Modelling ("BIM")?

In recent years, the construction industry has shown a greater interest in the benefits of partnering, integrated and collaborative working.

According to the UK National Building Specification ("NBS"):

"BIM brings together all of the information about every component of a building, in one place. It makes it possible for anyone to access that information for any purpose e.g. to integrate different aspects of the design more effectively. In this way the risk of mistakes or discrepancies is reduced, and abortive costs minimized."

BIM uses advanced computer systems to build 3D models of infrastructure and hold large amounts of information about its design, operation and current conditions. At the planning stage, it enable designers, owners and users to work together to produce the best possible designs and to test them digitally before they are built. In construction, it enables engineers, contractors and suppliers to integrate complex components cutting out waste and reducing the risk of errors. In operation it provides customers with real-time information about available services and permits with accurate assessments of conditions of assets.

The use of a BIM model is intended to create shared resource-enabling decisions about the design and construction of the facility to be taken before it is built, and after construction to act as a detailed digital operation and maintenance manual during the lifetime of the building.

The use of BIM is steadily growing momentum in other jurisdictions such as the UK, UAE, USA and Australia, where governments are beginning to mandate the use of BIM on all public sector funded projects.

There are four levels of BIM (referred to as "maturity levels") and these are summarised as follows :

  • Level 0 : the provision of more traditional Computer Aided Drawings ("CAD"), word and spreadsheet information.
  • Level 1 : the provision of a higher level of 2D and/or 3D CAD and other information produced in a more collaborative manner.
  • Level 2 : the provision of 3D modelling and data produced by professionals and contractors, individually and then produced and coordinated into a model made subject of BIM protocols.At Level 2 BIM, it is anticipated that each participant will produce their contribution to BIM in the form of a model which is progressively enriched with data relevant to their disciplines, scope of work and project stage, and this is then combined with information from other participants into a combined model.
  • Level 3 : the most sophisticated level of BIM – not yet fully defined but calls for a creation of data and modelling which is truly interoperable, data-rich and facilities management ready.Level 3 involves a full collaboration between all disciplines by means of using a single, shared project model which is held in a centralised repository.All parties can access and modify that same model and the benefit is that it removes the final layer of risk for conflicting information (known as "open BIM").

In jurisdictions such as the UK, BIM protocols and industry standards are being adopted as the use of a protocol is considered the most effective way of ensuring that the activity of all project participants are controlled so that BIM mechanisms and standards are applied from commencement of the project through to delivery of the project and are of enduring value to the asset operator in the facility and operation and management stage.

Currently in the UK, BIM is being implemented across Public Sector funded construction projects at Level 2. This involves collaborative working. All parties use their own 3D CAD's (and therefore not necessarily work on a single, shared model)- the distinguishing feature is that design information is shared through a common file format which enables any organisation to be able to combine that data with their own.

The increased use of BIM in construction projects has given rise to many issues, including contractual integration, insurance, project management and design development issues.

Benefits of BIM

As BIM encourages parties to work collaboratively and transparently throughout the project, BIM will help to identify design issues at an early stage, reduce workloads and costs, and ultimately facilitate a greater efficiency and effectiveness in the design, construction and operation of a building. In theory BIM ought to reduce the incidence of professional liability claims.

The Construction Contract and BIM

The contractual relationships that reflect Level 2 BIM are not very different from existing contractual relationships – contracts are still characterised by a ring-fencing of liability and risk between the various parties to the design process – the major difference is that an Information Manager must be employed to manage the exchange of BIM-related project information.

The Construction Industry Council in the UK has issued BIM protocols designed to be incorporated into standard form construction documents which provide for a framework of the application of BIM to a construction project. The Joint Contracts Tribunal which is responsible for the publication of the well know JCT standard form construction agreements (the UK equivalent of the South African JBCC documents) has also published proposed amendments to the agreements for facilitating the use of BIM in public and private sector projects. In Australia, however, there are no published standard form construction contracts or arrangements which specifically address BIM issues. In these instances bespoke contracts are likely to be used and it is common to see parties not properly adapting the current standard form construction contract on BIM issues (only making rudimentary changes to address issues without changing the underlying risk allocation).

With jurisdictions such as the UK looking at the implementation of Level 3 BIM in the next five years, the legal and contractual frameworks required to deal with Level 3 BIM will need to move well beyond the simple liability ring-fencing adaptations used at Level 2 BIM. The full legal implications of BIM are still being explored and will not become fully evident until such time as the use of Level 3 BIM becomes widespread.

BIM – The Impact on the Insurance Market

While the hope among the construction sector is that the technological advances of BIM, combined with greater collaboration between parties, will result in a reduction of liability and risk on construction projects, it may result in greater risks to insurers, at least in the short term.

BIM has the potential to blur traditional responsibilities, thereby making risk allocation more difficult. At least at Level 2 BIM, it is not anticipated that the traditional design roles and responsibilities will be altered, but it is important that they are clearly defined and spelt out in the construction contract. It may be necessary to consider whether the current terms and conditions of typical PI policies create issues for proper coverage for BIM Information Managers, and it may be necessary for new insurance products to be developed to ensure that proper coverage is provided and risks are properly catered for.

One other possible solution is that as BIM leads to an era of more collaborative insurance (in the form of a single project insurance) which may become the best approach.

There is also an increased exposure around data security and cyber liability.

Lessons to be Learnt from Current BIM Disputes

BIM is reportedly being used by about one half of the US building industry and the rate at which BIM is being adopted globally is accelerating. It is only a matter time, therefore, before disputes around BIM arise.

The first American dispute involving BIM related to the construction of a life sciences building at a major university:

  • The architect and the mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineer used BIM to design the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, which were to be installed in the ceilings.
  • No one informed the contractor that the extremely tight fit of the components depended on a very specific installation sequence – the work was approximately 70% complete when the contractor ran out of space and all parties involved blamed one another.
  • The client sued the architect.The contractor sued the client, and the insurance company sued the engineer.
  • While the parties reached a confidential settlement out of court this example illustrates that major issues will arise where there is a breakdown of communication between the client, the design team and the contractors.
  • BIM is not infallible - while BIM can be extremely useful, in order for it to work effectively it requires regular and efficient communication between all parties involved.It is therefore only as good as the people using it and the information put into it.

Where to from Here?

BIM Is being adopted in South Africa.

Building Information Modelling

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.