BIM Around The World Series: Paul Doherty on BIM in China

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China’s AEC industry is poised to “leapfrog” the rest of the world in BIM adoption according to Paul Doherty, Chairman of theBIMcompany and President and CEO of the digit group, inc.  Irish building magazine spoke to Paul about BIM adoption in China and his upcoming work there – developing 300 Smart Cities over a 15 year period.

Can you tell us about the goals and objectives for BIM in China?

Although being used primarily by Design Institutes since 2003, the past 4 years has seen a very large increase of BIM usage by contractors and sub-contractors (trades) due to powerful drivers in the Chinese marketplace. BIM is being driven by several powerful elements:

Domestic Migration: The economy is primarily driven domestically by real estate, and in particular, urban housing. Over 300 million Chinese are migrating from the Western Provinces, which are primarily agricultural-based, to the East Coast cities where there are jobs. The complexity and speed required to accommodate this domestic migration need is pushing the adoption of better project controls like BIM.

Process Re-Design: New project controls to manage construction never seen on this massive scale before is crucial to project delivery success in China today. BIM processes are being used for: project control solutions in the form of lower RFI’s from traditional processes; producing better design solutions and reducing errors in construction documents; a migration path from BIM to Project Information Model (PIM); a migration path from design and construction to facility management/operations.

Economy:  Speed to market is a key driver in developing China’s BIM planning. Chinese real estate developers and contractors are being asked to deliver projects that are increasing in complexity with shorter schedules in which to deliver.

Government:  The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD) is the key Government agency that is driving BIM adoption. They have implemented National BIM policies during the Chinese Government’s 12th 5-year Plan period (2011-2015) that included BIM Standards and BIM adoption. BIM adoption was not universally accepted during this period by the public or private sectors due to BIM Policy being seen as “Suggested” and not mandatory, but important progress was made as BIM Policy has now matured to include a lifecycle narrative, bringing the Owner into the BIM Policy discussions. The maturation into a BIM lifecycle was officially adopted in the new 13th 5-year Plan (2016-2020), where the adoption and growth of BIM will be driven by Government Policy and market requirements that are driven by Owners. Simply stated, as BIM experience grows, the benefits of BIM grow.

Who are the BIM Leaders?

BIM leaders in China include MOHURD, China Institute of Building Standard Design & Research, China Construction Industry Association (CCIA), China Railway BIM Alliance, China Railway Construction Management Department, Chinese Academy of Engineering, Tsinghua University, Tongji University, Jianyi Group, Beijing HuaMaoYun Mdt Infotech Co. Ltd. and Autodesk.

What are the main drivers of BIM adoption? 

The first-tier cities have markets with a lot of domestic and foreign companies. The adoption of BIM in these cities will be accelerated, but cities in the second and third-tier, because of fewer opportunities to have foreign influence of the use of BIM, adoption will not be as fast.

What is the level of interest in BIM among private clients?

Interest in BIM was low until the adoption of the Chinese Government’s 13th 5-year Plan in 2015 and its BIM Policy focus on the project’s lifecycle. Energy/water analysis, carbon measures and other sustainable tasks/solutions that are incorporated into BIM usage is now in high demand in the private sector.

What are contractors’ views on BIM adoption?

The interest in BIM has moved from uninterested to very interested in a very short 4 years. Use of BIM in the construction process to increase quality and speed are the primary values seen by Chinese contractors.

Has the Government used BIM on large projects?

Yes, government funded projects are now required to use BIM for projects over 20,000 m2.

Can you tell us about your work and the services you offer in China?

The digit group, inc (TDG) operates a Chinese-based subsidiary company called TDG China in Shanghai and Guangzhou. We are planning on opening our Beijing office in early 2017. We have worked in mainland China since 1997 and have a good relationship with many levels of government. Due to the enormous momentum of interest and initial projects regarding Smart Cities development to assist with China’s urban growth needs, TDG is uniquely positioned to participate in design, construction and management of these mega-projects throughout China. TDG has partnered with the Chinese Government to provide these Smart Cities services. The only way we can perform successfully with this massive amount of work is to holistically adopt BIM and push the limits of the BIM process to create new opportunities. Procurement, dynamic scheduling, multi-BIM environments on a mobile device, VR/AR applications, robotics control and dynamic energy management control are just a few of the tasks being implemented as a BIM process and/or function on our projects in China. Simply put, TDG provides Smart Cities real estate development and support services in China, and we use BIM to conduct our work.

What are the long-term goals for your company in China?

I have family in China, so our company’s goals in China are much different from other foreign-based companies. We are not there just to make money, we are there to assist and contribute to the environmental and economic challenges in China today. Strong support from both the US Government and Chinese Government provides a unique and very powerful path for our company to succeed in its goals in China, as we align ourselves to the goals of our customers and provide consistent, successful projects. With this as a base, we have a project pipeline that extends out 15 years with almost 300 Smart Cities to develop with our Chinese partners.  Our long-term goals are to provide high-performance urban experiences through the implementation of innovations that can be implemented and managed using BIM. Upon learning best practices, a major goal will be to scale these innovations worldwide, providing contextualized innovative urban solutions that can be implemented with confidence in places like Ireland.

What are the differences in work culture and work practices?

In China, labour is inexpensive but materials are more expensive than Western construction markets. It makes Chinese budgets seem “upside down” and provides a greater need for project and procurement controls.  Quantity surveying has a key role on Chinese construction projects.

What contracts are being used for BIM projects?

There is no Chinese “official” contract law regarding BIM currently, but there is consensus that the establishment of an AEC contract system which aligns to China’s BIM standard would help to clarify each party’s legal responsibilities, ensure the delivery and payment standards and enhance all parties coordination to promote the application and implementation of BIM. Best practice dictates to add BIM-related attachments to the contract while maintaining the existing contract system.

How good is BIM education and research?

Lack of BIM expertise or qualified personnel is a major challenge in implementing BIM in China. There is a perception that BIM is difficult to learn, indicating that BIM training will be an important element in China to provide more qualified BIM professionals. Currently, there are good education/training and R&D programs in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Wuhan, with most of these being conducted in universities. Outside of these cities, private Chinese companies are providing third-party BIM services to the industry, creating their own Chinese brand of education, training and R&D. This is a very fast growing sector. Another strong area of growth in education, training and R&D is coming from BIM software companies like Autodesk, who partner with government and private organizations to provide formal events and programs along with more traditional conferences.

How do you see China’s AEC industry being changed by BIM in the next decade?

China’s AEC industry is poised to leapfrog the rest of the world in its adoption of BIM. We may not recognize the traditional use of BIM, but China is contextualizing BIM in profound ways. In order to by-pass the lack of skilled labour in China, look for BIM to be not just a project control tool, but a robotic-control tool.  BIM is positioned to automate many tasks and functions in the field for design, construction and facility management. This move will bring in the industrialization of the AEC Industry in China, led by a Chinese version of BIM software that is less expensive than foreign solutions and contextualized to the Chinese market. Also, look for BIM to migrate its data on individual buildings to be part of a city-wide aggregation of BIM data, both in horizontal and vertical construction projects.  In China, whoever controls the data, controls the project and when the BIM project data becomes part of a City Management solution, power increases to those who know how to manage BIM. And in China, power is more important than anything. Whoever figures this out first in China will be very powerful.

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