The components of BIM

Since writing my earlier blog on Building Information Modelling (BIM)  ( I have been contacted by a number of interested observers in the UK and beyond.  This is clearly an important topic, but from my point of view, as an Engineer and Project Manager, it does appear that there is a lot of “hot air” and mischief out there.  I don’t claim to have specialist knowledge, but have an overview and from my perspective I believe there are three important components to BIM:

  • The Client’s required Output
  • The Technology
  • The legal and cultural framework.

All three are inter-related and consistent with the ethos of BIM, to remove silo data, should be considered as a whole.  However, the practicalities of producing a blog means I will be preparing a series of blogs on all three components.  However, a few thoughts as tasters for you:

The Client’s required Output – A fundamental question has to be who is the Client for the BIM enabled project, the ultimate owner or are there enough advantages that the Contractor building the project would use it regardless of the ultimate owner’s intention?  My last blog commented on the UK Government Strategy and the BIM maturity level, setting the objective of central government construction projects being BIM Level 2 compliant by 2016.  However, this doesn’t specify the details of how BIM is undertaken or what the Government or any other Client wants as the Output.  Development of the Output requirement will mature with the BIM maturity level, but as a flavour of what can be achieved I suggest viewing:

The Technology – Both software and hardware need to be up to the job to service a BIM project.  It is commercially unwise for there to be only one piece of BIM software, but there is a need for software to communicate openly and accurately.  There have been examples of the Architect’s and the Engineer’s software failing to exchange fundamental geometry or the Engineer’s analysis software not seamlessly working with the geometry software, hence wasting time and money correcting or looking for errors. Clash Detection is often cited as a reason for using BIM, but it can be argued that the collaboration of competent designers encouraged by BIM should avoid clashes anyway.  Does this mean that everyone involved in the project needs a major investment in training, hardware and software, or at the SME level does it just require the systematic organisation of existing information?  Ultimately the BIM database is likely to be hosted on a single server with fast internet connections to the team (pre-construction, construction & maintenance) allowing phone, tablet and desktop interrogation of the data.

The legal and cultural framework – The fundamental legal question is; who owns the model? However, there are other issues raised by BIM adoption. To quote from an article in Building Magazine ( – free login) – “You can’t impose BIM on people – they have got to want to do it”.  This is probably the greatest challenge.   BIM does require collaboration and it is rare that a client procures a construction project from a single supplier.  So legal arrangements will be required between the various parties, which knowingly attributes the duties, payments and risks within this collaborative process.  It is a consensus view that BIM level 2 can be implemented with minor changes to existing contracts and appointments, but BIM maturity level 3 may require less adversarial and more collaborative contracts and appointments and require the much earlier detailed involvement of the end user.

And finally I will be posting some useful links if you wish to explore the subject in greater detail.

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Bluffers Guide to BIM

I was recently asked the question, so what is BIM and do I need to know about it?

I hope to answer both parts of the question in the overview below.

BIM stands for Building Information Modelling and can provide, in an intelligently linked digital format, all the information required to manage, design, build, operate and then demolish a built asset. Unlike a traditional approach of presenting drawings as a series of lines in 2D (originally on a drawing board and then via CAD), which more recently evolved into a 3D representation, the 3D digital BIM incorporates information as objects with associated information (such as size, the grade of steel, the U value of insulation, manufacturers plant component, unit costs).  This information is brought together collaboratively by input from the design and construction team members as the project progresses allowing the volume of information to grow from inception, through design and onto construction.  Then on project completion the data file is handed on to the owner/commissioner and his management team as the major part of the O&M file, to be updated as changes occur during the working life of the Asset and eventually providing a record for the demolition or remodelling at the end of its life.  Put in the least sophisticated terms the BIM process has the potential to creates an electronic filing cabinet of all information regarding the asset, which is updated when necessary, but also allows for easy interrogation of the information at any stage of the project, from the predicted energy use, through actual energy efficiency, to the volume of waste generated during construction, to the whole life cost of the asset.

