Our industry has many acronyms, but one in particular has been impossible to escape in recent years. As an MEP Engineer or contractor, you’ve no doubt heard it too. BIM.
BIM stands for “building information modelling” – but I guess you probably know that.
You’ve also probably heard the hype. The conflicting points of view. The fact that you need to spend money on software and more time drawing in 3D. You’ve heard blind passion for how it can change the industry. You’ll have heard downright rage from some people in relation to their experiences.
"The BIM acronym has become its own worst enemy... so let's not use those three letters for the rest of this article. Let's just talk common sense."
The noise is exhausting. It leaves people confused, fatigued and sceptical.
I ask you to park everything you have heard for the next few minutes whilst I unpick the hyperbole and try to make some sense of the madness.
The BIM acronym has become its own worst enemy. In their 2011 Construction Strategy, the United Kingdom (UK) Government highlighted information modelling as a way of addressing numerous challenges that have dogged the construction industry for decades. As soon as project teams try to adopt this way of working they’re forced to reconsider procurement approaches, risk transfer and the silos they work in. They’re forced to focus on the outcomes that the built environment can enable, rather than the physical outputs of bricks and mortar.
The inclusion of BIM generated excitement. That led to hype. That then led to sceptism, then to debate and ultimately to confusion. There is a common sense vision and purpose to BIM, but that has become lost in the noise. For many, those three letters now represent “change” or “a different way of working”. Something others are working on that “doesn’t’ affect me just yet”.
So let’s not use those three letters for the rest of this article. Let’s just talk common sense.
All we are talking about here is using digital tools to make our lives easier. We’re talking about the right information being in the right place at the right time for the people that need it. We’re using technology to help us do that – shared areas online that everyone in a team can access, software that links the drawn representations to the specifications and performance data. Viewers that enable wider teams to see that information free of charge.
"A while ago a study by Avanti determined that what I have described above could help to drive waste out of the construction delivery process. Waste that currently amounts to 20-25% of everything we do.
In your typical five-day working week, 20% equates to an entire day. If you could gain that time back, you would effectively have an extra working day in each week of your financial year."
Now that’s a bit of a culture change for some. It means information needs to be correct. It means it needs to be shared. It means expertise from across the supply chain actually working together earlier in the process. It’s not difficult. It doesn’t require more work. It’s just a bit different.
Where all this should really start to make sense is where it comes down to you. You have my permission to be selfish. Ignore the noise, terminology and debate and think about yourself. What aspects of this help your business? How can it improve what you do to make your customers happier and to make you more profitable?
A while ago a study by Avanti determined that what I have described above could help to drive waste out of the construction delivery process. Waste that currently amounts to 20-25% of everything we do.
In your typical five-day working week, 20% equates to an entire day. If you could gain that time back, you would effectively have an extra working day in each week of your financial year. That means you can do more work, whilst keeping your overheads more or less the same; which increases your profits.
When considered from this perspective, it’s certainly easier to grasp. No longer are we talking about ‘data’ or ‘COBie’ or ‘3D modelling’ – now we’re talking about money; increasing the cash in your business bank account.
In MEP, finding that 20% means minimising the time you spend calculating pipe sizings, flow rates, heat gains, lux levels or ducting routes by having the right performance criteria and architectural/structural information to hand. For the project you’re working on, it means teaming-up with the design team much earlier in the process to virtually co-ordinate, build and test before you go to site, eradicating expensive and time-consuming rework. Clearer spatial understanding of the proposals and their specification can make this process faster.
Of course ambiguity and confusion have always been decent earners haven’t they? Design changes, variations on site and clashes have been useful ways of making slim margins a little less slim. But a lot of hard work and grief goes into that barrel scraping. What I am suggesting here is the opportunity to meaningfully increase your margins whilst building positive relationships.
This won’t reach everyone. The vast majority of the industry are proving slow to embrace digital approaches and some never will. Some thrive on going to work every day and doing battle to return the kind of profit margin percentages that other industries would laugh at. For those people, that will carry on.
For you, getting started with this now is a great opportunity to grow your business. You could call it digital, BIM, business positioning, whatever suits. I call it common sense.
Co-Founder at The B1M