Bringing BIM to the table

In acknowledging the importance of BIM, the UAE has taken a massive step towards building a technically sound construction industryImage Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai Municipality pioneered the adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) in the UAE when it mandated the use of BIM for buildings at least 40 storeys tall. The new policy also covers projects that are 27,871 sq m or larger as well as all hospitals, universities, and other specialised buildings and structures delivered by international parties. The mandate has given a lot more credibility to the technological process, which helps build projects more efficiently and cost-effectively. The potential cost savings with BIM is estimated at 10-15 per cent during construction, and during the operational life of a facility designed and managed with BIM, it can be many times higher.

"It has made the industry begin to take the technology seriously as a requirement for major construction work, which will hopefully drive adoption and its resulting benefits faster than if the municipality had left the industry to use the technology according to their own technology/ innovation timeline," says Elizabeth Peters, Associate Director, BIM Centre Lead, UAE and Oman, at Aecom, a global technical and management support services provider.

She points out that the design and construction industries are notorious for operating to razor-thin margins and investing little in new or unproven technologies. "The Dubai Municipality mandate levels the playing field and will ultimately be very good for all industry stakeholders," she adds.

While the country's construction sector has grown very quickly, Dubai, by adopting advanced BIM solutions, is trying to leapfrog the technological gap. Following in the footsteps of more advanced BIM markets, the emirate has gone a step further by making it compulsory for all projects.

BIM standards

"At first glance this may seem like a small move, but the Dubai mandate actually extends further than in the UK or US," says Peters. "While the UK and US mandates apply to all projects that meet certain criteria where the government functions as the client, Dubai has mandated BIM for all projects meeting certain criteria, regardless of the client." However, the region does not follow any particular BIM standard, making it difficult to communicate with different stakeholders in the same language. Although the mandate is useful in driving BIM implementation forward, experts say it will not be enough to achieve the goal.

"What is needed is the adoption of BIM guidelines or standards,"  says Allen Jay Holland, BIM Manager, Design Division, KEO International Consultants. "Owners, designers and constructors all need to speak about BIM with a common language. Common definitions and organisational standards are necessary for the potential cost savings of BIM to be realised." The company has been awarded the concept design for Expo Village - the housing component of Expo 2020-and will deliver full design and project management services on the first group of buildings. comprising mixed-use podium structures with retail and apartment towers.

Holland adds that the UAE's BIM market is evolving rapidly, largely driven by the expo.

"The $3.2-billion [Dh11.75 billion] Abu Dhabi Midfield Terminal is an example of the complexity of projects being delivered with BIM," he says.

Holland also adds that his company has submitted proposals for some very large commercial projects and resort developments. "BIM is rapidly becoming a de facto standard."

But it's still early days in the adoption of the technology. The transformation is going to take time as the sector has its inherent challenges to overcome. There is a rapidly expanding level of skill in the labour force in the use of BIM software, but experts suggest the effective use of these skills is hindered by the industry"s ongoing attempts to cope with changes to the scope, responsibilities and workfiow associated with it.

"The industry in the UAE - and indeed globally - is still trying to work through the effects of this change," says Peters. "We are trying to change decades, even centuries, of construction communication practice. There is still much maturing to [occur] in the industry." Latest treads

Dubai being at the forefront of BIM adoption in the region is inspiring others to adopt the technology. Abu Dhabi, for instance, is considering similar regulation for its construction sector. A number oflandmarkprojects, including the Al Mafraq Hospital, have already used BIM throughout the construction process. The use of advanced BIM solutions such as Autodesk Revit and Navisworks has provided a better visual understanding of the design.

"As the region continues moving forward in BIM adoption, Autodesk has expressed its commitment in providing support to clients in the UAE and the Middle East, especially in the move to maximise return on their investment in adopting BIM technology with world-class Antodesk consulting services," says Louay Dahmash, Head, Autodesk Middle East.

He adds that the increased adoption of BIM has also resulted in the emergence of key trends, such as the growing affordability of 3D laser scanning, easier ways for designers to create energy performance models, prefabrication process to help transform building delivery, increased significance of data management in the development of the project and emergence of computeraided manufacturing. Moreover, construction leaders and senior officials in the region are coming forward to educate and spread awareness about the benefits of BIM.

The industry is fast realising the importance of adopting this technology in order to achieve increased efficiency, productivity and quality in construction. For instance, an Institute of Sustainability and BIM has been established, whose primary purpose is education and training.

Among the latest trends in the BIM space is the gradual move to the cloud, which means that information and communication infrastructure has to be enhanced. "BIM is much more than just 3D modelling," says Holland. "It should be utilised throughout the building life cycle - in design, construction and operations, where the largest potential cost saving may be realised."

The other latest trends in the UAE involve clients specifying BIM in their contract requirements and backing it up by holding their supply chain accountable for delivering according to these requirements. "We are starting to see more and more BIM requirements for nondesign purposes, including cost consulting, contractors' progress reporting and controls, and facilities management," says Peters.

She says many of the global trends in BIM project delivery are being incorporated into the UAE market, but the fragmented nature of the governance of design and construction means that standard mandate approaches are more difficult to achieve, as they require consensus among many parties that are difficult to broker.

"The UAE is doing a great job in challenging its architecture, engineering and construction industry to innovate, but it may be much harder to achieve the same results as quickly as other countries," she explains.

With massive construction work under way across the country, the BIM market is expected to grow many times in the coming years. The BIM-specific Consultancy market is a booming niche in the UAE. However, the challenge is finding professional talent and expertise needed to serve this demand.

Peters says there have been a number of technical management consultancies and outsourcing "modelling houses" set up, but "the acute demand will soften over the next few years as design consultancies, contractors and owners start to truly integrate BIM methodologies into their business operations".

Industry experts say BIM is much more than a software or even a process; its full potential can only be realised if companies invest in the technology and completely change to business as usual across all aspects of operations.

''As I work with our own internal business, I remind teams that if we do our jobs right as internal BIM consultant service providers, we won't be doing the same thing in two years' time,'' says Peters. "The biggest challenge will be to remain relevant and retain talent."

Source: S. A. Kader, Special to PW


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