Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a construction sector initiative with global implications, tied closely into the increasing use of IT in construction. BIM is in essence a digital model of a building or structure that is data enriched. It defines spaces, systems, products and materials together with their properties, addresses how those components inter‐relate physically and technically and looks ahead to future maintenance needs. It encompasses the entire life cycle of an asset from initial concept design to demolition or refurbishment and can be applied equally at new build stage or when an asset is acquired which has already been constructed.
BIM is a tool aimed at promoting cost efficiency, cost savings, health and safety and improved design and, if it is embraced fully, a more collaborative and productive way of working. The “virtual construction” of an asset in the computer allows for issues such as clash detection or unworkable construction details to be resolved before work begins on site, avoiding many of the very costly variations and design changes which occur during the construction phase and which are the most expensive aspects of any construction project. Its use during the maintenance phase provides a highly detailed and flexible tool to monitor the ongoing maintenance of an asset as well as dealing with changes to that asset such as refurbishment or retrofitting works. In fact, the use of BIM for existing assets as a digital maintenance tool is going to be more significant both in terms of volume and value than the use of BIM in the context of new build projects.
In the UK, BIM is currently broadly at Level 2, that is, the model is comprised of a series of interconnected (or federated) models produced by each significant member of the design team. The next level, Level 3, anticipates a single model into which all the parties feed information at regular periods for transmission on to the employer and which is accessible in real time. In many ways, Level 2 is simply using the existing information available to the construction sector more efficiently and effectively. Level 3 will necessitate a fundamental change in the approach to the building and maintenance of assets and the underlying legal contractual relationships. Level 3 is still many years away in the UK but the industry is now looking towards its implementation and what needs to be done to achieve the next stage.
The pace of development of BIM varies around the world. The United States is further ahead than the UK and the UK is probably further ahead than Germany. In April 2013 Germany's Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) founded the “Construction of Major Projects Reform Commission”. As part of the Construction of Major Projects Reform, the Government acknowledged BIM as a major step towards utilising the opportunities presented by digitisation. In December 2015, Alexander Dobrindt, Federal Minister of BMVI, announced that BIM would be mandatory for all transportation projects by the end of 2020. In April 2016 he said that digital design in construction must become standard for construction projects in Germany.
A group of industrial associations, major companies and non‐governmental organisations came together to set up a German BIM Steering Group, known as Planen Bauen 4.0. This group aims to set guidelines (but not obligations) for the practical application of BIM by introducing a BIM Level Plan: Stufenplan Für BIM in Deutschland. The plan describes the gradual introduction of BIM practices in four pilot projects up to 2017. It is hoped that further pilot projects will come on board from this year to 2020 and that after 2020 this will result in the full implementation of BIM. The aim is to educate the industry through the application of BIM on large public owned infrastructure projects and then spread the good practice learnt to the private sector. This to a degree mirrors the practice carried out in the UK, where BIM was used first on public sector projects such as prison building schemes as part of the push by Government to implement the use of BIM on major public and private sector projects. Projects such as Crossrail in London have adopted BIM at an early stage and, increasingly, it is used on larger infrastructure developments as a matter of course.
The Association of German Engineers (VDI), which is the largest engineering association in Germany, is authorised to produce legally binding standards such as the VDI 2552 series which is already being drafted. VDI 2552 will become the German national BIM standard and will be developed in cooperation with the authorities responsible for BIM standardisation within the German Institute for Standardisation (DIN).
The issues which the German construction sector is facing in implementing BIM are very similar to those faced by the UK construction sector. A change of this magnitude creates a feeling of uncertainty amongst clients and suppliers, particularly amongst smaller companies that see the investment and research and development costs as in many cases prohibitive without a clear result in the short term to justify the expenditure. There is also a lack of consistent demand from the public sector client base and a lack of clarity regarding methods and terms which means that people are slower to embrace BIM.
The regular national BIM surveys carried out in the UK indicate, first, an increasing knowledge and understanding of what BIM is and, secondly, an increasingly large number of companies using BIM. The real question in the UK is the extent to which is this accurate and also the extent to which projects really do use Level 2 BIM completely rather than just picking parts of the process as it suits them.
There is an awareness in Germany that BIM is advancing internationally at a fast pace and that Germany needs to keep up to remain competitive. To assist, the BMVI will be supporting small and medium sized enterprises in undergoing the BIM transition by providing financial support. The Government will also encourage pilot projects by helping companies achieve optimal approaches to the BIM transition. The BMVI already provides financial aid to the four pilot BIM projects including a research project in the area of road and rail construction with a total value of €3.8m. It is understood the research results will be announced this year. The lessons from these four pilot BIM projects will be shared with the industry to learn from and help to implement BIM by the deadline of the end of 2020.
Again, as in the UK, it is anticipated that the introduction of BIM across the construction sector in Germany will not be uniform. The larger projects and the pilot schemes in the UK embraced BIM first but BIM will be slow to spread through the sector for the reasons described above in relation to the diverse and conservative nature of the construction sector and the costs of full BIM implementation. No doubt the German construction sector will experience much the same. It does seem certain, however, that BIM at least at Level 2 in the UK is here to stay and there is no reason to believe that the same will not occur in Germany. Germany will, as the UK has, then move towards Level 3 although, as is the case in the UK, that is likely to be many years away.