Autodesk BIM Conference report

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The adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) systems in the UK has been fairly slow. Attendees to Autodesk’s BIM conference this Autumn would have heard first hand that the government may be looking at hastening this. Martyn Day reports.

At one point it was all about why move from 2D to 3D, what are the benefits and who pays. That argument, to a degree, has been superseded with ‘to BIM or not to BIM?’ Where project teams; architects, structural engineers and heating and M&E engineers work on a single model.

Early adopters of BIM are championing a move to a more intelligent modelling approach but these have been few and far between. The core problem of this appears to be defining this new way of working and sharing the responsibility and rewards in completing a project, as well as finding like-minded companies. The Autodesk sponsored BIM Conference held at the end of September in London’s King’s Cross provided a forum for some of these issues to be aired.

On stage discussions mixed with time for questions and answers made the event highly interactive.

Autodesk has done a pretty good job of marketing that Building Information Modelling = Revit. Of course that is not the case: Bentley has Bentley Architecture / Structural etc, Graphisoft has ArchiCAD and Nemetschek offers Allplan — all are capable of building intelligent 3D models from which 2D documentation can be created. As this was an Autodesk event, one would assume that everything would be served with a hefty dose of Revit marketing but nothing could be further from the truth. An architect using any system would have not been troubled by any hard sell in the presentations.


As you would suspect at a day-long event with around twelve different presentations, the pace was fast and furious, averaging between 15 and 30 minutes per slot. Snappy enough for anyone with a short attention span, or caffeine addiction.

Mark Bew, CIO, URS/Scott Wilson opened the conference and acted as master of ceremonies throughout the day. Mr Bew explained how the industry was in crisis and being asked to deliver more for less and move to low carbon designs, which were just two of many epic challenges. To respond to this harsh environment every aspect of the construction industry needed to be looked at; people, process and technology. Even BIM as we know it today needs to improve with more common standards and agreed ways of sharing a database versus the old way of sharing files.

Reforming practices

Ever since The Egan report the inefficiencies of the industry have been identified, mulled and generally procrastinated over. Paul Morrell, Chief Construction Adviser to UK Government gave a lot more insight into what may be in store for the industry next year than anybody expected.


Whatever you might think of the current coalition government the one thing we probably would all agree in is we don’t really know what radical thing they will try and do next! Morrell has been involved in producing a research document, due to be delivered next March, which will advise the government on how to reduce costs of construction, drive value and drive a low carbon infrastructure. From what he said it will pretty much suggest that BIM becomes mandatory for all government contracts, in addition to traditional 2D drawings. The research would also look at standards and open formats to make this possible.

Always good to end a conference on a bombshell, even if this is a small glimpse into a report that will be delivered in 2011. This could change everything and rapidly accelerate 3D usage in all industries.

Next up was Autodesk’s Phil Bernstein who elaborated on current practices and trends within the global construction industry. Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is an American term but Mr Bernstein identified this as being an increasingly common way for clients, architects and contractors to work under a new legal framework, where risk and reward is shared and cross-company teamwork is encouraged. Autodesk’s own headquarters in Waltham, near Boston, recently underwent an interior fit-out using an IPD methodology, resulting in work being developed in breakneck speed, completed ahead of time, all under budget and the participants didn’t end up suing each other at the end. In fact Autodesk had invited John Tocci, CEO of Tocci Construction, who worked on the project to address the audience later that afternoon.

John Lorimer, director, Manchester City Council (MCC) gave an amusing talk on how the council was seeing value in having BIM used on their school projects. Using core design values, MCC uses collaborative framework arrangements to break the old contracts and build Facilities Management (FM) in every phase of design, construction and operation. The net result is a kit of standardised parts — ideal for a BIM system.


Alan Robertson, director, Aedas gave an excellent talk on the benefits of BIM to architects. Aedas invested in BIM for a number of reasons but the key persuasion points were to stay ahead of the competition and its own R&D team had highlighted benefits to the switch. For Aedas, BIM has meant a change in process, in production, the up-skilling of operators, specialised training for managers, a reduction of manpower, better hardware and operating systems (64-bit), and new internal CAD standards.

As a result of a significant investment its clients get an increased understanding of their designs. production time has been cut with reduced errors from better co-ordination. By effectively prototyping buildings prior to construction there was a reduction in clashes and onsite queries. Mr Robertson said that staff moral had improved and the bottom line — the company had already seen a 50-100 per cent return on investment.

Mr Robertson explained that over time and with experience, BIM is enabling the company to reach work stages much quicker than the old 2D methodology. Within its third project there was a considerable productivity improvement over 2D in all phases of the design.

