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Building The Future

In the last decade, digital technology has made enormous changes to our social, cultural and business lives. This revolution is beginning to have a similar impact on New Zealand’s construction industry, with the growth of Building Information Modelling (BIM) as a tool to make projects faster, more accurate and less wasteful.

With some estimates suggesting that up to 60% of labour effort is wasted, BIM is being heralded as the ‘lean manufacturing’ of the construction industry. “By human nature, people don’t enjoy rework. So whether you’re the designer, contractor, or anyone else in the process, you’ll have a higher level of satisfaction and profitability if there’s no rework,” remarks RDT Pacific Director Simon Wilson.

RDT Pacific recommends that clients engage a consultant with the appropriate BIM capability on a case by case basis. “It’s project specific, there are definite gains to be made, but these are maximised in projects of significant scale, or those which have to be highly coordinated,” says Simon.

“There are a few criteria that you would evaluate the project against, before you made the recommendation. If it’s a simple warehouse, it may not be worth the extra cost. Its benefits may lie in sequencing, workflows and clashes and in the case of a simple building, you’ll be able to see those quite clearly anyway. For projects with many services, such as those within the healthcare sector, you’ve got to consider medical gases, data cables, and complex, expensive machinery, along with multiple services running through wall and ceiling spaces that must align. So with those criteria, you can really see a value.”

The Maternity Ward project for Whangarei Hospital – a current RDT Pacific project – utilises BIM technology. If it didn’t, says Simon, “I’d advise the client to hold a greater contingency, in terms of dealing with design coordination issues, where the 2D plans the contractors tender from might not be buildable.” This is a strong argument for the initial outlay of BIM, where the costs upfront outweigh the costs of potential clashes and delays.

It is important to evaluate the costs for various levels of detail, due to the added time involved with the levels of detail and the usefulness of the BIM model in terms of other functions it can provide: to build from, cost information, project programming and plant maintenance (depreciation, asset management, lifespan and replacement rates of big plant).

There is a proven business case associated with BIM that right now we are not yet seizing in New Zealand, says Simon, “The quickest way to get a step change in most industries is through regulation. Because then you have a threshold and level playing field of standards. That would drive the training and other factors needed for wide uptake. This would require a government that is more interested in a regulatory approach, but a government that looks to a market driven economy will wait for the market to take the lead.” The UK is already regulating to drive these changes and the EU is likely to follow suit.

“The construction industry is conservative. It’s ripe for change, but all it would take is for a key player to say ‘we won’t tender on projects without a fully integrated BIM model’. If this benchmark is combined with effective training and the right software, it becomes simpler for contractors to price their jobs quickly and with a high degree of accuracy.”

Optimising ROI from BIM projects relies on a number of factors: the input of standardised and consistent information, an investment in quality training, and a realistic view of what’s possible. Awareness of BIM is growing, but many clients are still waiting to take the plunge. Investment costs are still a barrier, despite the fact that recent projects constructed using BIM have demonstrated sound returns.

BIM provides a lens with which to re-focus on issues of waste, time and cost blowouts. The continued growth in the uptake of BIM, gets us closer to eliminating the waste that exists within our industry. However, there are still barriers to change and it is clear that significant work still needs to be done.

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