Surveys in BIM | Where Are We Now?

As the UK’s AEC industry steadily adopts BIM, the requirement for surveys to be delivered in a BIM format should steadily increase alongside. As with any major change in an industry’s technological process, inevitably there will be some bedding-in time and perhaps a few teething issues along the way. But on reviewing the uptake and development of BIM Surveys, where are we as an industry? Are we all on the same page?

In my previous role as BIM Manager with arguably the UK’s leading Survey practice I was responsible for establishing the standard for delivering their BIM Surveys. As we developed and released their BIM Survey Specification back in 2012, there was no doubt we were pioneering the geomatics industry into the BIM environment. Only in hindsight do I look back and question if we were almost too early in pushing what can be achieved and what should be delivered for BIM-ready surveys.  The UK AEC industry was only just starting to grasp the concept of BIM and only a select few had delivered a project using BIM software and process. Even fewer knew what to expect from a survey in BIM format.

So here we are today, four years on in late 2016 when BIM Level 2 should be in full swing, and point cloud manipulation and capabilities within current BIM software is ever improving.

However, by now, I would have liked to have believed that measured building surveys delivered in a BIM format would be standard. Unfortunately, this is not the case.  Some of the high-level reasons for this will be discussed in another article sometime soon. For now, I’ll focus on why there is still so much disparity throughout the industry when it comes to understanding what is required and what is expected from a BIM Survey.

Luckily for my clients (Surveyors, Architect and Engineers), they only need to provide a clear scope with a few integral specifications, such as LOD (Level of Detail) and modelling tolerance, for them to know exactly what they will get from our BIM-ready Survey Models. But give that same specification to one of the many other survey or modelling providers out there and they will most likely have a rather different understanding of the client’s requirements.  The most alarming truth is that many clients still look at the bottom line and opt for the cheapest quote. Not surprisingly, problems ensue.

If surveys had a clear, concise BIM standard, one that was well-documented, and regulated throughout the industry, the lowest fee may be a somewhat reasonable choice. What we have at present are surveyors responding to BIM requests with a level of inexperience, and more worryingly, a lack of understanding (reflected in their alarmingly low estimates). This not only causes confusion for the client (due to the widely varying estimates) but we’ve also heard of dissatisfied clients discovering that the BIM surveys they’ve commissioned failed to meet their requirements, and so were, in effect, useless. This creates a spiral effect that hurts the industry and therefore slows down the industry’s the adoption of BIM.

Could it be causing problems in reverse, too? As I mentioned earlier, the amount of data surveyors can efficiently capture and deliver through BIM technology is vast and extremely powerful. But is it perhaps too much?

My belief has always been that when delivering a survey in true BIM format, the model must be representative of how the building is constructed to achieve an accurate as possible quantity take-off. This requires the models to be built by experienced technicians who understand building technology, not just BIM software. Whilst some clients do require this deliverable and appreciate the work involved, I question if this is too much.  For many surveys, the requirements are much more simple: model these building elements –  ensure they are accurate.

So, does this cause disparity in the actual specification requirements? Are there two ‘forms’ of survey BIM deliverables that should be identified first? Does the client want (or need) to understand what type of pipe or HVAC system runs through the surveyed area and how it’s connected …? Or do they simply want to understand the location and size of the pipes? This is only one very realistic situation that could mean the difference between £10,000 and £1,000 in modelling deliverables.

In order to level the playing field, to ensure all surveyors are estimating like-for-like, and that clients receive the information they require, we must have a single, clearly-defined survey specification. However, only few surveying practices attain a satisfactory specification –  and even these vary considerably. As we continue delivering surveys in BIM format without a crystal-clear, industry-defined standard, we must make sure clients not only ask the right questions, but understand of why they should be asking. In short, we need to educate our clients!  When estimates are received with vastly different fees and programs, it is up to the client to investigate further and ensure the deciding factor is only speed and cost.

At Digitalinc, we commonly see different expectations from the same LOD requirements and a variety of differing specifications – but all with one thing in common: at present, they are far too open to interpretation.

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