Eureka! How Building Information Modelling (BIM) is changing the industry

  • The widespread adoption of Building Information Modelling is the light bulb moment the construction industry has been waiting for.
  • Ali Valentine reports.

Building Information Modelling (BIM) has become the hottest topic in the industry. Integral to the UK government’s Construction Strategy, with a mandate for its use on all public sector capital projects by 2016, the efficiencies and savings BIM can bring are finally being officially recognised.

However, Laing O’Rourke’s head of cost planning James Eaton has a problem with BIM. “It’s the terminology,” he says. “It’s limiting, misleading almost. BIM is not just about buildings: it can be used on projects for roads, bridges, railways – any product we deliver.

“BIM is not simply creating models. Yes, visualisation is hugely important to understanding and interrogating a concept. But this is where most people’s focus is stuck.”

James believes dispelling these misconceptions will help the industry to access the true potential of BIM: “The most accurate part of the BIM acronym is the ‘I’. BIM is about unlocking the power of information, thereby making it valuable knowledge.”

Sharing the benefits

BIM enables different parties to understand each other’s data. Across Laing O’Rourke’s business, this is already creating more informed and unified teams, as project leader John Osborne can attest. “When a whole team is linked by a single data source, the often siloed functions, consultants and subcontractors can see beyond their own interests to a more holistic view of what is trying to be achieved.”

Supporting the inclusive culture necessary for BIM, Laing O’Rourke is benefiting from an innovation developed by in-house company Select and Laing O’Rourke’s IT specialists. BIM stations enable anyone working or even visiting a project to navigate around the model and explore its data.

“The whole team can physically see how the project should be built and can measure progress, hone in on specific areas and explore subcontractor interfaces,” John continues. “Commercial teams can produce schedules and package procurement information.

“When you add 4D (time) and 5D (cost) information, achieving stakeholder buy-in is far more successful as we can demonstrate how redesigned methodology positively impacts on programme and budget.”


Culture shock?

So what has been holding BIM back? “I think industry-wide, there is still a fear of BIM, of the unknown,” says senior engineer Chris Northwood. “But we see BIM as an opportunity to add another dimension to the skills of our professionals, enabling them to work more efficiently across our projects.”

In 2009, Laing O’Rourke’s win of a coveted Innovation award from Constructing Excellence recognised a “groundbreaking” piece of work in the field of BIM education and training. The appreciation that success is about people and process, rather than technology, still drives Laing O’Rourke’s approach to BIM today.

“Project leaders will be vital to embedding this in our culture,” explains Chris. “For Laing O’Rourke, the value of BIM through delivery can be found by upskilling project teams and functions so that, eventually, they completely manage the model and use it to aid their day-to-day activities.”

In readiness for widespread adoption, Laing O’Rourke has also created a BIM Leadership group with representatives from functions and in-house specialist businesses, to practically embed BIM into its business processes.

Whole lifecycle benefits

The business believes BIM can add most value when Laing O’Rourke is engaged at the front end of a project, through its cost-planning business, insite. “The benefits are multiplied the earlier we are engaged,” says James.

Laing O’Rourke is determined to use the momentum around BIM to effect a transformational change, in which the industry becomes more integrated across the entire lifespan of a project, from feasibility to construction, to operation and ultimately decommissioning.

The business understands that the barriers of data ownership and intellectual property remain. However, it believes its careful selection of partners will ensure those it works with have a similar collaborative philosophy – and that this will reap long-term benefits by creating sustainable relationships with clients.

“The industry needs to step up,” concludes James. “But who wouldn’t want to be part of this? It’s ‘challenge and change’ at its most visionary.”

A case study film of how Building Information Modelling (BIM) was used in Laing O’Rourke’s bid for the Leadenhall Building.

“We see BIM as an opportunity to add another dimension to the skills of our professionals, enabling them to work more efficiently across our projects.”

Chris Northwood, senior engineer