An interview with the Baron of BIM

by Ofentse Sefolo
An interview with the Baron of BIM

Walls & Roofs spoke to Vaughan Harris. He is the founder and president of the BIM Institute and the founder of BIM Academy Africa. We posed the following questions which he comprehensively responded to.

Vaughan Harris founder and president of the BIM Institute.

Why invest in BIM?

Many organisations are reluctant to make the initial investment in BIM tools, technological infrastructure, consultants and training advised by software vendors. Project-specific costs are also a concern for companies interested in BIM – including additional time needed by the team as their workflows and processes change and the implementation requirements outlined by training vendors.

The BIM Institute has created its own internal benchmarks against which BIM costs and benefits can be measured. The BIM Academy Africa courses details how vendors can educate clients on the software applications, and ideally adopt classification systems to organise information first.

What is BIM and what does it entail?

Building Information Modelling (BIM) refers to the use of a shared digital representation (model) of a built object to facilitate the construction process. BIM refers to a shared digital representation of an object or element that allows project stakeholders to insert, extract, update or modify the data within the design, construct and operation process at different stages of a project’s lifecycle.

Every person in a team is responsible for the information and needs access to the diverse packets of data, brought together so that decisions can be made with all the facts considered, in a virtual environment. BIM benefits all parties involved, when applied consistently. This requires buy-in and investment from all stakeholders, with a common end-goal.

Many people mistakenly think that BIM is software, but it is a process of working. Software tools are the technological core of BIM, but this makes up only 10% of the process. The remaining 90% centres around the sociological and collaborative practices that the software enables.

BIM has 3 key elements:

• The consistent, conventional labelling or naming of documents and data.
This helps to track and find data throughout the life of the asset, and ensures that those working on the project follow the same procedures. A suitable process is described in ISO 19650, which is already used for naming conventions on many projects and can form the basis of a system for use with BIM.

• A method for storing and manipulating information.
On many projects, this involves a common data environment (CDE) platform where graphical and non-graphical information is shared and stored. Essentially, a CDE is a shared representation and spatial database that records the location and attributes of every component on a project.

• A method for exchanging/issuing information about the building.
This includes its construction, operation, performance and maintenance. Historically, this has involved exchanging drawings, schedules and manuals, in paper or electronic format, and it can continue. The difference is that when BIM is used, the information will be generated from the model, and not by preparing the documents separately.

How is BIM utilised in South Africa and internationally?
BIM is a process that combines information and technology to create a digital representation of a construction project (including buildings, bridges, roads, process plants etc.), EN ISO 19650-1:2018 information management, using building information modelling.

Using BIM increases efficiency and reduces errors.

Virtual designs are built in 3D before work proceeds on site; the attributes of all the elements of the building are modelled, and spatial “clashes” can be identified and resolved in the model instead of on site.

Too much emphasis is often placed on the design aspect of BIM and this has often detracted interested parties, who think that BIM is costly and all about the 3D visual modelling.

As the successor to traditional computer-aided design (3D CAD), BIM stores and provides:
• 3D object data and the classification of information.
• 4D scheduling time data.
• 5D quantification and cost management data.
• 6D sustainability data.
• 7D operations and maintenance (O&M) data.

6D and 7D, for example, rely on accurate information from BIM models to produce 3D objects and scheduling data that allow for accurate production and just-in-time delivery of modules from supply chain to construction sites.

Beyond supporting new technologies, BIM:
• Optimises and automates asset design.
• Stores information for preventive maintenance.
• Increases the competitiveness of the construction sector (e.g. engineering firms, contractors, designers and product manufacturers) in their activities.
• Delivers efficiencies for client organisations regarding the requirements of legacy systems.
• Facilitates the information exchange between owner-operators management systems and contractors/designers BIM systems thanks to interoperability.
• Delivers efficiencies for contractors and manufacturers through standardised product selection and ordering processes.
• Offers a substantial reduction in cost and resources in the industry.
• Increases certainty for construction clients to meet their built asset goals and improvements in the briefing with improvements in post-occupation evaluations.
• Provides a common understanding of the design of the built environment between owners, operators and users, designers, contractors and manufacturers of construction products.
• Facilitates the exchange of information about construction services between stakeholders.
• Provides improved data sharing where effective rules and controls need to be defined to ensure secure and reliable transactions. This process is generically termed interoperability.

What is BIM’s role in the construction sector and how has it changed since its inception?

Construction companies around the world have long since realised the benefits of modelling software. It’s typical for companies to use software to take third-party information from a design package and create a model for use in the field. The next generation of civil engineering and construction software provides much broader capabilities.

The goal is to design a construction model with a foundation of rich, “intelligent” data.

This model guides the contractor’s plan and the execution of the project. Intelligent modelling encourages users to add and remove information on the fly, while simultaneously considering multiple solutions instead of making manual modifications.

Modelling empowers designers and engineers to run multiple scenarios quickly and easily, updating the model that contractors ultimately build against.

