Michael Bleby Reporter

Michael writes on emerging markets, architecture and engineering. He has served as a correspondent in Tokyo, London and Johannesburg and has written for Reuters, the Financial Times, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

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Tech change: BIM makes construction look more like manufacturing

Published 26 July 2013 08:10, Updated 26 November 2013 18:35

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Tech change: BIM makes construction look more like manufacturing

The trend in the US is towards lean construction, says Simon Jones. Photo: Glenn Campbell.

The construction industry is in for a “contractor-led revolution” as the greater adoption by building contractors of building information modelling (BIM) – software that permits collaborative work all along the design and construction – makes them do more assembly of prefabricated components onsite, rather than building structures out of raw material, a director of software company McGraw Hill Construction says.

While BIM, which creates a three-dimensional (3D) model that different professionals can work on simultaneously, is valued for its ability to present clear visual models of projects and prevent clashes – such as an architect designing a window where an engineer has put a beam – the collaborative process underlying it will also increasingly mean the remote construction of components for buildings that will then be put into place on site, senior director Steve Jones told an industry conference in Melbourne.

“Suppliers are going to make bigger and bigger component chunks and the sites are going to be more about assembling, rather than building out of raw materials,” Jones told the BIM-MEP Aus Construction Innovation 2013 Forum in Melbourne.

The significance of such a move – which will eliminate many of the business and construction risks that come from leaving construction as an onsite process – is great. It will force a change in the operating model of many contractors as they become businesses that oversee the manufacture of components and get them delivered and assembled according to schedules mandated by the BIM process.

Adoption of BIM in the US, where the construction industry was hit hard by the construction slowdown that followed the global financial crisis, has been rapid. While architects and engineers have been the major users of BIM until now, that situation changed last year, with the proportion of construction contractors adopting BIM overtaking that of designers for the first time.

The proportion of contractors using BIM rose to 74 per cent last year, greater than the 70 per cent for architects and 67 per cent for engineers, McGraw Hill figures show.

In Australia, where we avoided the recession that hit other countries, the construction industry has not been similarly forced in to take on measures that would boost productivity and allow them to become more efficient. The costs of adopting BIM – the software, accompanying hardware and necessary training – are not cheap.

Russell Telford, the managing director of Australian contractor AG Coombs, which has implemented BIM, says the costs have been equivalent to 1 per cent of his firm’s $200 million turnover.

“The payback’s tremendously quick,” he says, adding the firm had to make the investment. “There isn’t a choice.”

Jones cited a study by Boston-based contractor JC Cannistraro of 408 projects that showed change orders – a measure of waste – on projects fell from over 18 per cent of the base contact value on projects designed using traditional 2D design tools, to 2.7 per cent on projects produced collaboratively using BIM.

“This is the future – a completely integrated process taking out a lot of the waste,” Jones said. “A big theme in America now is lean construction – taking the waste out of the process.”

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