For specialist contractors building information modelling (BIM) is still seen as a ‘nice to have’, with cost and culture change considered as significant barriers to its adoption. However, as AIS FPDC technical manager Joe Cilia explains, BIM presents real opportunities for fit out and finishing specialists provided these obstacles are overcome.

BIM provides a collaborative approach to any construction project. It is designed to save time and most importantly reduce cost throughout the supply chain. This is why the government has mandated that BIM must be used on all centrally funded government projects by January 2016.

A number of architects and main contractors are already able to deliver projects in a BIM environment, which is cascading through the supply chain and starting to impact projects at the subcontractor level. Despite the hype around BIM, it is important to understand that this is process driven, as outlined in the Publicly Available Standard (PAS) 1192:2. In fact PAS 1192:2 has been BSI’s fastest downloadable free document.

3D computer modelling is invariably used as the face of BIM, wrongly intimating that everyone involved must be able to work in this virtual world, with many seeing the cost of gearing up with the required software simply too prohibitive to consider. In fact, however, it is possible to work to BIM level 1 using just a fax machine and a spread sheet. This is because it is about co-ordinating data from the delivery team to a central file at fixed points in the development and delivery of the construction project.

So where does this leave specialist subcontractors such as interior fit out companies, plasterers, drylining contractors and other ‘Tier 2’ players? We need to consider that this sector has a high proportion of companies with fewer than five employees. They see cost and culture change as significant barriers to BIM, yet it is evident that early adopters will have a competitive advantage over those who delay its take up, particularly as more main contractors start to demand it.

In order to start a BIM project the team must demonstrate that they are enabled to operate in this environment; including the downstream supply chain of Tier 2 contractors. An enabled team early in the project ensures collaboration from the very first stages; helping to drive the predicted time and cost savings whilst encouraging Tier 1 contractors either to train their supply chain, or seek out new suppliers who are able to work competently in a BIM environment.

Andy Thompson, director at specialist contractor Fast Track Interiors, believes the successful adoption of BIM throughout the supply chain is heavily reliant on support and investment from all involved: “If the overriding aim of BIM is to reduce both material and time wastage then transparency is the key. I think subcontractors will be in a position to implement BIM most effectively when the industry has established a standardised approach to its responsibilities and everyone through the supply chain clearly understands what is expected of them.

“As subcontractors we can only work efficiently with the information we are given, so there is a lot of reliance on the level and accuracy of information that is uploaded within the model at the design stage,” he said.

Fred Mills, procurement manager at Osborne and chair of BIM4FitOut, agrees that main contractors have a vested interest to provide adequate support and funding, to help drive BIM through the supply chain: “Without a BIM-enabled supply chain, main contractors will struggle to achieve optimum results on their BIM projects.”

However, he also sees this as a two-way collaboration: “Working together to better understand the process and overcome shared challenges could go a long way to improving our collaborative culture and changing some of the common misconceptions around the Tier 1/ Tier 2 relationship.”

There is still a long way for the industry to come in establishing a clear matrix of responsibilities for implementing BIM. However, by drawing on the support of main contractors, subcontractors can start to understand what is expected of them and begin to put the skills in place to deliver this.

The key question for specialist subcontractors is how they operate in a project where BIM is being used. In order to do so they need to have the right tools available to allow them to execute a BIM implementation plan.

AIS FPDC, with funding from CITB, will produce a roadmap for specialist subcontractors divided into three sections: BID4Free, A BIM workbook and specific training.

BID4Free will allow specialist subcontractors to tender for projects at minimal or neutral cost using a series of free viewers and a protocol, which is currently being agreed with key tier 1 contractors who specialise in fit outs and finishes.

A BIM workbook will allow specialist subcontractors to understand the process changes required to operate in a BIM environment, and step by step take them through a BIM implementation plan.

These elements will be reinforced and supported with specialist training. It is hoped that they will be launched at the AIS FPDC Conference in October.

Meanwhile we suggest you keep up to date via the BIM4FitOut portal and join the BIM group on LinkedIn: and if you use Twitter then follow @BIM4FitOut.