BIM signals specification shift

Although the current interest surrounding BIM has only been around for a relatively short time, it really is shaking up the entire building process. It is being driven by governments around the world and could become normal practice in most, if not all, elements of design, construction and building operation far more quickly than it would if it had been left to develop organically.

In the UK the picture is no different. The Government’s objective of delivering fully collaborative Level 2 BIM is underpinned by the Government Construction Strategy of May 2011, which states that fully collaborative 3D BIM will be required as a minimum by 2016. But what exactly does all of this mean to manufacturers like ourselves, whose business is built around supplying products and systems to the building industry?

Well, first of all we’ve all had to become BIM ready more quickly than many anticipated. From a Legrand perspective this led to a number of significant developments in a relatively short period of time.

Within the last twelve months alone our Swifts cable ladder and cable tray, Cablofil wire mesh cable tray, and Salamandre distribution and lighting trunking ranges have all been integrated into various plant design modelling systems – amongst them Intergraph’s PDS and SmartPlant 3D (including SmartMarine3D), AVEVA’s PDMS, Bentley Systems’ BBES and BRCM, and Autodesk’s Fabrication CADmep.

On top of that, we’ve also built and launched an online platform in order to provide a full overview of our BIM capabilities and easy access to the systems on which they are available.

Low awareness

Of course not everyone is able to mirror this level of preparation and, in many cases awareness of what needs to be done in order to be ready is extremely low. In order to rectify this, the Construction Industry Council in partnership with the Government’s BIM Task Group launched BIM Regional Hubs in September 2012.

The objectives of the Regional Hubs, 11 of which cover the whole of the UK, are to encourage the sharing of BIM knowledge and best practice within the regional networks as well as to interface with the Government’s BIM team to raise awareness of the BIM programme and its requirements within each region. They will also act as a conduit for relevant information on the BIM programme to ensure a consistent and clear message is communicated and facilitate regional collaborative activity to support the development of the industry’s BIM capabilities.

All of this will go some way to ensuring manufacturers across the entire spectrum of building services will be BIM ready. However, one thing I feel attention needs to be drawn to is that BIM will completely alter how we market our products.

At present, architects and specifiers are responsible for the initial specification for any project, but as everyone in the industry knows, being included in the specification document is absolutely no guarantee of your product being used.

The reason being that a specification will name a certain product, but follow this up with ‘or similar’ – the two words that leave the whole process open to change.

What this means is that under the present system the balance of specification power is with the contractor. They are able to alter specifications, whether for budgetary or product quality reasons, and therefore the contractor is very much the key target for manufacturers when promoting their products and services.

Changing times

But under BIM, this longstanding situation could change once and for all. The reason? The product information built into the computer model of each and every new project is now potentially so much more detailed than anything that’s gone before. Therefore, changing the initial specification may, in future, become a lot more difficult to do than it is today.

The BIM model is in essence a virtual building in which every aspect has been planned, built and approved. As such the onus is very much on the manufacturer to focus greater attention on architects and specifiers – without whose support the likelihood of their product being specified, and subsequently installed, will be significantly reduced.

How exactly this translates into the marketing mix remains to be seen, but I can see a significant rise in the number of manufacturers beginning to offer product training and perhaps CPD courses. Something that will be done with the intention of raising awareness of products and services amongst architects and specifiers, who may not have the same level of specialist sector experience and knowledge as the contractors, who the vast majority of manufacturers are used to working with.

BIM is going to challenge and change the status quo in the building industry, but one thing needs to be remembered amidst all of this development. The expertise of contractors has built up over many years and it is imperative they continue to play a leading role in the specification process.

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