BIM – Challenges & Opportunities for Consulting Engineers
BIM or Building Information Modelling, is a process for creating and managing information on a construction project across the project’s lifecycle and is central to the digitisation of the construction industry. Government policy has long been one of the leading drivers for BIM implementation in Ireland with stated objectives including the following.
- Cost certainty at tender award stage
- Better value for money (VFM), and
- More efficient delivery of public works projects
While cost and value were initially key drivers for the adoption of BIM, the climate emergency is now influencing policy-makers, with its use seen as a means of improving efficiencies in terms of reduced waste, reduced material consumption and improved building performance through buildings’ operational phase recognised. In addition, BIM is recognised as offering improved safety, increased speed of construction, controlled whole-life costs and an opportunity to compete for government contracts in the case of consultants and contractors.
In Ireland, the first formal/policy reference to BIM was included in a 2013 Forfás report, which focused on Ireland’s Construction Sector. Since 2013, numerous public and industry bodies and committees have helped to shape, direct and document the development of digital technologies in the construction industry. Some of these include CitA, Engineers Ireland, BIMIreland.ie, Government Action Plan for Jobs (2017 & 2018) and Government Digital Strategy. Some of the milestones of Ireland’s BIM journey are given in Figure 1
Figure 1 – Irelands BIM Journey and Key Milestones
Although the benefits of digitization and BIM are now clear, there are challenges to its implementation which must be overcome. This is not a surprise given the lack of a BIM mandate for the Irish public sector in recent years despite existing mandates put in place by the UK and separately the Scottish Government. The remainder of this note sets out some of the challenges and opportunities experienced by a multi-disciplinary consulting engineering firm operating in the construction industry in Ireland in 2022.
ORS’ BIM Journey
ORS have been on a journey of BIM implementation for a number of years and has partnered with industry experts to assist in achieving BIM Level 2 certification. Processes introduced and adopted to date are in use by each of our teams in areas such as document management and control, defined BIM workflows and methodical numerical and as-built modelling of buildings and civil engineering works.
Analysis software such as Autodesk Robot and Tekla Structural Designer are now commonly used to carry out finite element analyses of entire building frames (known as performance analysis) with the result being thorough and economical design. Figures 2 and 3 show a concrete framed building analyzed using Tekla Structural Designer software. In many cases, performance models can then be integrated with federated models within Autodesk Revit where tender packages can be prepared with detailed 2D contract drawings.
Figure 2 – Concrete Frame Finite Element Performance Model
ORS routinely exchange BIM models with third parties, mainly with other design team members. Traditionally this has included other designers such as the project architect and mechanical and electrical engineers for coordination and clash detection, however, a trend in recent years has been getting requests from project managers and quantity surveyors who have not been involved in the design in the traditional sense, but who are now utilising models for their own programming sequencing & planning (4D BIM) and quantity take-off/cost-control (5D BIM) requirements.
In addition to the development of collaborative design models, ORS is now also engaged in the delivery of 3D models of existing buildings through extensive laser-scanning techniques. ((25) Post | LinkedIn) Delivery of as-built 3D models can be used as baseline surveys in advance of design works or in facility management applications to add asset information as 6D BIM models.
Figure 3 – Flat Slab Contoured Bending Moment Mapping from Structural Performance Models
One of the key challenges experienced to date in delivering projects through BIM is the varying levels of engagement from clients and often other design team members. This is often related to the level of capital expenditure involved. For example, some clients now include the role of a BIM manager in appointed design teams, with BIM Level 2 compliance included in contract documents and Employers’ Information Requirements (EIRs) being provided. However, on most small to medium-sized projects, individual team members will often incorporate BIM processes to widely varying degrees based on internal work processes rather than any client or project mandate, thus leading to challenges in coordination and the flow of information between teams. This challenge is accepted within the industry to the extent where I.S. EN ISO 19650, which is the preferred standard in the area in Ireland, notes that its principles “should be applied in a way that is proportionate and appropriate to the scale and complexity of the asset or project”. However, the lack of consistency in its application across some design teams is currently an issue.
A shortage of skills and competence in BIM execution is an ongoing challenge to its integration. I of BIM modules in third-level engineering courses is a recent development to drive BIM development in the industry. A steady supply of newly qualified professionals and the continuous upskilling of experienced technicians and designers is required if this challenge is to be met in the industry. Access to training and development opportunities has increased in recent years.