The Government commissioned the report “A report for the Government Construction Client Group Building Information Modelling (BIM) Working Party Strategy Paper” in 2010 which was published in 2011.  The full 107 pages can be downloaded at:

This report introduces the concept of BIM maturity levels to reflect the expected development of BIM procurement, training and the technology to support it.  The Levels range from Level 0 (Unmanaged paper or electronic paper, i.e. pdf files) to Level 3 (Fully open process and data integration enabled by “web services” compliant with the emerging IFC / IFD standards).  The report recommends that within five years (2016) central government should be procuring 100% of its construction at or above Level 2 (Managed 3D environment held in separate discipline “BIM” tools with attached data, i.e. each participating party has its own 3D model which integrates with software and is commercially managed by an Enterprise Resource Programme ERP, a large commercial database).

Introduction of BIM is moving fast.  An interesting summary from building magazine identifies a fifth of public sector clients (18.9%) have used BIM, whereas almost a third of private sector clients  (31.5%) have done so.  The large multi-disciplinary consultant Capita Symonds is mandating the use of BIM across all its design services divisions from 1 July.   The Crossrail project is a standout project using BIM.  However, QSs are among the slowest professions at adopting BIM.

The BIM Strategy paper also reviews the legal, contractual and insurance implications of BIM and generally concludes that to Level 2 the implications are manageable with minor changes to the current documents and arrangements, but does concede that moving to level 3 will require more consideration.

At the recent Government Construction Summit the Government were keen to extol the Construction industry to adopt BIM as part of its strategy to reduce construction cost by 20%.  The speech by Francis Maude can be found at and the Government’s progess report at:  A few very selective extracts:

  • The commitment to embrace Building Information Modelling (BIM) in Government projects over a 5-year time frame is positioning the UK to become a world leader in the take-up of BIM
  • BIM pilots are also expected to demonstrate big gains in process efficiency within the design and construction process
  • The legal, commercial and insurance protocols for BIM are nearing completion
  • There are complementary programmes for developing private and public-private sector collaborations in the form of BIM for Retail, BIM for Rail and BIM for Developers
  • BIM is a process change not a software purchase

So knowledge of BIM is important if you have any association with the Construction industry; it might currently be essential for only part of the industry, but soon it will be essential to nearly all.  I urge you to book-mark the site to keep up to date.

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Another fine VAT mess?

As an Engineer the details of VAT have never much interested me, until I read a post by Stephen Mundy of Galliford Try on the LinkedIn “South West and South Wales Construction and Property Network” Group.  In summary Stephen draws attention to another VAT problem caused by the last budget, to go along with Pasties and Static Caravans.  The proposed measure would see VAT relief removed from approved work to heritage buildings.  Further reading can be found at:

This reveals the Government’s reason for removing the tax relief was based on flawed research, from which it concluded that removing the tax break would prevent millionaires from claiming the tax relief for installing swimming pools in listed buildings.  A more rigorous analysis of the impact of the changes identifies essential works to listed buildings, required to bring them back into use (such as disabled access) will be the major victim.  A few relevant facts (from an open letter in the Times, 14 June 2012, to the Chancellor from a group of organisations including the Federation of Master Builders, the Historic Houses Association, National Home Improvement Council, the Institute of Historic Building Conservation and the Countryside Alliance):

  • The Government’s research was undertaken on 105 cases out of 30,000 annual Listed Building Consents.
  • An analysis of 12,049 recent applications for listed building consent only 34 applications were for swimming pools and less than half of these had any chance of qualifying for the VAT relief.
  • 50% of people who live in listed buildings are in socio-economic groups C1, C2, D and E
  • Places of worship will be exempt, but not community centres, town halls, village halls or privately owned listed buildings.

The Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) website identifies construction work on existing fabric now accounts for about half of the construction sector economy.  Reusing rather than building from new is a basic tenant of a sustainable economy.  So it can also be argued, as well as building its case on a false premise the Government’s sustainability credentials are also undermined by the proposed removal of tax relief.

