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Don’t expect – or promise – too much

Employers are increasingly asking for building information modelling (BIM) to be included in the services provided by consultants and contractors – but very few of them know what they are asking for and very few consultants or contractors can actually provide it.

The problem arises out of defining exactly what BIM is for the purposes of the project in question.

The government started the BIM craze with its announce-ment that it would require “collaborative 3D BIM” on all projects by 2016. In essence, this means that all project and asset information, documentation and data would be held in a centralised electronic system.

In practice, an employer looking to procure a project with government-level BIM requirements – and it is as good a place as any to start – will need to include the following documents in its employer’s requirements:

  • PAS 1192-2 (specification for information management for the capital/delivery phase of construction projects using BIM);
  • PAS1192-3 (specification for information management for the operational phase of assets using building information modelling);
  • BS 1192-4, which is a proposed standard for the structure of data for use in Level 2 BIM that adopts COBie (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange);
  • a BIM protocol – for example the Construction Industry Council’s BIM protocol;
  • a government soft landings (GSL) process;
  • a digital plan of work; and
  • a classification system – or common language.

However, the government BIM, and all other UK BIM systems, are missing a common language.

As a very simple example from a lawyer, if the architect adds a ceiling fan to the design and labels it “ceiling fan model x”, but the mechanical and electrical designer labels such ceiling fans as “X model ceiling fan”, the BIM will not work because interrogation of the model will only identify those ceiling fans labelled under the classification system used by the interrogator.

This means that the much-hyped clash detection benefits of BIM will be compromised during the design stage, and the end user will not be able to interrogate the model during the life of the constructed building unless they know exactly what each consultant has labelled each piece of plant or material in the building.

Therefore, employers should not expect too much from BIM as it currently stands, and contractors, engineers, and consultants should ensure that they are not promising to deliver something they cannot.

Common languages do exist, but they do not yet cover all aspects of a construction project, meaning that a number of languages may have to be used or gaps in the model accepted.

While there is not one comprehensive language that could be considered the industry standard, the information manager will need to ensure that the various members of the project team are using the same system of classification and that the employer’s requirements do not ask for more than can be delivered.

Under the BIM protocol the employer is required to name a party to deliver information management services, which have three principal components. These are: managing the common data environment; project information management; and collaborative working, information exchange and project team management.

David Rintoul is head of construction and environmental law at Clarkslegal LLP

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