BIM for offsite: what’s stopping you?

While the housebuilding industry is educating itself on the practicalities and application of offsite methods of construction, the real opportunity for housebuilders is in how offsite is utilising the latest software platforms. Robert Clark of fusion Building systems explains the opportunities BIM presents.

There is an awful lot of misunderstanding and assumption being made in the construction and housebuilding industry about what offsite manufacturing (OSM) actually is.

There are two types of OSM – volumetric modular and panelised (or ‘smart modular’ as it is often called). Volumetric refers to entire units or rooms being built to a ‘finish’ in factories and craned into place on site, while panelised refers to individual walls and floors being built at offsite facilities and then erected on site. There are pros and cons to each, but that’s for another article.

OSM is slowly climbing the priority ladder for the nation’s volume housebuilders, and industry experts believe that BIM will be the enabler to take offsite to the top of the ladder. The only thing holding it back is education and an acceptance that methodologies need
to change.

To achieve this, there’s a two-stage process which needs to happen. The first is about understanding how supply chain practices need to change, to ensure every team and element of the onsite and offsite build programmes are working in collabora- tion. Once that process is underway, the fun can really start, as you immerse yourselves in the design.

OSM is all about precision, to millimetre accuracy. The edge it has over traditional build methods is that clients, building inspectors, surveyors and insurers can be shown an interactive digital model in the office or over email, showing precisely how a building has been, or is being built on site.

Two key pieces of software worth mentioning here are StrucSoft MWF Pro and Dalux Field. To start with StrucSoft, this runs as an add-on to the widely-used Revit design platform. MWF Pro enables just about every element of a building’s design to be reviewed in detail prior to
sign off, then sent directly to the computers of a manufacturing facility to produce structures which precisely match the design. This is a process which seems light years away from the traditional building methods which dominate the industry at the moment – yet it isn’t. It’s fully developed and being used in offsite manufacturing today. Software like MWF Pro will be the enabler for taking us from a project by project approach, to build programmes which are led by the product, employing manufacturing principles to achieve efficiency and sustainability in construction. And the story also extends further than this – because this software enables the original design intent to be digitally overlaid and recorded against actual onsite installation; monitoring and maintenance of a building over the long term can also be achieved – all within the same model.

And, if that wasn’t enough to get you excited, Dalux Field is another piece of software which has been embraced in the industry. Currently with only a very small share of the UK market, but with an immense opportunity ahead of it, this interactive site management software never fails to impress clients.

By simply marking their physical position on a plan, site managers can click into a 3D BIM view of a project to provide accurate information there and then about any issues they’ve found. By working in this way, a full auditable history can be developed of communication, issue rectification and close out – and everyone on the team has an immediate visual understanding of what’s happening on site, build delays are reduced and lines of communication are kept crystal clear.

Digital construction will completely transform the way we work – reducing cost and improving the quality of the finished product. The trouble is, at the moment at least, there is a lack of people who are able to embrace and proficiently use new construction technology. BIM will enable us to move forward, and those who embrace it and make it work, will very quickly dominate the industry. What’s holding you back?

Robert Clark is head of business development at Fusion Building Systems.