Monday, February 28, 2011

BIM takes on the Environment

According to the Office for National Statistics, there are 109,410 companies registered and operating in the combined Building Construction and Civil Engineering sectors in the UK as of 2010.  Of this total, 6,490 are located in Scotland.

There are a large number of companies over and above these totals, registered as operating in specialist construction activities.

The UK building and construction industries use and consume the most energy of all sectors as well as producing the most CO2 emissions.  In addition to this, these industries create the most waste.

DEFRA studies report that the amount of waste generated by the construction industry and ending up in landfill has seen a rise from an estimated 70 million tonnes in 2000 to approximately 100 million tonnes in 2004 – compared to around 28 million tones resulting from general domestic waste collections.

Separate from general material wastage, a vast amount of energy is used in the life of many construction projects.  This can be in manufacturing of synthetic materials, processing or extraction of raw materials, transportation and site execution.  Plant-heavy projects will require a considerable amount of energy in the form of fuel for machinery and equipment.  Each of these elements has a direct environmental impact, as natural resources are consumed and pollution is generated.

As is often the case, it is likely that it is a smaller number of companies that are responsible for generating a larger proportion of the waste – many of the companies registered in the construction and engineering sectors will not be directly involved in the actual build processes.
Government studies suggest that in 2008, the total environmental cost of land fill waste was £211 million, and that steps to manage resources more efficiently could result in annual savings of £6.4 billion to the UK economy.

BIM and better use of IPD promotes more efficient working, minimises waste and enables better time management through improved planning and delivery of projects.

Projects that make better use of materials and reduce the amount of errors & rework, generate less waste.
 Projects that complete in better timescales or more efficiently require fewer resources to run (fuel use for plant, running costs of offices, etc).

Overall, this reduces the effective "carbon footprint" of each project, and reduces the burden on limited landfill facilities.

As BIM becomes more widely adopted and embedded, certain types of business will immediately realise certain benefits that can be achieved for specific tasks – such as design, clash detection and project planning.  One of the challenges will be to raise awareness of further potential to other members in the project chain.

BIM goes much beyond design and planning, and can be carried through to delivery – being utilized by the contractors on site.  Site activities can be better planned and deliveries programmed more efficiently.  Works can be set out by using the information contained in the building model originally generated, allowing the contractor to work from the checked and verified plans, containing all the latest required information updated by each project stakeholder involved.

Errors can be minimized, resulting in fewer delays, less re-work and therefore less waste and material usage.  Projects can be delivered within improved timescales, avoiding the costs of maintaining the project.  More efficient use of materials and less waste going off site represent economic and environmental benefits achievable.

Unlike design or project management type companies, construction contractors might require more “convincing” of the benefits of BIM who might me initially more put off by the apparent “cost” to adopt (despite previous data reported – see earlier blog entry “My thoughts on BIM”).

One idea that might merit some discussion could be the introduction of a “BIM investment grant”.  This could be a sum of money (e.g. £5,000) made available from government budget (I know!), per qualifying company towards investment in "BIM-approved technology".  This investment could be software, hardware or training.  The grant could be redeemed against an approved list of BIM suppliers that could include the likes of Autodesk Revit, Tekla Structures, Trimble LM80, etc.

This could be enough of an incentive for mainstream contractors to justify new investment and trigger a new thought process.  The initial investment would provide the trigger and means for development of better work processes aimed towards the BIM concept in general.

Going back to the opening statistics, from the total 109,410 registered companies, say 75% of these are engaged in “actual construction” of some form and 50% of these qualify for the grant.  This would mean a potential grant pool requirement of around £205 million – possibly spread over 3 or 4 years.  Assuming this level of uptake over 4 years, the annual cost could be £51,250,000.  The equivalent amount of landfill waste from construction would only need to reduce by 25% in order to meet or offset this investment based on the estimated costs associated and outlined above.

More importantly, a crucial environmental issue will be tackled at the same time.  Improved project delivery would also allow the UK construction industry to raise its reputation for producing higher quality projects in better timescales with fewer issues.