The majority of contractors believe Building Information Modelling (BIM) will bring benefits to their business, but a lack of concrete understanding is currently impeding forward planning and investment in BIM, particularly among SME contractors.
These are the findings of the first national survey into BIM and the UK contracting sector, which reveals how the industry is gearing up for the technological and organisational challenges of BIM.
The survey, conducted by the National Federation of Builders (NFB) as part of an SME early adoption pilot supported by CITB-ConstructionSkills, is based on over 170 responses received from a broad cross-section of the industry, ranging from the very largest major contractors to micro enterprises.
The findings suggest that use of BIM tools is still largely confined to larger projects, large contractors and their supply chains.
Nearly three-quarters of SME contractors (companies with less than 250 full time equivalent employees) said that they had never worked on projects utilising 3D drawings, clash detection or schedule integration tools or other BIM features. By contrast, only a fifth of large contractors had no experience of using these tools.
However, the survey revealed a widespread recognition across the sector that BIM will be important in the near future and will bring business benefits.
The majority of both large contractors (78%) and SME contractors (57%) said that they believed BIM will bring benefits to their business. Furthermore, just under two-thirds of large contractors and just under half of SME contractors see BIM as being a core competency within their business either now or in the future.
The survey finds however that there remains a major gap between belief in the likely benefits of BIM and a clear understanding of BIM requirements and what these will mean for respondents’ businesses.
The government construction strategy mandated the use of BIM Level 2 working on all centrally funded projects by 2016, and there is an expectation that the wider public sector will follow suit. However, three quarters of respondents (81% of SME contractors and 42% of large contractors) admitted being either unfamiliar or only vaguely familiar with the ‘Levels of BIM’ which are used to describe tools and techniques at different maturity levels. Only a quarter of large contractors said that they both understood the level of BIM and had actively considered the implications for their projects.
Qualitative responses to the survey suggest that limited information, concern over the level of investment required and uncertainty around demand among local authority client base are the key barriers inhibiting BIM adoption among SME contractors.
NFB chief executive Julia Evans said: “The government’s mandating of BIM has set the industry a major challenge. This is a progressive challenge which can be met, but it is important for the industry as a whole that SME contractors do not get left behind.
“Following the NFB survey – the first of its kind – we now have a much clearer picture of where the contracting sector stands. The desire to embrace innovation and more efficient working practice is evident, but the lessons of the survey are clear: we need to bridge the gap between this appetite for change and the know-how to make that leap.
“In conjunction with CITB-ConstructionSkills, the NFB is currently piloting an early adoption programme which is producing a more in depth understanding of the barriers to, and benefits of, BIM adoption for SMEs. We will work with partners across the industry to share this knowledge and to develop systems of information, guidance and support appropriate to the sector as whole.”