How is BIM transforming GCC project delivery?


June 19, 2015 │ Paromita Dey 

A common scene observed across construction offices and sites of late involves hard hat-clad individuals – presumably, architects, consultants, engineers, and builders – huddled around a laptop or two, scanning through neon-coloured designs on their screens.

The driving force behind this trend is an intricate system that has been steadily making its way into the Middle East’s construction market since Dubai Municipality mandated its use in 2013 – Building Information Modelling (BIM).

The days of rustling piles of paper and spending countless hours over a project are on their way out. Enabling virtual communication from developers to post-handover operators, BIM offers project parties insight throughout the lifecycle of a project.

Each project party also gets to handle its own section, amending and adding its expertise to the shared model to be used across the board.

The benefits of BIM are many. Practically speaking, for instance, a shared model such as one produced through BIM reduces the chance of structural and design clashes on a project.

According to NBS National BIM Report 2014, awareness about BIM rose from 58% in 2010, to 95% in 2013 across the globe.

assan Dajani, managing director for building and construction (Middle East) at Bentley Systems, refers to BIM as not just a 3D modelling tool, but the art of building of any physical asset.

“We can see that projects are getting larger, more complex with shrinking durations, and geographically dispersed participants,” he tells Construction Week.

“The challenge is to ensure that everyone is on the same page and has access to the correct and current information quickly, especially when it is needed to make an informed decision.

“So when you ask me if BIM is important, I’d say yes – absolutely. BIM is extremely important if you are a stakeholder of any asset,” Dajani asserts.

In November 2013, Dubai Municipality issued a circular mandating BIM for specified architecture and MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) works in the Emirate. The municipality’s regulations will apply to buildings over 40-storeys tall, or those which span more than 27,871m2 (300,000ft2), as well as government projects, including hospitals, universities and schools.

Dubai’s BIM mandate came at a time when BIM was finding takers across global public sectors. The European Union mandated BIM in January 2014, and Singapore has staggered its mandate for BIM since 2013. It is now compulsory for all public housing projects in the Asian city state.

Elizabeth Peters, Aecom’s associate director and BIM centre lead for UAE and Oman, describes BIM as an “incredible disruptive technology”, and commends Dubai Municipality effort to mandate it.

“It’s important to manage how a technology such as BIM is mandated, and Dubai Municipality has done the right thing in trying to ease this technology into the industry,” Peters says.

“The rationale is that international consultants [that] have global experience in delivering projects with BIM will be delivering the large projects in the UAE, and firms, such as Aecom can start to spread the knowledge, understanding, and best practice in the use of this technology in the industry,” she adds.

BIM has globally been used on iconic projects across the world, such as Shanghai Tower in China and Freedom Tower in New York. The Middle East – speicifcally the GCC – has also experimented with BIM on projects such as Al Mafraq Hospital and Midfield Airport Terminal Building in Abu Dhabi, UAE; and, the under-construction King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) in Saudi Arabia’s Makkah region.

For companies in the Middle East, broadly speaking, BIM is akin to a child’s new clay set – fresh off the shelf and exciting, a malleable tool the industry can mould to its demands in the near future.

Understandably, then, the UAE’s neighbours from the GCC, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and even Bahrain, are looking at BIM adoption for their construction markets. The move is expected to proceed in light of the planned $172bn worth of projects in the GCC, some of which are already underway, according to Deloitte Middle East’s report, GCC Powers of Construction 2015: Construction – the economic barometer for the region.

Peter Hedlund, regional director of Trimble’s Middle East and India operations, believes the application of BIM will allow stakeholders to achieve virtual construction abilities. In turn, these will help project parties to accomplish jobs on time and within budget.

“With the booming construction sector in the Middle East, applying BIM will help construction companies reduce the time and effort required to discover constructability issues and clashes, which are rarely discovered using the traditional 2D drawings, and usually only until implementation on site,” he says.

It’s no surprise then, that the “usage of BIM [is] increasing, especially among contractors, in the Middle East”, as Hedlund points out.

Uptake by regional construction firms has led to a new kind of demand – one for BIM-savvy construction professionals. A dearth of BIM training has been known to jeopardise projects, and industry experts have expressed concern that there will be “little local tallent” to fall back on in the immediate future.

This situation has motivated BIM-user firms to implement in-house training schemes, which ensure the deficit of skills is managed, if not fully eliminated.

However, awareness will still be required on a consistent basis, and this, Bentley’s Dajani insists, can be encouraged through seminars, tailored conferences, and a broad array of university courses, to increase and enhance BIM education.

“The key is to make a plan,” he asserts. “Start slow and build your team’s capabilities in order to benefit gradually from [the] lessons you have learned. Maintain small, incremental, and measurable KPIs. Make any adjustments, incorporate [them] in your procedures, and repeat,” he adds.

Aecom’s Peters warns that BIM cannot be fully exploited by users unless they have in situ experience of the software.

“It’s very difficult to fully understand what BIM really means without experiencing the changes it brings to a project,” she says.

“The more BIM projects take place, the more awareness will spread, and the more experience we will collectively gain as an industry,” adds Peters.

It’s impossible to predict exactly how BIM will grow in the GCC, but the region’s shiny new toy is likely to transform the way in which projects are delivered in both the short- and longer-term future.

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