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Peter Barker: ‘Penny has not dropped’



BIM Academy md: ‘Traditional attitudes’ stifling BIM progress

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The head of one of the UK’s most successful business and university partnerships in the digital sector is urging government to continue to drive the take up of BIM.

Peter Barker, managing director of BIM Academy, a joint venture between Ryder Architecture and the University of Northumbria, said: “There seems to be an assumption from government that we’ve now ticked that box, navigated BIM Level 2, and therefore that everyone’s fully applying these practices and delivering value.

“The reality is that BIM is still siloed through traditional attitudes and working practices. The penny has not yet dropped and the opportunity to foster collaborative working is not being grasped.”

Barker was speaking recently after BIM Academy lifted the trophy for Most Innovative Contribution to Business-University Collaboration at the 2017 Times Higher Education Awards.

The joint venture was started in 2010 and is now run as a standalone business jointly owned by international design practice Ryder and Northumbria University. BIM Academy is based in Newcastle and operates globally with hubs in Hong Kong and Australia and more recently Malaysia, Mexico and Europe to help shape the uptake of BIM in those regions.

One of its flagship projects has been to create a digital asset management system for the Opera House in Sydney and Barker said the expertise that the UK has built up in BIM was “extremely exportable”.

But speaking about the UK, he said: “The perception seems to be that BIM is now business as usual. It has started to be invoked by contracts, not always clearly, and we are seeing clients are withholding payment from suppliers who don’t meet their obligations on the new digital deliverables.

“The industry is still on the journey and despite the perception of some policy makers is that BIM is now embedded, productivity levels in UK construction are still lamentably low and we have a skills shortage, so we need to start working smarter.

“It is encouraging to see the recently published Industrial Strategy and its associated initiatives continuing to identify digital expertise as an essential force to drive productivity in the sector.”

BIM Academy provides specialist expertise on the application of digital 3D design, construction planning and asset management, and is a centre of excellence for BIM research, consultancy, training and education.

In 2016/17, it generated over £600,000 in direct consultancy income, £150,000 in training revenue and about £400,000 from research projects. The strength and quality of the partnership also supports many of Northumbria’s undergraduate and postgraduate courses and research programmes.

Improving building performance and wellbeing

One of the research projects BIM Academy is currently leading is to improve the energy performance of new homes.

In partnership with the National Energy Foundation and Your Homes Newcastle, a smart homes project part-funded by Innovate UK looking at the feasibility of bringing data together from BIM models, building management systems and smart sensors to generate actionable advice for tenants and landlords.

This sector was chosen due to fuel poverty vulnerability, a need to be smarter with budgets driven by cuts, and improving tenant experiences, wellbeing and satisfaction.

Feasibility will be tested by combining data from a building information model with in-use performance from real-time environmental sensing and tenant satisfaction surveys.

Data will include geometry information, construction materials and systems used, volume information including temperature, humidity, window open/close position, lighting and CO2 levels with additional touch sensors installed to collect tenant satisfaction. 

A web portal will be developed so tenants can view a 3D model of their flat and explore current sensor readings, readings over a period and recommendations such as heating advice to reduce energy consumption or to opening a window to reduce CO2 levels to improve wellbeing.

The reality is that BIM is still siloed through traditional attitudes and working practices. The penny has not yet dropped and the opportunity to foster collaborative working is not being grasped.– Peter Barker, BIM Academy