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UK construction sector could be "world leader" on building information modelling

The UK construction sector could become a "world leader" in the use of building information modelling (BIM) technology, the Government has said.11 Dec 2012

A new strategy paper (22-page / 582KB PDF) calls on the industry to capitalise on a "window of opportunity" to take on a global role in exploiting the new technology and assisting in the development of international standards. The paper restates the Government's commitment to growth of its existing programme, and sets out a range of actions it will take to create opportunities overseas.

According to the paper, the UK's BIM programme is "currently the most ambitious and advanced centrally driven programme in the world". However, it warns that the growth of the technology presents "both risk and opportunity".

"The UK is now recognised by its peers as one of the leading nations in the exploitation of BIM technology and processes with an internationally respected, centrally-led programme," the strategy document said. "BIM is a key agent for economic growth in both domestic and international markets."

"Equally, the converse is true. Other countries are rapidly adopting BIM; we need to progress with the adoption of BIM or these markets will begin to close to UK businesses as countries look for home grown expertise or source its skills and capabilities from elsewhere in the world. The threat is at its greatest from dynamic emerging markets, where competition is able to 'leapfrog' using innovative technologies and ways of working," the document said.

A BIM system uses a computer generated model to collect and manage information about the design, construction and operation of a project centrally. It is especially useful where many parties, such as different sub-contractors, provide input on the same project. Any changes to the design of a project made during its construction are automatically applied to the model.

The Government set out its commitment to BIM as part of last year's Construction Strategy (43-page / 496KB PDF), led by the Cabinet Office. The report announced the Government's intention to require collaborative 3D BIM, with electronic access to all project and asset information, documentation and data, on all its projects by 2016.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) was the first Government department to adopt BIM as part of a phased roll-out and is at the most "mature" stage of the current programme, according to the report. Cookham Wood, a new young offenders' institution valued at £20m, has saved almost £1m due to its use of BIM in the design and procurement phases. Local government, particularly Manchester City Council, is also increasingly seeing the potential for BIM and has reported notable successes.

The Government has identified construction as an 'enabling sector' under its BIM strategy, both due to its diversity and its critical role it has to play in ensuring that the UK meets its climate change targets. The construction industry delivered value of around £69 billion to the UK economy in 2010 with additional export value of around £7.6bn, and employs around 2.5 million workers, according to the report.

As part of the strategy, the Government committed to "expanding and accelerating" its BIM action programme. However, it did not indicate whether this involved shortening its timetable or amending its 2016 deadline for universal adoption of BIM on Government projects.

Among the proposals for action set out in the document is the development of a strategy for the exploitation of UK leadership in BIM to the benefit of design and construction firms operating in global markets. It also proposed to engage with the EU on the coordinated adoption of BIM and developing standards and practice. The forthcoming EU Sustainable Construction Strategy has the potential to acknowledge that BIM will enable European construction companies to maintain their presence in global markets, while the European Commission is also reviewing BIM as part of its ongoing revision of the EU Procurement Directive, according to the document.

The Government also commits to further work with the industry and trade bodies; to investigate the need for a technology hub to assist information technology (IT) businesses working in the BIM sector and improve the data supplied to manufacturers using BIM to their clients. It will also review existing public sector procurement portals to ensure that these are able to accept digital information.

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