Blog Post

BIM adoption in the UK – history and impact

26.07.2022 | 11 min read | Written by Alexandra Hasek

The United Kingdom (UK) is considered a global leader in the adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology. As of 2020, about 73% of all construction industry professionals admitted to being aware of and using BIM on projects, while 26% were aware of its existence alone, and a lone 1% were neither aware nor using BIM.

This is a small increase from 2019, when only 69% had heard of the technology. Before diving into the UK’s adoption of BIM and its impact since then, it is important first to demystify the subject matter.

An image of London for an article on BIM in the UK

What Is BIM?

BIM is the process of developing and managing digital representations for a construction project throughout its lifespan—from planning to the design, construction, and operations stages.

This digital representation is typically managed through open cloud platforms that allow for real-time collaboration, revolutionising the process of delivering projects across many industries like architecture, construction, and more.

Although not a new concept, BIM technology only gained public recognition in the early 2000s. Years after, it laid the foundation of the international standard ISO 19650, unveiled in 2019.

Why Was BIM Introduced?

Building information modelling is a revolutionary innovation introduced over a decade ago to distinguish the traditional, outdated 2D drawing from the information-laden architectural 3D designs. For experts, it is a lifesaver because it makes it easy to spot errors early in construction.

The International Standard ISO 19650 describes it as using shared digital representations of a building project to facilitate its design, construction, and operation, to form the basis of reliable decision making.

Learn more: What are the benefits of BIM?

When Was BIM Introduced in the UK?

The UK’s position as a global BIM leader started with the government’s 2011 construction strategy (otherwise called the UK BIM Mandate), which officially made collaborative BIM a basic requirement for government clients to grow the country’s construction sector.

Historically, the UK’s construction sector had struggled with productivity and efficiency, so the government was keen to improve how the sector worked. Thus, it introduced BIM as part of its policies intended to reduce costs, cut waste, and avoid errors in the construction sector, which is a vital part of the UK economy.

What Are BIM Requirements in the UK?

BIM requirements in the UK vary according to their levels. BIM levels refer to the criteria required for a project to be BIM-compliant. As the government understands that making the construction industry collaborative requires progressive efforts, it set up these milestones or “levels” within a 0 to 3 range.

BIM Level 0 Requirements

This level features zero collaboration between a project’s stakeholders and the use of paper 2D CAD drawings. The major requirement of this level is the creation of product information in paper or electronic prints, but it is now redundant and hardly used by modern industry professionals.

BIM Level 1 Requirements

BIM Level 1 combines both 2D drafting and 3D CAD. While 2D drafting is for generating product information and statutory approval documentation, 3D CAD is solely for conceptual works. This level features electronic data sharing in a common data environment (CDE) managed by the project’s contractor.

Like its predecessor, Level 1 BIM features zero to low collaboration among project stakeholders, with each person creating and managing their data independently. The following must be in place to achieve Level 1 BIM:

  • A clear outline of roles and duties of all the project team members
  • The adoption of naming conventions
  • Creation and maintenance of specific codes and spatial coordination for the project
  • A common data environment for information sharing among team members
  • A hierarchy that is in line with the document repository and CDE

BIM Level 2 Requirements

Through its 2011 policy and as part of the Digital Built Britain campaign, the UK Government mandated construction companies to implement BIM Level 2 on all their projects. To give companies at different project stages time to catch up, the government set a benchmark for 2016.

This timeframe covered not just construction companies working with the government but also different industry groups, giving them time to upskill their workforce and prepare for the development of new industry standards.

As BIM Level 2 requirement, any CAD software that a project’s participants use must be able to export data in popular file formats, like COBie (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange) and IFC (Industry Foundation Class to aid collaboration).

This strategy resulted in the overall increase in BIM adoption in both the public and private sectors.

BIM Level 3 Requirements

In March 2016, the UK government, through its 2016 budget policy paper, announced its intention to develop a new digital standard for the growing construction sector. This time, it expected the industry to upgrade from BIM Level 2 to BIM Level 3 with a target date of 2020.

The goal of the projected BIM Level 3 was to maintain the UK’s position as a global leader in the digital construction industry and save asset owners billions of pounds in unnecessary costs. To buttress its point, the government released a policy paper tagged: “Government Construction Strategy 2016-2020” through its Infrastructure and Projects Authority.

This policy paper aimed to outline the steps for achieving this goal across its social infrastructure and economic projects. BIM Level 3 introduced the concept of Open BIM, which refers to the full collaboration of project participants through all project stages—conception to demolition.

BIM Level 3 in practice

The idea was to create one BIM model throughout a project’s lifespan and make it accessible to all participants from start to finish, eliminating interruptions due to duplicate efforts and inaccurate data.

Like BIM Level 2, this level also required an upskill of industry professionals, from consultants to contractors, creating a new mindset where open and collaborative work is encouraged and rewarded.

While BIM Level 2 focused on processes, BIM Level 3 requirements hinge on structural changes in the means of communication during projects. Following this announcement, a 2017 National BIM Report revealed that 51% of survey participants thought the Government BIM policy was in order.

The report further revealed a 62% increase in the use of BIM on projects, the most rapid increment since 2014. Although an increased 55% of respondents expressed confidence in BIM, unlike 2012’s 35%, a whopping 90% indicated that the BIM implementation would still require rapid changes in practices, procedures, and workflow.

Beyond BIM Level 3

Many who are already working at the cutting edge of BIM have questioned whether it is still a useful concept.

For one thing, BIM models may not be necessary for all construction teams – but the information contained within models may be useful in a different format. The 3D models associated with traditional BIM can be expensive to create and hard to keep updated.