The conclusion must be that the proposed removal of relief may bring in further tax revenues, but is unlikely to affect the super-rich to any great extent, but is likely to reduce essential net spending on construction and hence hit construction jobs. All of which sounds like a repeat of the arguments against the initial budget proposal to put 20% VAT on Pasties and Static Caravans.

An e-petition “Save our heritage: say no to VAT on work on listed buildings” can be found at:  This is due to run until 27 June.

For those who feel that they would like to do more to oppose the proposal, more information can be found at:

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Polluters to pay larger fines?

As is often the case the consequences of legislation may not be limited to the title. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) contains provisions that might see a very significant increase in the level of fines for environmental offences.  See an interesting article at:

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Water, Water everywhere?

A couple of water related items, which might be ironic for those currently living through the wettest of droughts in the UK.  However, the vagaries of the UK climate do warrant long-term consideration.

National water Infrastructure

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) has published a report “State of the Nation: Water”, which can be downloaded at: .  The eleven page report is one of a series of annual “State of the Nation” reports prepared for the ICE by an eminent panel of experts and seeks to establish the facts, practicalities and advice on strategy for the supply of the most basic element of life and commerce.  The report proposes three recommendations:

  1. Government should establish a UK Water Security Task Force and roadmap to deliver water security by 2025
  2. The importance of Water to society is more effectively emphasised and water conservation more actively promoted to drive reduced water use.
  3. New sustainable and cost effective supply schemes are developed to maximise the use of water resources in our river basins and where appropriate at wider scales.

A few extracts:

  • “A national water grid is regularly heralded as a solution to the spatial variation in water resources in the UK. The concept of designing a grid similar to the electricity grid to move water around the UK is held up as a “silver bullet”; however, the reality is not that simple. We must change our perception of the form of transfer systems that are likely to provide solutions to water scarcity problems in the UK.”
  • “There are also significant concerns regarding the education of engineers in the UK. University degrees in topics such as hydrology24 and irrigation25 have declined dramatically in quantity. Graduates are often leaving university without the skills and knowledge required to work throughout the water sector.”
  • “Multiple, smaller-scale, local solutions provide a significant opportunity to help alleviate current and future water supply deficits. This ‘distributed infrastructure’ is currently underdeveloped in the UK.” (see also second topic below)

This is an important subject presented in a well argued report.  The observations are relevant to anyone with an association with building, construction and the environment. (I however question the use of the token female on the front cover and the geographical anomaly added to Somerset by figure 4)

I have come across an interesting legal commentary on the report at:

Farm Reservoirs

I have recently been involved in a Farm Reservoir project, one of the small scale solutions proposed by the ICE report.  These are used by farms to store water for use during dry periods to avoid ground-water or river abstraction and are increasing in popularity.  Often exempt from Planning Approval they offer the possibility of a secure water supply and have application for other larger water users, such as playing fields and golf courses.  However, they do require professional advice to avoid the many pitfalls, which might ultimately result in a big empty hole in the ground.  Some resources that might be of interest to anyone considering such reservoirs can be found at:

Email me at for more advice.

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A waste of Public Money?

An intriguing article in the New Civil Engineer (NCE) 17-05-12 about the proposed New Wear Bridge in Sunderland ( ).  Three points intrigue me before commenting on the meat of the article.  Costs are an important background to the article with critics claiming the eye catching bridge will cost four to five times the cost of a conventional solution and figures quoted elsewhere in the article that a conventional bridge would be £21m cheaper (than £118m) i.e. the proposed bridge carries a 20% premium.  Intriguingly a little research on the Sunderland Council website indicates the Council’s bid to central government for funding identified an £8m difference.  It would improve the subsequent debate if more reliable or agreed figures were provided.  The second point of intrigue would be how a potentially £100m+ project has evaded good procurement practice, by not involving a Contractor during design development as indicated in the Treasury’s Infrastructure Cost Review Implementation Plan or the earlier OGC Construction Procurement Guidelines.  The final point of intrigue is why Simon Bourne the named principal critic has decided now is an appropriate time to write to the transport secretary raising the issue, as her department is the principal funder.  The proposed bridge resulted from a 2005 competition (with pictures first made public in 2009), the detailed design is completed and out to tender with five contractors.  Would the freedom from recently leaving Benaim’s have anything to do with it?

