BIM: A contractual approach

By intouch * posted 14-12-2015 16:11


By Goran Gelic, Senior Associate at McCullough Robertson

Building information modelling (BIM), otherwise known as virtual design or digital engineering, has become one of the most complex and controversial topics in the Australian construction market in recent years.


Figure 1

Projects in Australia which have used BIM have benefited from savings in time, cost and improved asset management. Despite the increasing enthusiasm for the use of BIM, the majority of the Australian construction market is still using the most basic forms of BIM. More complex and integrated use of BIM is generally not common in the Australian construction market. 

Despite the increasing use of BIM in Australian based projects, BIM has sparked controversy as it has given rise to some very challenging obstacles. Some of these obstacles include how to contractually integrate BIM, insurance issues and design development issues.

At present, there are no published standard form construction contracts or arrangements that specifically address BIM issues in Australia. To this end, the contractual integration of BIM in the Australian market has largely been ad hoc – bespoke provisions and requirements are likely to be adopted. It is common to see contracting parties only making rudimentary changes on BIM issues without considering the underlying risk allocation in the main contract.

Overview of BIM
Put simply, BIM is the digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility before, during and after construction. Under a BIM model, each project participant (see Figure 1) contributes their discipline specific knowledge into a shared project model. Importantly, BIM is not a new technology. Rather, BIM is a new approach to design development and project delivery (although suitable technology is required to effectively operate BIM). 

A recent example of a project where BIM has been used successfully is the procurement of the Sunshine Coast Public University Hospital. The use of BIM in this project contributed to more accurate design costing, quicker design changers and reduced pricing of risk in tendering.

Different Models of BIM
There are four overarching models of BIM (see Figure 2 – the UK BIM maturity index which sets out the different forms of BIM). Each model represents a different level of sophistication inherent in that particular BIM model. It is important to understand the different forms of BIM as it impacts on design meth

odology and procurement approach.
Level 0 BIM is the most basic form of BIM and essentially involves 2D drawings without any 3D modelling. Level 0 BIM reflects the current paper-based 2D design process that is currently used in the Australian construction market. 

Level 1 BIM involves a mixture of 2D drawings and 3D modelling. The 3D model is primarily used for purely visual purposes and is created and utilised by only one project participant.

Level 2 BIM (federated model) requires the production of 3D information models by all key project participants (see Figure 3). Each project participant produces their own discipline specific and separate model that provides visual and informational aspects of the project. The separate models are then collated by a BIM coordinator to form a single ‘federated model’. However, each party’s design is kept separate with clear audit trails. The ‘federated model’ is used for clash detection - there is no one "owner" of a federated BIM model.                                
Level 3 BIM is the most sophisticated and integrated BIM model. Level 3 BIM results in a single master project model developed in uniform by each project participant. Each project participant contributes their discipline specific knowledge (visual and informational) on an ongoing basis to the development of a single uniform model. The use of level 3 BIM is generally uncommon in the Australian market to date (including the global market).

Contractual approach
Although the use of BIM in the Australian construction market is becoming increasingly widespread, the best way to implement BIM in contracts is still under heated discussion.

For Level 0 BIM and Level 1 BIM, the preferred view in the Australian construction market is that traditional procurement models (such as design and construct contracts) are adequate. This assessment is largely accurate as Level 0 BIM and Level 1 BIM largely reflect the 2D design process that has been used for the last decade in the Australian construction market.

For Level 2 BIM, the growing view in the Australian market seems to be that there is no need to do anything more than to insert a BIM protocol into the contract (with this BIM protocol being a ‘contract document’ which has priority on BIM issues). The BIM protocol sets out the technical requirements of the BIM the model as well as the party’s obligations with respect to use of the BIM model.

In the context of Level 2 BIM, the Australian market seems to have taken the view that any attempt to rewrite standard form contracts would only provide another hurdle to implementing widespread BIM in Australia. Addressing Level 2 BIM by way of a separate BIM protocol is the preferred contractual approach to address the requirements of Level 2 BIM. This approach is consistent with the approach taken by the United Kingdom and the United States on contractually addressing the requirements of Level 2 BIM.

As for Level 3 BIM, the Australian construction market has not developed any suitable contracts to date which are Level 3 BIM compatible. It is generally understood that Level 3 will require the development of new industry standard form contracts. Current forms of contract are generally inconsistent with the requirements and objectives of Level 3 BIM.

About the author
Goran Gelic is a construction, infrastructure and procurement Senior Associate at McCullough Robertson. He has acted on a number of significant infrastructure projects (both domestic and international) including roads, rail, mining and hospitals. He has worked in-house both in government (Queensland Water Infrastructure) and the private sector (Transpacific Industries Group). He has extensive experience in a variety of contract structures, procurement documentation and issues as well as contract litigation and administration. Through his role he has gained an expertise in BIM and its application in the construction and procurement industry. Goran works regularly with clients on BIM issues and regularly gives presentations on BIM issues throughout Australia.