As a result, some companies may benefit from thinking of “information management” rather than traditional BIM. They can then adopt or discard elements of the old-school BIM levels as appropriate for their project. What is important is that information is thoroughly captured and seamlessly shared. And you don’t necessarily need a model for that.

Having said that, for companies that haven’t fully digitised yet, the original BIM levels and ISO standards can help them to set and reach certain goals.

Examples of Projects That Championed BIM

While there are tonnes of BIM-powered projects in the UK, these five satisfactorily portray the endless possibilities of high-level BIM processes:

S/N Project Client Contractor(s) BIM Tools Description
1. Slussen Lock, Stockholm City of Stockholm Skanska Autodesk Navisworks, BIMEye, Revit Slussen Lock, the Old Town of Stockholm, has been remodelled four times since the 1600s.

Its present design was done using BIM working methods, with a cloud-based BIM data management platform (BIMEye) facilitating the process.

2. 22 Bishopsgate, City of London City of London Multiplex Revit, Rhino, Unity The 62-storey tower in the heart of London is projected to be the tallest building in the financial district when built.

Its construction features advanced 4D modelling and VR application used by its contractor, Multiplex.

3. Forth Bridge Forth Road Bridge Center for Digitalisation Documentation and Visualisation (CDDV) & The Glasgow School of Art’s School of Simulation and Visualisation and Historic Environment, Scotland. Laser scanning, specialised 3D dataset, VR A challenging and complex project featuring complex 3D scans.
4. Orchard Village Clarion Hill Bespoke, DMA Autodesk, 360 Field For this project, the contractor harnessed BIM and offsite manufacturing to create a housing scheme. BIM use provided a blueprint for improved quality and enabled minor disruption to residents.
5. 39 Victoria Street, London Department of Health Willmott Dixon Interiors BIM and Virtual Reality Awarded “Best Overall BIM Project” by the RICS, this project implemented BIM Level 2 in delivering its eight floors.

How Is BIM Used in Construction

Through BIM technology, an accurate digital representation of a project is first constructed. This model is then used to plan, design, construct and facilitate the operations of the entire project.

It aids architects, contractors, and engineers in visualising what they are to build. Studying these virtual designs further helps them to identify any potential construction, design, or operational issues, early enough.

How has BIM impacted UK construction?

“The successful delivery of the UK Government Construction Strategy (GCS) Level 2 BIM programme now sees the UK take on a global leadership role and represents an internationally unparalleled achievement on the journey towards the digitisation of our built environment” – National BIM Report, 2017

So, how has BIM changed the UK construction industry? Findings from various studies indicate a significant positive impact:

  • Reduced waste

Building information modelling helps architects, designers, and contractors reduce waste. A BIM model helps define exactly how much material you require to build an asset. It’s beneficial because stakeholders do not have to purchase more material than required, saving money and reducing environmental impact.

  • Improved collaboration

BIM has helped improve collaboration in UK construction – with nearly half of construction professionals saying that it has changed their working relationships for the better. BIM improves collaboration by allowing all stakeholders to view the same model at the same time, meaning they can discuss projects, iron out any confusion and avoid misunderstandings.

  • Enhanced productivity

Using a BIM model has helped to improve productivity on building projects in several ways. It can help firms forecast better, assign tasks to workers more efficiently and therefore makes jobs more predictable. Designers can also use smart BIM software to check the model for clashes and errors, thereby saving time that workers often waste on efforts to resolve these problems.

  • Boosted digital technology adoption

The UK’s BIM strategy means that any firm wishing to bid for government contracts must oblige to use BIM tools. This has driven digital adoption in an industry that had traditionally been a laggard in this area. More UK construction companies are now using digital tools than ever, which has sparked the adoption of other construction technologies.

  • Saved time

BIM models have also saved time on the maintenance and operation of completed assets. Stakeholders can view a BIM model and explore design data. As a result, they can manage sites better and save up to 15% on maintenance time.

Learn more: Why is it important to become BIM ready?

Still a long way to go

While building information modelling in the UK has seen wide adoption and real success, improvements still need to be made. One industry insider has scored the government’s strategy 7 out of 10. Some of the main challenges for BIM in the UK include

  • Improving uptake in the private sector (only government contracts require BIM accreditation).
  • Encouraging smaller firms to use BIM. At present large, established firms dominate BIM usage.
  • Overcoming the ROI issue – BIM involves a significant upfront investment in technology, skills, and training. Some firms have backed away from using BIM due to this initial commitment.

Despite these challenges, the outlook remains good for BIM. It is now seen less as a revolutionary tool and more like “business as usual.” By becoming more deeply entwined with UK construction, the benefits of BIM will gradually spread throughout the sector.

Digital ready construction

The UK government’s construction strategy has profoundly impacted the use of digital technology in the industry. More firms than ever are using BIM tools to communicate and collaborate. As the industry becomes more digital, there are opportunities for further innovation by using tools that extend the impact of BIM.

For instance, PlanRadar is a mobile app that allows everyone working on a project to view BIM models on a smartphone or tablet and improve how they work:

  • For site managers, it provides the final piece of the puzzle for BIM by letting them assign tasks to employees and directing them to exactly what needs to be done on the BIM model.
  • Project managers can see which tasks have been completed in fine-grained detail. They can also plan how the project should move forward.
  • For maintenance and operations teams, it brings all the original BIM designs into a single space. Managers can then locate problems and assign tasks within the model.

To see how PlanRadar puts BIM models in the hands of everyone on your projects, visit our BIM product page.

The UK’s approach to BIM has already placed it as a global leader in this technology. By encouraging the sector to go digital, it has kick-started even more exciting innovations.

This article was originally published on 27th June 2019 and was last updated on 26th July 2022.

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