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Increasingly widespread adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) is disrupting the construction sector, leaving behind those firms not forward-thinking enough to adapt. This trend extends beyond the construction firms themselves to all companies on and around the construction supply chain, not least building product manufacturers.
In the five years since the former Chief Construction Adviser, Paul Morrell, set the course for Level 2 BIM as part of the UK Government’s Construction Strategy, BIM usage has moved from a niche practice to the norm. BIM adoption is now at 54%, up from 48% last year. In the National Building Specification (NBS) survey 86% of respondents said they intend to have adopted BIM by this time next year, and 97% within five years.
Meanwhile, a cross-industry survey on BIM uptake, carried out by Construction News, has revealed a significant gap between SMEs, subcontractors and the rest of the industry. The survey, of more than 150 businesses, showed that almost 70% of main contractors, consultants, professional services and clients have either fully embedded BIM Level 2 standards into their business management systems, or were using Level 2 when a project dictated it. In contrast, only half of subcontractors are currently using Level 2.
“There is a common theme that the main contractors need to work more on getting the trades to do more of the work. This would release more benefits to all”, UK BIM Task group chair Mark Bew said. Perhaps predictably, the survey also showed that, of the 88 businesses that employ up to 500 employees, only 22% have fully embedded Level 2 standards. However, for firms that employ more than 500 people this figure jumps to 42%.
“It’s unsurprising that the survey suggests larger contractors are more likely to use BIM and that BIM is being implemented on larger projects”, said Tim Whitehill, business & skills BIM adviser at the National Federation of Builders, which represents many smaller businesses. “It could be that larger companies have more exposure to BIM because they work on larger projects, or perhaps they are simply better resourced to make the changes required”.
Perceived barriers to entry also showed some variance depending on the size of businesses. “A key finding is that the main barriers to being BIM-ready are ‘skills’ and ‘process implementation’ before cost”, Whitehill said. “However, it is telling that cost is perceived as a greater barrier among smaller companies and on projects with a lower value. This points towards a continued need to support small and medium-sized companies and that the focus needs to be on developing skills and processes”.
Such is the effectiveness of BIM that the UK Government mandated that all public sector builds use the technology, as of last month. In its recent Budget announcement the Conservative government also stated that it “will develop the next digital standard for the construction sector – Building Information Modelling 3 – to save owners of built assets billions of pounds a year in unnecessary costs, and maintain the UK’s global leadership in digital construction”.
In the building product manufacturers sector, meanwhile, a huge opportunity is being created to work with those construction firms who use BIM. Manufacturer’s product data is critical to the success of BIM and the streamlined handover of the facility to the owner. Therefore construction firms will favour product manufacturers who can provide BIM data during the bidding process.
Construction giant Skanska announced that it aims only to work with a supply chain that can share the right data with it during the bid and operational delivery stages of its projects, right through to future operations and maintenance. With 92% of respondents of the latest national BIM survey saying they expect to be using the technology within three years, for both public and private sector projects, meaning it may be a case of opportunity missed, rather than taken, for those product manufacturers.
As such, the future belongs to building product manufacturers who establish an agile product development platform that allows them to continue to innovate with their products, and flexibly add the right data into their designs as early as possible. Unsurprisingly, many of the sector’s top firms are already adapting to this shift in the construction industry.
Bathroom product manufacturer Ideal Standard, for example, provides public and private sector clients with access to its product data from the outset. Thus making it simpler for them to procure construction materials and also gives greater certainty to every project, which helps address site constraints and reduce waste. While Polypipe, one of Europe’s largest manufacturers of plastic pipe systems, will soon provide its clients with an accessible product library in order to streamline ordering and drive efficiency.
In this BIM dominated construction era, having consistent file formats and developing a standardised approach to product development is critical for avoiding duplication, making collaboration easier across projects, and also reducing waste. This approach is also helping building product manufacturers open up new revenue opportunities by focusing on developing smart, connected products within an Internet of Things (IoT) context.
As we hear so often, the IoT is changing everything, and for building product manufacturers the IoT enables a new type of revenue stream by providing real time, insightful performance data to customers. Clients may not “buy” a product in the traditional sense, but may pay a manufacturer to deliver a service, for example, improving the performance of a product over time through software updates delivered wirelessly.
In manufacturing, it seems the age of going from concept to design and production, then to market and eventually product retirement, is soon to become old fashioned. By harnessing these new innovative platforms that make data more accessible, companies can broaden their manufacturing capabilities; disrupting traditional business models and creating new streams of revenues in a connected world. It seems there really is no end of “things” in the Internet of Things.