Although Australia still has a long way to go before BIM is mandated on a national scale, motivated state and local departments, a private sector keen to stay globally relevant and the growth of institutional BIM education all point to it playing a major role in the country’s future infrastructure.
Goran Gelic and Alexander McLeod from McCullough Robertson Lawyers spoke to intouch
about recent developments in the Building Information Modelling (BIM) space.
“BIM adoption in the country has definitely been on the rise in the last 18 months, which is great,” Gelic, says.
Ultimately, Gelic – a self-confessed BIM enthusiast – believes the use of BIM will eventually be mandated.
“I would like for it to be mandated, and I think it's going in that direction. We’ve already see in the Australian Government’s Smart ICT Report
start a discussion around mandating it, but they're just not clear what exactly to mandate,” he says.
“Once we have a better understanding of the best form of BIM and have that industry standard, then it will be easier to mandate it.”
In February 2016, Infrastructure Australia’s 15-year plan recommended Australian governments make BIM mandatory for the design of large-scale complex infrastructure projects, and should commission the Australasian Procurement and Construction Council to work with industry to create guidance, standard and protocols.
Gelic says we should be looking to the UK, where the government announced in 2011 that all centrally procured government projects worth £5m or more had to be delivered using BIM level two by April 2016.
“I think definitely it will be very easy to learn what the UK has done. I know a lot of the companies in Australia have personnel with UK BIM experience, and they're bringing that experience to this country. They do it very well. There's no point not learning from them and how they've gone about the process,” he says.
“There really isn't a harmonised approach on BIM adoption in Australia, and that's one of the challenges. What that means is each state is doing their own separate BIM implementation, or has separate BIM thinking.”
Gelic says Queensland looks to be leading the way from a policy perspective, after the Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning released a draft policies and principles document in 2017. In May 2017, the sunshine state’s Department of Transport and Main Roads – which has used BIM in a number of projects – released a guide for using BIM in road infrastructure
“It shows the Queensland government at least is thinking about BIM and how they're going to implement that,” he says.
“The missing link is the consistency of the approach. The aim should be what Queensland does is what New South Wales does, and what Victoria does. Where BIM has been most successful and had really widespread adoption is in the UK; that's where the policies are at a national level and everyone is working towards the same standard, which is really important.”
Gelic says the Department of Defence has also used BIM in a number of projects. However, it’s the private sector that is truly leading the BIM charge in Australia.
“In the last 18 months we’ve seen a lot of contractors and design engineering houses really streaming their BIM policies and training and upskilling their staff,” Gelic explains.
“They're recognising that BIM is now here to stay, and they need to deal with it both in terms of a legal sense and a commercial sense, but also in terms of their staff as well, so that the staff have the appropriate skills to manage BIM and to get the outcome that their clients want.
“The private sector has been the one that has been leading BIM in this country, because a lot of the big contractors and designers have a lot of international experience, where BIM is a lot more prominent. They're bringing that capability and experience into Australia, which is great.”
McLeod anticipates that a wave of BIM-savvy graduates will emerge in the coming years, turning the role of BIM manager into an even more highly-specialised profession.
“I'm quite excited that universities and education institutions are taking up or taking an interest in incorporating BIM into their education offerings,” he says.
“They are interested in BIM and incorporating that into their design and construction courses. In the next 10 years, you'll see people with strong qualifications and familiarity with BIM moving into positions where they can choose to adopt and apply those learnings in a construction context. I think the industry generally is responding to what's happening overseas but also the opportunity that it presented in Australia, because there’s a gap in the market in this space.
“As that interest increases, then it'll push the government to make some decisions on mandating. The fact that those institutions are onboard indicates a pretty positive and bright future for BIM in Australia.
“They're coming to the industry with a skill-set that they can then just apply straight away, so there's not that lag that we're seeing at the moment, where people need to upskill or have the role of a BIM manager without really understanding the full ambit of what a BIM manager does.”
What projects are using BIM?
In Australia, BIM is typically being used in complex projects that are highly engineered, or can utilise BIM in the maintenance life cycle of the project.
“You're really talking about projects that have an overlay of many different disciplines,” Gelic says.
“That's why hospitals have been quite popular, particularly in Australia, in using BIM. Perth Children's, Sunshine Coast University Hospital are all BIM-based projects. Universities and educational centres are adopting BIM because of the great design features that BIM can produce. For a hospital, BIM is very useful because a hospital is highly engineered. You've got both the construction but then you've got the operation and maintenance, for a very long time.
“You've got so many overlays of so many different services, like hydraulics, civil, mechanical. BIM allows for any clashes in construction to be picked up, and then you can use the model for the operation and maintenance of the asset.
“However, road projects are not highly engineered, but BIM is great for the management of the road, given the road has a shelf life of a very long time. That's why some road agencies are interested in it.”
McLeod added the Western Australian Rail Link to the list of project utilising BIM, as well as some big projects in Asia, such as the Shanghai Disneyland Park.
“A considerable proportion of that project used BIM integration in various capacities. That's a $5.5 billion project. Japan’s Haneda Airport is another example of where BIM was utilised extensively to upgrade the airports facilities management. ”
Although it’s certainly no longer a new concept, Gelic says there is still a lack of understanding about what BIM really is and how to harness the benefits.
“People think that BIM is just one thing, but BIM comes in different levels and different dimensions. There is no standard BIM. They say, ‘I want BIM,’ and then I'll ask, ‘What form of BIM do you want?’ They go, ‘What do you mean?’,” he says.
“BIM is a very dynamic tool that comes in many different shapes and sizes. It is chopped and changed by owners. It can be amended to suit your needs. I think that's the one that people don't seem to understand, given our experiences with clients and the broader construction industry.”
Gelic says clarity around why BIM is being used is “the missing piece in discussion”.
“It's not enough to be jumping on a bandwagon because it's the new sexy thing. You have to bring value to a project, because the market will price for it. It has a cost impact,” he says.
And, McLeod adds that it’s important to have a plan for rolling the technology out in the field.
“You have these BIM models, but then when you're on the site doing inspections can you bring out the BIM model in a way that is accessible to the project team, and construction managers to actually address the issues? The rollout of tablets on projects represents a decent investment by a company. It is important to have a plan to realise the usefulness of that investment and getting that benefit out of it, sometimes there's a bit of a gap there,” he says.
“That can be addressed through education, and changing people's perceptions of the technology, and demonstrating some of the tangible benefits of using it. That recalibrates people's attitude towards it.”
About Goran Gelic and Alex McLeod
Gelic is a construction, infrastructure and procurement specialist who has recently acted on a number of significant infrastructure projects across Australia and overseas. He is experienced in a variety of contract structures. Gelic also has extensive experience working with all tiers of government, large contractors, investment funds and other large corporates.
McLeod is a lawyer in McCullough Robertson Lawyers' construction team, who specialises in projects, infrastructure, construction, development and renewable energy. He acts for both private and public sector clients across various sectors. Alex also has experience working with State Governments, contractors, designers, suppliers, investment funds and other large corporates.