New working practices in general in terms of remote and hybrid teams has the potential to both accelerate and slow the speed of BIM integration in a design office. Despite the ease at which teams can virtually meet, effective and close coordination and development of team members will require an appreciation of collaborative tasks which are most effectively carried out by teams in an office environment as well as tasks which can be easily accomplished remotely. Failing to identify these tasks will slow the pace of BIM maturity and model development, potentially resulting in inefficient workflows, lost design time and loss in value for the client.
The cost of implementation of BIM is well understood in the industry. ORS has invested heavily in software and training of professionals and is now benefiting as a result. Reduction in costs or grant funding for software, training and other tools from government agencies will help to drive BIM development.
The adoption of consistent standards and procurement frameworks is a gap seen in tendering for design services. Procurement frameworks will need to incorporate BIM processes across public bodies in a consistent manner. The lack of BIM process integration into existing public works contracts is a ‘blocker’ which will need to be addressed.
Finally, for a consulting engineering firm offering a multidisciplinary range of services, a challenge in developing BIM maturity arises as a result of variety in team and client needs. This challenge has been recognised and is being carefully managed internally in terms of drawing output through our drafting committee, with consistent IM-oriented templates now in place to serve all teams. Notwithstanding the challenge of document consistency, the fact that team expertise ranges from data collection (survey) to design, through to certification, results in varying degrees of impact of BIM technologies across cost and competence demands which also needs to be managed.
By overcoming challenges presented in BIM implementation there are many opportunities and benefits to be availed of, many of which are being realised in ORS at present.
Automating work processes is key and has improved the efficiency of document production, quality and cost-effectiveness. This has been demonstrated particularly in the use of Autodesk Revit software. Careful planning of a suite of drawings and adoption of templates within the software at the early stages of a project has been found to lead to efficiencies in modelling of large buildings or developments of multiple buildings. Consistency and quality of documents across large developments is easily managed in this way, with an additional reduction in human error.
Efficiencies in both the analysis and final drawing production process have led to increased confidence in scope and fee proposal development over time. In fact, where BIM is known to be a requirement in the brief and where it is understood that all team members will work to consistent data share and modelling principles, exposure to lost time and co-ordination risk is often reduced, which can positively impact the view taken by consulting engineers in tendering for such contracts and ultimately offer improved value in design cost to the client.
The effectiveness of communication with project managers and quantity surveyors has been found to be improved where these parties are engaged in BIM processes. Their use of the federated models in 4D and 5D BIM applications for programming and quantity take-off in recent projects has been found to be beneficial to project delivery and has been efficient from a consulting engineers’ perspective. Figure 4 shows a recent commercial park where models were provided to the quantity surveyor in preparation of tender documents.
Figure 4 – Navisworks 3D Model of Commercial Park
In terms of our effort to reduce embodied carbon associated with design, the production of federated models can be used to quantify embodied carbon, thus allowing comparison between building schemes and layouts. Tekla Structural Designer now includes a One Click Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) add-on for this purpose.
While still at development stage in the industry, scheme optimization in a BIM environment is expected to be part of the next evolution of BIM design practices. Autodesk has been developing topology and optimization tools which will ultimately allow engineers to dentify efficient grid and floor layouts almost instantly as opposed to the traditional trial-and-error approach or use of judgement alone. These tools have been used in the scheme design of award-winning structures by large international firms and in the future, are expected to have a use in conventional low-rise structural engineering design, again delivering value for the client and end user.
The construction sector in Ireland is now embracing the benefits and meeting the challenges presented by digitization and particularly the use of BIM. At ORS, BIM is now central to the delivery of projects of all scales. Challenges experienced to date are varied and most have been widely noted in industry including:
- Lack of client and sometimes other design team members engagement,
- Training needs,
- Software investment,
- New working practices post-Covid,
- Inconsistent procurement frameworks,
- Management of multi-disciplinary services.
Opportunities available through the implementation of BIM within a consulting engineering environment include –
- Efficiencies in engineering deliverables
- Efficiencies in overall project delivery through 3D, 4D and 5D federated model usage
- Value to clients in scope and fee proposals
Other opportunities which are at early stages of development and are expected to be fully incorporated into ORS workflows, include the use of performance models for life cycle analysis and embodied carbon quantification as well as the use of optimisation tools to compare various schemes more rigorously.
Based on our experience, there is now momentum in the implementation of BIM as part of the digitisation of the construction industry and design firms will need to embrace its challenges and opportunities to deliver for their clients once the expected public works BIM mandate is introduced in Ireland.