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A powerful tool for the sector

Four members of the international panel of experts on building information modelling share their views on this cutting-edge construction technology

Standing still is not an option for Singapore's built environment sector, and the sector needs to embrace BIM quickly to stay ahead of the competition, says Dr Keung

The provocative benefits of BIM can only be achieved when the new tools are provided to a collaboratively organised team, working along well-defined processes, says Mr Yau

Based on my observations, companies that have adopted BIM have been able to increase their efficiency and productivity, says Mr Lee

The key challenge is training of human resource ... A substantial amount of financial investment needs to go into upgrading existing office infrastructures and software licences, says Mr Koo


  • Joseph Yau, managing director, Asia-Pacific region operations, DPR Construction
  • John Keung, CEO, Building And Construction Authority (BCA)
  • Lee Chuan Seng, emeritus chairman, Beca Asia Holdings
  • Vincent Koo, managing director, DCA Architects

Moderator: Francis Kan

The Business Times: Why should companies invest in building information modelling (BIM)?

Lee Chuan Seng: In the manufacturing in-dustry, you start with a design, and then you build prototypes which you test and refine until you get the optimum solution. In the construction industry, however, you start with a design and then move on to begin construction from that design. So your finished product - in this case a building - is actually your prototype with no opportunity to refine and remove the flaws.

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Now, with BIM, the construction industry has the opportunity to use the BIM model as a virtual prototype that can be tested, refined and improved through several rounds so that when we commence construction, the actual building is much better able to meet the needs of users and operators

Joseph Yau: BIM enables an unprecedented level of precision in both design and construction. The precision of dimensional and spatial information that BIM provides is the game-changer. The computing processing power that has become available in the last decade enables the physical simulation of physical 3D space populated with construction components. On lump sum contracted projects, subcontractors and main contractors begin to see their direct costs go down as labour is reduced, material wastage is minimised and schedule durations are shortened.

John Keung: The construction process is tra-ditionally one that sees stakeholders operate in silos.  Poor coordination and abortive efforts are key factors contributing to redundancies and cost overruns in projects, reducing the productivity and profit margins of businesses.  BIM is a powerful tool for design and construction simulation, time and cost projection, as well as efficient and seamless collaboration among project parties. 

Vincent Koo: BIM is not just a productivity tool, it transforms the way we work in many aspects of a building life cycle, from design to construction to facility management. Companies need to invest in BIM to harness these advantages.

BT: How has BIM helped your company or project so far?

Yau: Depending on the work scope, the im-plementation of BIM and VDC (Virtual Design and Construction) methods has been measured on our recent large projects, showing productivity increases of 4 to 28 per cent, and reductions in rework by 50 to 90 per cent.

Lee: Based on my observations, companies that have adopted BIM have been able to increase their efficiency and productivity. Some things that would have taken several days to complete now take a fraction of the time.

These companies are able to carry out design of complex geometrical structures that would have been impossible without BIM. They are able to simulate the performance of structural elements, air-conditioning and ventilation systems, lighting systems, insulation systems and other building components so as to fine-tune performance efficiency while also at the same time maintaining cost controls.

Koo: Prior to BIM, individual sections and elevations are drawn from the plans. Now as soon as we complete a model, we can generate as many sections and details from one model. We are also able to go in depth into any intersections or areas to improve the design.

The advantage does not end in a better-resolved architectural BIM model. The beauty of BIM also means the architectural model is easily combined with the M&E and structural model for an integrated model where all parts of a building come together virtually and are coordinated ahead of construction.

BT: What are the key challenges faced by companies when adopting BIM and what are some ways to overcome them?

Yau: The first challenge is typically getting over the hype of new technology tools - impulsively purchasing software licences and upgraded hardware without a focus on the process and usage of the new technology. The provocative benefits of BIM can only be achieved when the new tools are provided to a collaboratively organised team, working along well-defined processes.

Lee: The first problem that they would face would be the lack of knowledge and skills in using BIM. The BCA Academy and the institutes of higher learning like the universities, polys and ITE and also BIM software vendors have good training programmes to help them overcome this problem.

The next challenge would be an initial drop in productivity as they start using BIM, because their people would only be newly trained and not sufficiently experienced. Also, their existing internal processes and procedures would not be suited for BIM. They should draw up a BIM implementation plan that would allow them to progressively shift parts of their operations to BIM, rather than taking a Big Bang approach, so that they can still maintain a certain level of production capacity through the transition.

Keung: As BIM is relatively new to the built environment sector, there is a need to build up the supply of skilled personnel with expertise in BIM.