In addition to building and sharing high-quality models, modelling technology also allows design scenarios to be visualised beyond the confines of 3D. Better integrated camera systems that capture 360° digital panoramas and geospatial information share information with the modelling software.

Pairing this interactive modelling with intelligent data frees engineers and architects to quickly analyse changes and “what if?” design scenarios in the context of the physical environment. The potential impact for saving time on rework, accelerating the building phase and ultimately producing higher quality projects is huge.

The South African building industry is not great at accepting change and as BIM grows in popularity, many underestimates its power, writing it off as a design tool and ignoring its construction and management phase advantages.

South African contractors’ lack of skills (both within the construction sector and among its clients) severely slows the rate of BIM adoption in South Africa. These skills are core capabilities in a digitised construction industry; they can’t be outsourced to third parties.


Who provides these technologies and to whom?

BIM allows all stakeholders to collaborate on a single model to design, construct and run a building. The technological base of BIM consists of 3D design, intelligent models and information management; social components include synchronous collaboration, coordinated work practices and a cultural or institutional framework in which BIM is incorporated in a company’s processes – workflow, for example – and business plan.

The design stage of BIM relies on vendors such as Autodesk Revit, ARCHICAD, Bentley Systems and Trimble; and allows designers to model in conceptual design, detailed technical design and analysis (including energy analysis), working closely with the quantity surveyor using software such as DimensionX and WINQS to provide detailed estimates and pricing documents based on design information provided in the 3D model.

In the build stage, contractors can do quantification using their preferred estimating software and remodel the Bill of Quantities using their preferred estimating software while doing resource levelling using Oracle Primavera or MS Project, as accurate cash-flow projection can also be done from the models provided, including automatically updated quantification provided by the client’s quantity surveyor.

The contractor can also use this information for fabrication, planning and simulation purposes using Navisworks. Once the facility is built, the contractor and owner can use the model to manage defects and operate and maintain the building, and renovate and finally demolish, if necessary, far into the future.

Standard adoption – where do we stand?

South Africa’s current construction industry is nowhere near adopting any standard or level of digital construction strategy, as SANS10400 does not cater for digital drawing submission at town planning level.

All industry agencies such as SACAP, SAICE, ASAQS and many other should invest in getting the industry “BIM-ready”, and without industry collaboration no one will benefit or be a leader.

A BIM leader can only help to improve the industry standards and sustainability, which is already part of day-to-day business.

Benefits of BIM:
• Better internal management of technical data.
• Integration of multiple data sources into one place and for some industries.
• Linking designers using products such as ARCHICAD or Revit, directly to manufacturers.
• Investing in a planned way is almost always better than being forced to invest at short notice.
• Implemented properly and used diligently, BIM can cut the design phase of a construction project by 30% and its design cost by 8%.

What does the future look like for BIM, both locally and internationally?

South African companies are generally very innovative and creative. They will quickly adapt to profitable changes. It is therefore key to change the mindset of the government and private companies in their attitudes towards BIM, as it has been successful in many earlier adopting countries. Once these stakeholders understand how BIM can benefit them, and to what extent, South Africa will not only keep up with Europe, but will catch up.

The South African government would also do well to support the BIM initiative by promoting BIM standards through a partnership programme with the BIM Institute and supporting pilot projects. This action would give the country’s construction sector the credibility it would need to attract more foreign direct investments.

What determines the successful implementation of BIM?

Remember that once the few biggest companies and the government support BIM and start insisting on it, they can unite the sector in digitisation. This has a knock-on effect as the cumulative knowledge and market power drive the demand for better templates and guidelines to be generated faster and (importantly) applied consistently.

In fact, South Africa is in the enviable position that if the big construction companies unite behind BIM, BIM standardisation is possible through the industry instead of the government. It would only take one of these forces (the public or the private sector) to move the entire industry.

What challenges have been faced and how were they overcome?

South African industry-lead companies tend to think of BIM as a software tool which is only needed for design, but you are a BIM expert if you learn the software.

There are pockets of excellence in South Africa, but the environment is still uncoordinated and lacks digital standards against which to measure the quality of the information being produced and allowing the transfer of data freely between project parties.

The South African industry is somewhat immature in terms of other aspects that need reviewing for National Building Standards and SANS 10400 and 1200 standards.

If we want to implement any kind of BIM standard, it needs to start with cloud-based information management systems on projects while also adopting the ISO 19650 standard.

Even though several challenges in the construction industry may slow down the implementation of BIM, it’s exciting to take note of what can be achieved going forward.

It is not merely an architect’s 3D graphic representation, but a virtual collaborative model designed to evaluate the construction and performance of the built reality.

It also provides an information asset that can optimise the management (and performance) of the completed facility and, upon wider adoption, has the potential to revolutionise the way public infrastructure is planned and public services delivered.

Acknowledgement and thanks go to Vaughan Harris from the BIM Institute for the information contained in this article.


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