While many construction firms are only now embracing BIM and upskilling in order to compete for projects, some companies including Kirby started the process years ago.
Kirby began their BIM journey in 2012 in an environment perhaps not conducive to new ways of working. “We implemented BIM at a time when the construction industry was in the throes of the downturn. It was certainly a big step, but one we were keen to take as we were bidding for a project at a manufacturing facility in Kildare which required BIM,” says Mark Danaher, BIM Manager. Kirby’s Director of Innovation pushed BIM implementation throughout the company as he believed that uptake of the technology would increase and that eventually BIM would be widely used across the industry. “I had just completed a post graduate diploma in computer aided engineering product design and so I came on board to work on the Kildare project and to investigate the potential of BIM within the company.”
Kirby went on to create a dedicated BIM department and through their work with other clients, have shown the benefits of using BIM. “I think one of the most significant benefits we’ve seen is in relation to offsite fabrication. We can reduce waste by fabricating the required systems such as pipework and ductwork away from site in a controlled environment. This allows for fabrication to be completed more efficiently as the majority of welding and heavy lifting is completed in a fabrication workshop rather than on site. This also enables an increased level of risk mitigation. All fabricated systems are then tagged and delivered just in time to site where they can be installed with the aid of install drawings produced by the BIM team and by utilising the 3D model.”
The visualisation capabilities are also extremely beneficial. “If you have a 3D model, clients can see the project right there in front of them. BIM also facilitates cost control processes, reducing unnecessary expenses on site and we know our clients appreciate this.”
According to Mark, BIM implementation has made the firm more efficient. “There’s no doubt it has made us leaner and more conscious of various aspects that previously may not have been an issue. Clients require us to complete complicated work with a tighter schedule and in a smaller footprint. To achieve this, Kirby has adopted a Lean approach and BIM is central to that.”
The cost of implementing BIM has often been cited as a primary reason for the industry’s hesitancy in implementing the technology. “It was quite expensive; there was certainly an investment there but we started out quite small. With the initial pilot project there was really only myself working on BIM and the client absorbed some of the hardware and software investment for us. Once we completed that project, we hired another two staff. In the space of two years that grew to 30 people on one particular project. The process involved a lot of investment in time and people but we’re seeing the benefit of it now.”
The BIM team at Kirby now consists of 10 highly trained experts who are adept at working on projects in any sector. BIM is used on the majority of projects, depending on the size of the project and timescale. In some projects, Kirby takes the overall lead and all BIM staff are project based. “We have three guys who are qualified architects and so they usually interface with architects. We also have mechanical engineers and electrical engineers. They can build a model from 2D drawings if there’s no model given to us. The BIM department also produce all the drawings for our off-site fabrication,” explains Mark.
Scepticism surrounding BIM is, says Mark, still hampering implementation. “I think the reason for that is some firms think BIM will generate additional cost; they don’t see the benefits of it yet. The construction sector is not necessarily known for the speed with which it embraces new ways of working or new technologies. It’s such a slow adaptor to new technology and the fact that BIM has become a bit of a buzzword probably hasn’t helped. Firms are missing out on the fact that essentially, BIM is a process that encompasses full collaboration between all teams and disciplines. It’s a different way of thinking and working.”
The UK mandate to use BIM on all public projects by 2016 is a factor for Irish firms deciding to BIM up. “Firms will need to upskill in order to compete for projects in the UK but also increasingly at home. I’d imagine we’re probably going to follow the UK. I don’t think a mandate is necessarily needed in Ireland as I see a lot of the big clients here using BIM as a collaborative tool within their contracts.”
According to Mark, BIM may not be required for smaller projects. “Right now on smaller scale projects, I would say they may not need to use the full BIM process. Certainly parts of BIM could be used and would no doubt be very beneficial. In time I do feel that all projects will use BIM and it will become a standardised way of working within the construction industry. Once the industry leaders have fully adopted BIM you will see a greater use within the construction sector.”
The firm has now found themselves in the enviable position of being at the forefront of BIM utilisation. “The initial project in Kildare gave us time to develop so now as BIM becomes more widely requested from clients, we’re in a really good position. There is still a great deal to learn; there’s now much more support out there for BIM with the likes of CITA and Enterprise Ireland doing great work. When we started out, there was some trial and error and project-based learning which took time. We were very early adopters of BIM but have been using this process for nearly four years now so have a lot of lessons learned.”