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Can BIM successfully deliver small construction projects?

Get know about the benefit and value in adopting BIM processes for smaller projects

Published: 16/03/2018

Country: United Kingdom

The perceived value of BIM

BIM is more than just developing a 3D model: it entails a collaborative way of working to deliver masses of information over a Common Data Environment (CDE) – a digitised area for the assortment of information.

As a key client, the Government used its influence to promote collaborative working on all public sector projects, so naturally some of the early case studies focussed on exactly these kind of larger schemes. With the constant management of information, actions across a project can be optimised providing added value. To reach its potential, all project participants should discuss the building data required and its impact throughout the project lifecycle – but this may not always be feasible on smaller projects.

Adopting BIM is a long-term investment for all involved in the delivery of a project. Determining your approach at an early stage will benefit future projects; determining a consistent approach during the early stages can benefit all future projects. Advocates suggest that early investment – with progression in mind – will prevent having to do so in the future when the difficulty and expense to integrate will have increased.

Clients also stand to benefit from BIM process, as model and data exchange make it easier for the project teams to communicate. Engaged clients have access to an early view of their building ‘as built’ and can foresee issues and tailor its operation before work even begins on site. Too much detail on a small project, however, can be off-putting for inexperienced clients. Saving money and delivering quickly are likely to be more immediate concerns.

The notion that BIM is limited to the 3D model is a customary misconception: BIM is not CAD. Unlike CAD systems, BIM-infused software uses in-system calculations and has the ability to connect with specifications developed with tools such as NBS Create. A BIM approach supersedes that of CAD through the depth and breadth of the information being conveyed, captured and maintained within the CDE. The interconnected features of BIM software can also save time and money on a project. The creating of schedules and the ability to programme work stages effectively will aid in making the project as streamlined as possible. Utilisation of BIM-enabled clash detection – which can reduce the likelihood of human error and problems – can be deviated during the design stage rather than during on-site construction.

The BIM workflow sees teams come together to create and share a range of project documentation, with the benefit of interconnectivity and the ability to query the data to make better project decisions during the correct stages of the project. This data really comes into its own when considering post-construction – maintenance of a building will have been considered from the outset and the model provides a means to easily pre-empt faults.

This data provides value and assurance in a project and is particularly important with regard to the geometry of the building. Here BIM systems can aid in clash detection between the structural, architectural and MEP concept models and when working to BIM Level 2, different teams can access and confirm this shared data.

BIM can make a significant difference in circulation and development of data, but is most effective when everyone collaborates with the same digital methods. Another benefit to small practice results from the native 3D visualisation features within most tools – quickly producing renders and visualisations, rather than these taking a long time to generate in-house or being outsourced at high cost. Clients can confirm that the rendered design is compliant with their brief, ensuring the final product meets expectations.

Using BIM in smaller projects

Most small projects are significantly different to typical BIM case studies, and this can make BIM adoption appear difficult for these projects. Many practices undertaking smaller projects may be reluctant to implement ‘full’ BIM processes – incorporating protocols, standards and classification towards BIM Level 2 – thinking this is very complicated. However, this does not have to be the case.

In the delivery of larger projects, it isn’t hard to understand where BIM adoption generates benefits and savings – and more commercial clients are requesting BIM processes and model information directly, insisting on the use of standard procedures. Additionally, the scale of many large projects – with increased risk and the need for cost management and logistics – naturally increases productivity through use of a CDE that can be accessed by project participants and centrally controlled.

But the benefits may not be as clear for smaller projects when considering typical client experience and knowledge, levels of risk, and the necessity of advanced technology for comparatively simple data around project delivery or the way money is spent. For example, larger project investments tend to provide the capacity to invest in BIM – they can hire BIM specialists. However, smaller projects do not always have the same resources. With a site office, implementing BIM is far easier than on a smaller scale project, where those delivering the project may be limited to the contents of a tent (without a computer).

Despite this, there are benefits for smaller practices using BIM which is, after all, about providing the means of improvement. Small projects are required to meet the same environmental standards, regulations and Government mandates as larger projects, and if a practice fully embraces the collaborative properties of a BIM, the CDE can make a significant difference in the circulation and development of this data.

Perspective: Mark Starford, Sadler Brown Architecture

At Sadler Brown Architecture we found out more from Mark Starford, a Chartered member of both RIBA and RISA. The firm have significant experience in delivering both large and smaller residential developments.

Mark established that Sadler Brown Architecture does not tend to use BIM in the delivery of smaller projects. As reflected by his experience within the industry Mark, stated that “… clients on smaller projects just want to have drawings so they can speak to builders or get best prices for materials.”

However, Mark agrees that one of the greatest advantages of BIM is during the construction phase. This is when those delivering the project need to extract relevant and necessary information. It can also help in the forming and performing of maintenance programmes.

A recent project of Mark’s required a 3D CAD model mostly due to the complex forms of the building. Mark commented that the 3D model gave him huge advantages over the last curved building he designed which used 2D AutoCAD: “I have been able to advise the client of areas of things like walls roofs & floors, which when you have a complex curved shape is very problematic, but essential for someone like a stone mason trying to price walling.”

Although Mark recognised the advantages of BIM he was not convinced that the advantages of BIM in smaller projects equates to those in larger projects, stating that “From my experience the construction teams on larger projects have a lot more managerial levels to them” and felt that ultimately larger projects and their design teams were better suited to managing BIM processes.

Perspective: Mark Crowe, BIM Academy

Finding a real advocate for the BIM process, we spoke to Mark Crowe at BIM Academy – part of the Ryder Alliance. Mark provided insight into the way that BIM is successful in the production of smaller projects.

When asked if BIM is successful in the production of smaller projects Mark had no doubts: “Absolutely, it can be successful no matter what size of project you’re working with.”

Mark was clear that BIM is not all about actions or the software – feeling that the aim of BIM is to “approach design, construction and operation as a whole process in a more innovative, joined up light.” As an example, Mark pointed out that “(BIM) is joining the dots between ways of working that currently result in huge amounts of duplication. It’s the construction equivalent of putting bus timetables on Google, rather than printing flyers (that) everyone loses.”

Using the joined up processes of BIM and appreciating the availability of data can help to improve a project: “If BIM is approached like that, it can only ever save money.”

Mark described his experience with BIM and the way that he used it in relation to smaller projects, including his experience of renovating his own property. Mark used BIM technologies to build ‘a reasonably complex flooring structure’ in his loft and in the creation of a new garden. In doing so, Mark used a range of different construction techniques and about 16 tonnes of material. The designs were developed by hand but were matured technically in a popular BIM-enabled tool. Using the model helped in deriving dynamic costs and in the development of logistics plans.

Ultimately, the materials wasted from Mark’s projects consisted of “half a bag of sand and a couple of offcuts of timber”. The logistics plan was successful with items being correctly assigned to packages that arrived on site as required with minimal courier costs. Being BIM-enabled throughout the project also meant that there was an itemised record of every asset accompanied by maintenance data.

Mark found that the project was no more time consuming than a non-BIM-enabled project, with little to no duplication.


There is certainly evidence that adopting a BIM approach is not the sole preserve of larger construction projects. Implementing BIM in a smaller project can add value to the outcome, with each work stage optimised. BIM can actually save a practice time and money, as with collaborative assistance and information the initial cost needn’t be wasted.

BIM is a long-term investment. Although there is an upfront investment, once the process is in place much work can be replicated from one project to another. Each subsequent project will benefit from the previous and the investment cost can be justified as more and more projects are delivered.

With so much to gain, why not take the plunge? BIM is fast on its way to becoming business as usual.


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