The problem at hand
Currently AEC industry adopts an old model to design and manage projects. Productivity and efficiency have not improved in the last decades.
[Paul Teicholz, in “Labor-Productivity Declines in the Construction Industry: Causes and Remedies -Another Look, AECbytes Viewpoint #67,March 14, 2013]
Unlike the other industrial sectors, the construction industry creates unique products, built by different subjects, in different places, with different climatic conditions and regulations. We could say that it is a prototype industry. Innovative methods may not work on future projects, which are subject to extreme variability in demand.
There is a strong resistance to change, because the benefits of change cannot be realized in the prototype phases and require multiple applications over time to obtain a return on investment.
The construction supply system, its supply chain, is based on competitiveness rather than collaboration. There is often a lack of integration between design and construction, and poor collaboration between the members of the various players in the supply chain who operate on the construction site (specialized subcontracting teams).
Mistakes, omissions and changes are often present, also because subcontractors benefit from variations and errors.
The result of this way of working are extra-budgetary works, often late. It is not surprising that labor productivity suffers under these conditions.
Error is a significant variable in the sector’s profitability model, and complexity makes it possible.
The construction sector is misusing data, which is largely based on paper documents produced by a highly fragmented design team. The construction sector is characterized by the use of paper documents produced by architects and designers who work independently and are unable to foresee the many problems of a project that emerge in the construction phase; this leads to strong difficulties in the coordination and management of work.
There are significant additional costs to be faced to solve the problems due to the non-congruent information that derive from independent project plans, and which result in errors, omissions, extra work, complaints during the construction phase.
The construction market is characterized by strong cyclicality, both in the micro and in the macro. The cycles are both general, in the sense of the cyclical phases of the market and punctual for the individual company, which is conditioned by the size of the jobs it can acquire. This strong cyclicality tends to keep investments in capital goods and prefabrication with the handbrake pulled, since these investments could not be used during a cyclical recession.
This character reinforces the use of production methods based on a high labor intensity, which by its nature is flexible in construction: to improve production performance, the sector tends to reduce the formation of the workforce and to employ the cheapest labor available.
But there are, at least two other aspects that make the construction sector a sector characterized by low productivity on which it is necessary to reflect. The first is that it is a sector characterized by many micro-enterprises which carry out a significant percentage of the work. The construction sector is characterized in all countries, by the very nature of its market, by a large number of small enterprises and by a relatively small number of large enterprises (which can also be very large). Also, in the United States: in 2007, about 62 percent of companies had 5 or less than 5 employees and generated about 10% of the turnover.
Firms with fewer than 49 employees represented 96.7% of the
American construction companies, and 51% of turnover. The remaining 3.3% of companies covered 49% of the market. In Italy, the companies registered with the Chambers of Commerce in October 2015 are 774,000 of which 532,000 are craftsmen. Smaller companies (many with only one employee) have difficulty in adapting to capital-intensive methods, also because they do not have the economic-financial-cultural capacity to make the necessary investments. In addition, there is a significant turnover among small businesses, and this makes the implementation of innovation more difficult.
Architects, engineers, technicians have difficulties to collaborate and share information about a project and this is an obstacle to improve project’s quality. Currently they use several software with legacy file formats. So, they have big difficulties to exchange files and data. This is one of the main cause of delays and cost increase of the projects.
The proposal is the adoption of the Open BIM Standard: a new approach that uses an open international standard format named IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) that allows cooperation between professionals. Open BIM is a project developed by the buildingSMART association which involves all the main AEC players.
All actors involved on the process can share their own work even if they use different software.
Architects create the BIM model of the building, save it in an IFC file and share it with engineers and technicians that add more information to the model. All the workflow process is coordinated by the BIM manager.
Condition for success
Using and sharing digital model designers reduce issues on site and during design process. Some important conditions for success could be:
· Meetings for politicians, architects, engineers, building companies to make them aware of the advantages of OpenBIM.
- Availability of OpenBIM compliant software
- Availability of BIM digital collaboration platforms
- Diffusion of the results achieved in project realized with BIM metodology
A proof that it works and that it already exists
An example of good use of Open BIM is the project of the Navetta bridge in Parma (Italy). It was the first public digital contract of the Italian Minister of Infrastructure. The Open BIM has been widely used and the results have been tremendous. The 3D model has been developed by using legacy software, but the data have been exchanged by using IFC format.