How SMEs can benefit from BIM

How SMEs can benefit from BIM

Right now, BIM is a hot topic across the industry, no less for tonight’s BIM4SME Awards, an award ceremony bringing together key players and practitioners in architecture, engineering, construction and operations for the very first time. BIM certainly, at least in theory, seems to be maturing from a concept embraced by a few into a household name with serious backing from the government, but how viable is it to be adopted by SMEs? Is it really practical, if not necessary, for SMEs to embrace BIM?

The first hurdle SMEs will have to overcome when considering investing into BIM is the initial outlay of capital. The cost of the software may seem excessive for a smaller company, which in turn begs the question; will it be worth it? And if the company can afford the software and the licenses, can it afford the investment of time into the necessary training?

Les Pickford from RICS says cost may not be an issue: “There will be a software cost but this can be kept to a minimum at the start, e.g. through a temporary, student or network licence. A couple of licences might cost £2,000 so make sure it suits your business needs.”

If cost can be kept to a minimum, the issue then lies in the man-hours that learning to use BIM will ultimately consume. As with any new software, training is inevitable, but with BIM you have the option of collaborating with other users. BIM collaboration can also mean time and cost efficiencies, which in turn can produce big returns over a project’s lifecycle. Training can seem like a daunting venture to get on with, but every piece of software was new at one point or another. And, you may already know more than you think. A vendor like Autodesk provides a BIM solution using tools as diverse as Revit (modelling), AutoCAD (drafting and documentation), Navisworks (project review) and 3ds Max Design (visualisation), to name a few. If you use any of these, you are already on your way to a BIM-based workflow.

And the benefits are too great to ignore: BIM applies to all aspects of the construction of a building, from the design, the estimating, the supply chain, the delivery of goods during the build, the build process, the resource allocation, the productivity requirements to meet targets and on in to the post-handover phase through Facilities and Asset Management. BIM also offers embedded quality control and co-ordination, which can add a consistency and a confidence to the company’s output. Especially considering SMEs, BIM can make production information workflow more efficient through more automated coordination, drawing production, visualisation and scheduling.

It’s also worthwhile remembering that the government is mandating Level 2 BIM as a minimum by 2016. For SMEs, jumping on the BIM wagon now would be beneficial, as it may be a considerable challenge to go straight to level 2 BIM without a few practice runs

A housing survey from The Architects Journal shows that 52 per cent of practices said they were not using BIM when designing homes, however as government has made a commitment to give 40 per cent of contracts to SMEs this looks set to change in the near future. This alone is a solid business opportunity that SMEs should not miss out on.

Regardless of the initial outlay of time and money, BIM is set to be a necessary asset instead of drain on resources: you can save time, money and be a forerunner in an industry that is ever changing and developing. However, it is important to remember it is a medium to long-term game; it’s unlikely to get a return on the investment within a few months.

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