In October the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) held its second annual BIM conference. The mix of presentations, panel discussions and roundtables promoted some healthy debate into the future of Building Information Modelling for infrastructure. Greg Corke reports.

An impressive 69% of delegates at ICE BIM 2012 were using Building Information Modelling (BIM), one of the many live polls taken throughout the day revealed. But what exactly is BIM and how does it relate to civil engineering? One delegate asked is it time for a new name, referring to the huge benefits BIM offers for operation and maintenance in infrastructure projects. Asset Information Management (AIM) was offered up as a more appropriate three-letter acronym.

Representatives from RIBA, BIFM, ICE, CIC, and AGI participated in a panel discussion to explore how they can work together more collaboratively.

Paul Morrell, the chief construction advisor to the government, dismissed this idea. He believes the ‘building’ in BIM has now become less important. “Fortunately, it works as an acronym,” he explained. “Not many people call it Building Information Modelling any more. BIM means many things to many different people.”

Mr Morrell added that two years ago he was told that BIM could not apply to a linear asset. “So [with BIM now widely acknowledged in civil engineering] that’s how far we’ve come in two years,” he said.

As a conference, ICE BIM 2012 presented a very broad view of BIM. There was arguably as much focus on building and architecture as there was on highways, rail and infrastructure.

Aberlardo M. Tolentino Jr, president of Aidea Philippines, shared his experiences of managing ‘mindset change’ when moving from 2D to BIM.

Jamie Johnston of the BIM Task Group, the body that is helping deliver the objectives of the UK Government Construction Strategy, stressed the importance of taking a co-ordinated approach. “One of the most powerful things we’ve achieved in the last year is to get all the institutions — RIBA, CIBse, BSRIA — in the same room to start trying to co-ordinate their plans of work,” he said, explaining that the institutions are now uniting under common project stages, where 0 is a strategic stage and 7 is operation and end of life.

Representatives from RIBA, BIFM, ICE, CIC, and AGI also participated in a panel discussion exploring how they can work together more collaboratively. Phil Jackson, chair of the ICE information panel, emphasised the value of bringing the asset manager in at the start of the process. Indeed, the benefits of defining the data required for operations and maintenance early on in a project was a recurring theme.

Terry Stocks, head of project delivery unit for the Ministry of Justice, said that in client organisations like the MoJ, the asset management function needs to be fully bought into and involved in the BIM process from day one. “BIM is not just a construction delivery tool. Its real value comes from seamless handover from construction to operation.”

Malcolm Taylor, head of technical information, Crossrail, confirmed that the benefits of BIM that are created in design and in construction are best received by the people who use the facilities. “Focus on the benefits that BIM can give us in the ‘operate and maintain’ world and make sure design and construction are passing those things through,” he said, after explaining how two Crossrails are being built, one that contains the physical assets and one that contains the virtual assets.

The importance of BIM data was a mainstay. There was plenty of emphasis on the value of only ‘dropping’ data that is absolutely essential to each stage of a project. Too much data can become a burden.

Stephen Hamil, Head of BIM at NBS, gave a compelling talk on the information that matters in government projects. Mr Hamil, who is heavily involved in developing the National BIM Library, talked about the need for standardisation and making well-structured data accessible to all using a common language. See page 10 for more of his thoughts on the Importance of ‘I’ in BIM.

Mr Morrell confirmed this need for standardisation, not just in terms of how information is presented, but in reducing the number of specifications. He referenced an asphalt yard in the Midlands that has to make 270 different specifications because nobody accepts anyone else’s spec. Stop re-inventing the wheel, he said.

There was plenty of talk about COBie (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange), the government mandated BIM data schema that is to be used to help manage the design, construction and operation of public buildings. However, it is clear there is still a big challenge in terms of education. Indeed, a live poll revealed that 29% of delegates did not know what COBie was.

Mr Morrell acknowledged that there was still work to do. “[COBie] is a hard thing to come to love,” he said. “We have to find some way of softening its image so people can be attached to COBie and understand it.”

Terry Stocks explained the urgent need for good COBie validation and interrogation tools. Often, the vast amount of data in the COBie file makes it almost unusable, he said.

Jamie Johnston offered a more positive outlook for working with COBie data. “We’re already seeing a market emerging for apps that are taking COBie and doing lots of clever things with it,” he said. “So it’s come to a point where COBie becomes the invisible pocket — the data transfer mechanism — that no one really looks under the bonnet. You’re simply looking at the outputs that you need whether it be on your iPad or your iPhone, or whatever it is.”

The event wasn’t just about technology. Aberlardo M. Tolentino Jr, president of Aidea Philippines, shared his experiences of managing ‘mindset change’, which he described as the biggest challenge his architectural practice encountered when implementing BIM.

Paul Morrell, chief construction advisor, delivered an update on the government’s construction strategy

Mr Tolentino explained how, in the move to a BIM workflow, the biggest opposition came from his 2D CAD experts, worried that they would lose their expertise. So his firm decided to take the bold move to undergo an immediate transition to BIM, not a phased approach taken by most firms.

On day one Aidea completely removed 2D CAD software from every computer and started using only BIM. “There was a reason we did it that way,” he said. “If we don’t give people the chance to go back to the old system then there’s a bigger chance we will succeed in transitioning. It will be painful for a while, but the pain can be managed.”

Aidea’s pain did not last long. After three months, the company was as efficient as with 2D. After six months it was starting to realise the benefits, and continued to gain more efficiency by assigning studio BIM managers, creating a BIM manual and carrying out BIM audits at different stages of a project to ensure quality. The firm has now become one of the most successful BIM-centric practices in the world, recently picking up the OpenBIM award at Build London Live 2012 in May.

ICE BIM 2012 was high on delegate participation. One of the most interactive BIM conferences in the construction calendar it offered much more than back-to-back presentations. Panel discussions, roundtables, and Q and As punctuated the proceedings, creating a sense of community among the 300 delegates and promoting lively debate.

Overall, it was acknowledged that the BIM Task Group needed to do more to help the civil engineering industry in particular. Delegates called for more advice on software, civils-based reference pilot projects, and availability of standard civils objects.

However it was also suggested that firms needed to take a more active role in helping shape future BIM strategies. Participation through working groups such as BIM4Rail, BIM4Retail was one way to increase engagement and share knowledge and experience with peers. A BIM for SME group was also in progress to help those that thought BIM was just for the major firms.

Through increased engagement from all sides, we should see the number of delegates using BIM rise next year.