In a nice little slide entitled ‘What we know now that we didn’t know before’, Mr Robertson explained that the comprehensiveness of information was appreciated, such as providing many more section drawings, schedules as they are a bi-product of the modelling process. The firm can now produce a 3D model quicker than a 2D drawing. Clash detection and changes to designs can also be accommodated more easily.

But there are barriers to BIM; the investment required is not insignificant and there are hardware issues due to the size of models. Keeping track of models and revisions has been a problem together with the extra training required for staff. Legacy projects and data is difficult to get the benefit of data reuse and finally M&E engineers have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the BIM table.

Aedas will next look at incorporating Autodesk Ecotect and IES energy applications into its workflow. There is also an ongoing need to increase its employees’ skill levels through advanced training. Outside the company, Aedas wants to encourage BIM in other disciplines so it’s easier to find like-minded companies to work with.

Mott MacDonald

Paul Bates, divisional director, Mott MacDonald, also chairman of the company’s CAD working group, gave a presentation on the benefits of BIM in engineering. Mr Bates kicked off explaining that clients now request BIM to be used on projects and it is here to stay.

The risks associated with BIM come from the failure to define common standards for collaboration. There also needs to be adequate checking procedures and resolution of liability issues of inaccurate or just plane wrong core data.

Mott MacDonald has already deployed BIM in structural, civil, mechanical, electrical and public health. Quantities and sustainability are catching up and the company is setting up a cross-discipline BIM steering committee to formalise standards and figure out what to do with all of the accumulated BIM data.

Bates certainly seemed the kind of man who drank, ate and slept CAD for Mott MacDonald. Describing the experience with BIM as ‘largely positive’, indicating that there were still issues that needed addressing.

Paul Morrell gave an excellent insightful talk, which was music to the ears of anyone selling BIM software or services.


A segment was set aside for the British building and construction bodies: RIBA, CIBSE, ICE to discuss what they were doing about BIM and how it impacted the industry. This was probably the weakest presentation of the show but was unfortunately more indicative of the fact that these bodies are ultimately highly self serving.

To make BIM work, integration between the participants is necessary. It became very clear in the panel Q&A that the industry bodies seem unwilling or unlikely to co-ordinate a BIM group between themselves. When asked what they were doing together, they pondered if specific co-ordinated BIM practices should be handled by a different body. This seemed to be the wrong kind of message for the day.


The organisers had obviously kept the more dynamic presenters till the afternoon, as the first slide of Richard Wise, director, Ryder Architecture’s presentation read BIM… so what? In an impassioned presentation Wise made the case by stating what work Ryder had done, even in tough times. He listed tens of benefits, showed the quality of their documentation and just how they used the models for everything from analysis to delivering prefabricated parametrically customisable schools.


Autodesk’s BIM Conference was a roaring success and it was refreshing not to have product rammed down everyone’s throats, which could well have been the case. While the majority of presenters were Revit customers, they were free to express where things worked best and where more work was required.

At the heart of the day were more general topics such as workflow, contracts, training, migration, data translation and some very good examples of companies that have made the move and reaped the rewards.

Left to almost the end of the day, Paul Morrell’s insight into how the government sees BIM as a crucial technology to both drive down waste and improve the carbon efficiencies of projects really came as a shock and acted like the last nail in the coffin for those that were resistant to change. When the report is delivered next March it is highly likely that the government’s next action will be to mandate that its projects are delivered in an independent BIM format such as IFCs, in addition to the 2D plans sections and elevations.

After the event I met up with Autodesk’s Phil Bernstein who was really excited by the surprise announcement. In fact Autodesk hurried out a quote from Paul Morrell, which was circulated far and wide. Mr Bernstein explained that In the USA, the General Services Administration (GSA), the body that looks after government buildings, stipulated BIM deliverables and this rocketed adoption of Revit across its user base. While in the UK Revit has something like 20 per cent adoption, in the States it has already reached 60 per cent penetration. A Government endorsement really makes a difference.

So the key takeaways are that BIM is coming, projects are getting completed and new ways of working are being defined. The increases in productivity that are promised by the vendors are achievable but moving to a BIM methodology does not happen overnight. The main, current, problem is finding M&E firms that use BIM and the data translation or ‘data wrangling’ that can occur needs to find a solution. Until that time, it will become increasingly frequent that a specific vendor’s BIM system will be required to win on bids.

For those that missed the event but want to get some of the information that was presented, Autodesk has a specific website where most of the presentation materials have been archived at:


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