The meat of the article is that in austere times a fancy bridge can’t be afforded and that the resulting bridge is structurally inefficient.  Comments from critical un-named Bridge engineer(s) do not assist the credibility of those opposing the proposals.

There is some merit in the argument that the Country can’t afford to pay too much for it’s infrastructure, but what is too much?  Given that a tender spread of 5-10% is not unreasonable a potential 8% extra (£8m) seems reasonable if it was to provide an iconic structure that could provide a landmark symbol equivalent to Tower Bridge for London, the Clifton Suspension Bridge for my adopted City of Bristol or the Millennium Bridge for Newcastle/Gateshead.  If on the other-hand the cost difference is four or five times that of a conventional bridge, then the fancy bridge becomes an architectural indulgence and should be criticised.  Without full knowledge of the extent of the necessary approach roads, my view would be that the bridge element will carry at least a 100% cost premium, but possibly not the 300-400% premium suggested in the article. As the reason for the bridge is to provide the road infrastructure to open up brownfield sites for development a conventional bridge with an iconic public art structure would surely be the better use of public money?  Hence returning to my opening remarks, identifying the true costs is fundamental to the argument.

The article makes the case well that the bridge is over-complicated.  As a bridge engineer I would normally try to take the loads from the deck to the foundations in the most efficient manner, to minimise materials and to assist with construction, with the inevitable outcome of a cheaper structure.  The proposed form of two independent towers, supporting the cables from the deck, but bent towards the spans with no backstays, is very inefficient and will be complicated to construct.  The function dictating form brigade, would never want to see an architect involved in bridge engineering.  I on the other-hand have worked with a number of architects to develop bridge designs, where their input has been invaluable from concept to detailed design, but as part of a team, conscious of budget and buildability.  My view of the New Wear Bridge would be, great sculpture, inappropriate bridge.

Hence letter to the Editor of NCE (doubt it will be published)

“I was disappointed in the article regarding the proposed New Wear Bridge.  Whilst some of the technical reservations were addressed the financial ones were left un-clarified; was the bridge going to be four or five times as expensive as a pragmatic design or circa 20% more expensive as suggested by the Council or, if you consult the Council’s website, the figure of 8% provided in their funding bid to the Department?  Are the costs quoted only for the bridge or do they include the necessary approach roads as well?  Furthermore the method of procurement, excluding the Contractor from the detailed design, doesn’t accord with the ethos of the Treasury’s Infrastructure Cost Review Implementation Plan or the earlier OGC Construction Procurement Guidelines.  If an 8% premium was the figure, obtained by rigorous cost analysis and contractor involvement, then I would suggest the choice of an iconic bridge could be justified.  However, most experienced bridge engineers would take the view that the iconic premium was going to be at least 100%, if not quite reaching the unattributed comment of 300-400% and hence the wonderful sculpture, masquerading as a bridge should not be paid for from the public purse.”

For more lively debate on Bridge Engineering matters I refer you to the Happy Pontist bog


Letter published 31-05-12 edition NCE

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Release of Retention

New Construction Act – to be pedantic – The Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009.

There is an interesting article on the release of retention monies by James Williams of  Pinsent Masons at:

The author outlines three tactics for the Main Contractor

  • De-linking the retention to the main contract
  • Call my bluff
  • Linking the final date for payment with a long-stop

Clearly if you are a subcontractor it is worth knowing these tactics as well!

That brings me on to the question of the Act.  It has been in place for over six months, has anyone noticed a change in behaviour?

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The first post!

I intend this Blog to be wide ranging, to cover “Construction” in the widest meaning of the word, but to be informative as well as opinionated.  However, to start with, it is to let you know that the Consult 3C Ltd. website is up and running.  There is more content to add and some refinement of the layout.  Until then..


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