BIM: Another construction headache ?

Productivity in construction

There are various studies, articles and reports that suggest that construction productivity has remained static or even declined over the last 20 years.

This chart from the US Dept of Commerce seems to feature heavily in many articles although it only covers up to 2004.

I’m no economist, but it would not surprise me if productivity has not improved. Personally, I can’t think of much that is now significantly easier or quicker than it used to be. The advent of CAD, then BIM seem to be largely viewed as a new way to produce drawings, and not much more.

As this article explains, productivity is “enormously tricky to measure and highly politicised“, however it also describes how new technologies will likely be the driver of growth and productivity.

As I argue in BIM: A workhorse not a show pony, delivering a project in a exactly the same way as rivals, or merely repeating past practice it simply a race to the bottom in margins. It is necessary not to just ‘innovate’ for innovation’s sake, but to actively pursue better methods and importantly, to replace (not add on to) old ones.

Drowning in red tape

From my perspective, construction has become an increasingly bureaucratic and slow moving business. This is coupled with a deep conservatism and a distrust of technology. BIM hype can just add to this distrust.

Some aspects of construction have become increasingly onerous:

  • Safety
  • Quality
  • Environment
  • Probity & internal reporting
  • Authorities & approvals
I’m not saying any of this is unnecessary, particularly the safety and environmental aspects, but this is how it can be perceived.
Many construction people, especially the ‘old school’ see BIM as yet another headache that didn’t exist even 10 years ago. They have also been through various fads, such as the “great quality and ISO Certification” craze of the early 2000’s.

Engineer or paper-pusher ?

Many construction engineers don’t do much engineering at all in the sense of analytical, creative, inventive utilisation of their technical skills, and have become (slightly) glorified administrators:

“so you want me to build it, fill out crazy amounts of paperwork, construct in a safe & environmentally sound way , without upsetting the neighbours or unions, report on what I’ve done within an inch of insanity, AND produce a BIM model, all cheaper and quicker than anyone else ?”

Is BIM different ?

I’d argue BIM is different, since it can directly benefit many other aspects of a project. If properly applied and using an approach of ‘build it digitally first’ then BIM can save time, save money and make a project run more smoothly.
Furthermore, it can also benefit safety, quality, planning and other aspects of design and construction.

I think that the construction industry as a whole has not fully realised the benefits of BIM and we are only just starting to get past the perception of BIM as merely a newer tool to produce drawings and purely the domain of designers.

I have covered the reasons how & where I think BIM benefits construction, and where the future opportunities lie:

Notes
None of this post relates specifically to my employer- these are reflections on the industry as a whole, and based on my ~25 years in the industry.
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