With government BIM targets now less than a year away, the urgency with which the construction sector is addressing the practical realities of BIM has stepped up a gear – but levels of BIM readiness still vary widely.
When it comes to building services, there is a common perception that engineers are lagging behind in delivering BIM. To a degree this is correct, but many of the reasons why are technological rather than cultural and are a consequence of the position of building services in the project delivery process.
The good news is that, culturally, building services engineers are used to working collaboratively both with the upstream architectural team and the downstream installation team.
The bad news is that BIM fundamentally challenges the traditional roles and responsibilities within a building services consultancy and there has been no definitive response – either from the sector or from training providers – to realigning existing skills and knowledge with the demands of new technology and processes.
The established roles in a building services consultancy involve design of the services by an engineer and visualisation by a CAD designer, but there is a massive appetite for a move to Revit because engineers can see the benefits of designing straight into the 3D software. Who can blame them, when the software can build and visualise the specification with ease in a single process based on a few engineering parameters?
The question remains, however: do we train our engineers to use the software or train our CAD designers to engineer? With Revit design skills running so far behind aspirations and a lack of credible training provision to bridge the skills gap, that question becomes even harder to answer.
Then there is the fact that so many architects are still designing projects in AutoCAD rather than Revit. Around 85% of the architects my company works with are still working with 2D software, and we simply cannot then crowbar in 3D. It is not possible for the sector to work in BIM if the project has not been designed in Revit.
Further issues are experienced downstream because of the varying BIM readiness of suppliers. This is a problem of both under- and over-preparedness: many have not input their products into Revit and cannot, therefore, be considered for specification on BIM jobs; but others have given too much detail, which means that a single component involves a huge data file, slowing down the software and the design process.
The bottom line is that BIM presents opportunities and challenges across the delivery chain, and those challenges vary for different parts of the design and construction process. In order to make collaborative working with BIM viable, however, we must also take a collaborative approach across the sector to addressing the obstacles to implementation.
Building services engineers are being tasked with a change in working practices equal to moving from manual drawing to computer-aided design; without greater consistency from both up- and downstream delivery partners and a skilling process that starts by asking what skills are needed and then provides the mechanisms by which they can be delivered, that transition will be slow and arduous.
Steve Hunt is the managing director of Steven Hunt & Associates