To overcome such challenges and create demand for BIM, BCA provided incentives and rolled out initiatives to have the public sector take the lead.  Since 2013, BCA has progressively required BIM to be used for regulatory submissions.  BCA also worked with government agencies and developers to stipulate BIM as part of a project's requirements. 

To help businesses develop their expertise in BIM, BCA provided grants for businesses to build up capability and defray the costs of BIM adoption. Within five years, we have trained nearly 8,000 industry practitioners to be BIM-ready.  We target to train another 5,000 of them within the next five years. 

Koo: The key challenge is training of human resource as well as the high cost of infrastructure. A substantial amount of financial investment needs to go into upgrading existing office infrastructures and software licences. To implement new technology, staff needs to be trained before they can use their newly acquired skills effectively.

There is inevitably an interim period when this occurs. The situation is alleviated by teaming up staff with more experience with staff of less experience to facilitate the learning process.

Through practice and sharing in a live project, they gain confidence, proficiency and ultimately achieve expertise in their respective fields. This process is repeated with the objective to keep improving skill sets and as a result improve productivity by removing redundancies.

BT: How can we improve current practices and processes to achieve the maximum value and productivity from BIM and other digital technologies?

Yau: For real value to be extracted from the BIM and VDC process, project team members should share information early and often. Design and construction involves complex exchanges of information, and the fidelity of those exchanges is correlated to a project's success. Collaboration is as much a team climate as it is a methodology of management, and it requires the careful choosing of team members with appropriate personality characteristics.

Lee: Companies that have got over the tran-sition in adopting and using BIM are already discovering different applications that can be used on this platform. Already there is the structural analysis software that has speeded up the structural design of buildings and even further enabled the design of complex shapes which was previously impossible to do using traditional calculations and analysis.

There are also simulation software packages for the design of air-conditioning and ventilation systems, fire protection systems and lighting systems. Moving on, we will be able to simulate usage of the buildings even during the design stage so that we can check pedestrian flows and controls, handicapped access and abnormal usage during festive occasions - the list is endless.

Keung: We are starting to see companies reap the rewards of collaborating through the use of BIM.  However, there is room to further integrate the work of the various stakeholders and processes at all stages of construction through Virtual Design and Construction (VDC).

 BIM enables VDC, which integrates the design, prefabrication and construction phases of a project, allowing all stakeholders to collaborate and identify upstream design clashes, plan for prefabrication process, and simulate downstream construction workflow.  The VDC approach brings construction on a "full dress rehearsal" in the virtual environment, before carrying out the actual processes on the physical site.  This simulation process improves productivity, profitability and predictability. To develop the expertise in Singapore, BCA has put in place a number of programmes to build up technical competencies in BIM. 

Koo: A lot of companies have taken up BIM as it is now mandatory for submission. However, in order to achieve its maximum value, we will need to make use of a variety of software and new technologies that work in tandem with BIM software. One technology that will be revolutionary is 3D laser scanning. The scanner scans, posts processes and uploads via point cloud into a BIM model in a fraction of the time required to do it manually. This allows designers and contractors to immediately work on the project in the BIM model instead of waiting for weeks.

BT: What is the future for BIM and how can companies prepare for it?

Yau: The digitisation of building information allows robotics and automation to be applied at much larger scales. Aerial drones can perform pre-programmed flight-paths for topographic surveying. Automated layout machines can draw dimensions on the slab during the night for the daytime human crew to install.

Lee: BIM provides the construction industry with a quantum leap in designing, construction and operating buildings because of the ability to virtually prototype and refine and improve the building before committing to actual construction of new buildings or modification of existing buildings at a substantially lower cost and short time frame.

Keung: The second BIM roadmap will steer the built environment sector towards our desired state of BIM and VDC adoption. With Singapore being probably the only country that provides the impetus and incentives to help our businesses kick-start BIM adoption, our companies should embrace this opportunity to surge ahead in the competition. As companies gain the know-how and become more competent overtime, we should see a more significant transformation and productivity improvement in the sector.

Indeed, BIM will soon become the norm in the built environment sector worldwide. Standing still is not an option for Singapore's built environment sector, and the sector needs to embrace BIM quickly to stay ahead of the competition.

Koo: Construction is a collaborative process and BIM facilitates this process through the various stages. The use of BIM has grown rapidly in the construction industry since its introduction and has seen results as a tool to improve productivity.

This has brought about an increase in awareness of its use and it has been adopted by companies to create a wider application - from design through to construction and facilities management. BIM and VDC will be relied on in coming years for constructability analyses, cost estimating and scheduling at outset of projects.

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