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Posted March 6, 2020 | Published in General

BIM, Offsite Manufacture and the Future of the Construction Industry

Last Friday King’s College London’s Centre of Construction Law held its Open Forum, which this year explored the legal and technological implications of digital technology, offsite procurement and modern methods of construction. Chaired by Professor David Mosey (Director of the Centre of Construction Law) and Nicholas Gould of Fenwick Elliott, the conference included speakers from the UK, Russia and the Netherlands, and emphasised the potential far-reaching effects of BIM (Building Information Modelling) and offsite manufacture on the construction industry.

Competitiveness and the future of Construction

Professor Roger Flanagan (from the School of Construction Management and Engineering at the University of Reading) looked at the challenges to the future competitiveness of the construction industry and outlined a number of trends which are shaping the market, including thriving bureaucracy, digitalisation and the convergence of companies, disciplines and information. It was suggested that companies should recognise and focus on the gaps between design and production, with more systemised approaches towards integrated project delivery.

Modular Alliances

Stuart D’Henin from the Crown Commercial Service (“CCS”) explained how they are progressing modular procurement through integrated alliances.

Customer feedback had shown that modular buildings were seen to be not practicable due to concerns around the lack of standardisation across manufacturers. To address these concerns, the CCS created an ‘integrated supplier alliance’ under which 17 modular building manufacturers and 32 professional service consultants worked together to support one workshop. The FAC-1 Framework Alliance Contract was used, which encourages shared success factors such as innovation, collaboration and standardisation via contractual mechanisms. 

The Legal Implications of Smart Contracts, AI and Digital Technology

May Winfield, legal specialist for BIM and related technologies, highlighted some common legal issues and risks that can arise in the context of digital technology. Terminology, acronyms and jargon not being well understood or defined in the contract, and human input error in relation to smart contracts were two of the main ones. 

Procurement Models and Contracts for Modern Methods of Construction

Trowers & Hamlins’ Katie Saunders focused on why we may need to procure and contract differently when using modern methods of construction (“MMC”). In particular, relationships with manufacturers and the role of designers will be different; there is likely to be early supplier involvement before standard product designs are adapted, so collaboration is crucial.

Ms Saunders provided some food for thought in relation to different contract options. The FAC-1 is a strategic contract, focused on supply chain collaboration, which is intended to link projects and clients together to build volume. The PPC2000, TAC-1, NEC and JCT contracts are project contracts which bring designers, suppliers and contractors together early.

" construction companies need to establish what makes them “meaningfully different” in order to stay competitive, and developing systemised approaches to bridge the gaps between design and production can go a long way to improving productivity "

Modern Methods of Construction

Kevin Masters of Bryden Wood explained that MMC is about the delivery of specific and targeted outcomes such as improving the cost effectiveness, productivity and timeliness of infrastructure delivery by using platforms to bridge the gap between manufacturing and construction. Many of these platform systems manifest themselves as a ‘kit-of-parts’ of pre-engineered components, assemblies and products that go together in pre-defined ways. Essentially, they are platforms that follow rules, and this lends itself well to digital assembly.

Intelligent Mobility

Catherine Phillips of Heathrow’s Innovation and Automation team provided some insight into the ways in which technology has been used at the airport to improve passenger and colleague mobility. Examples included exoskeletons, passenger-facing robots and autonomous vehicles. 

Digital Twins and the Built Environment

Simon Evans (from the Centre for Digital Built Britain’s National Digital Twin programme) discussed the potential benefits of having every system in the built environment integrated into one space; essentially an “ecosystem of connected digital twins”. Water, waste and other systems often work in isolation, but if they were to share data, this could provide a national resource for improving the performance, service and value delivered by the UK’s infrastructure.

The Dutch approach to BIM

Dr Evelien Bruggeman, Director of the Dutch Institute of Construction Law, offered some insights into the Dutch approach to BIM. 

There is diversity in the uses and demands for BIM in the Netherlands because there is no central BIM policy, and the lack of national standards makes the abundance of legal documents containing BIM agreements possible. As a result, the Dutch construction industry tends to “learn by doing” but this can and does give rise to problems.  

Innovative uses of BIM

Marina Romanovich (an Associate Professor of the Institute of Civil Engineering in Peter the Great Saint-Petersburg Polytechnic University) gave some examples of innovative ways in which BIM technology can be used, such as to visualise (using mixed reality technology) and monitor work progress.

Summary

The five key points I took from the day were:

  1. construction companies need to establish what makes them “meaningfully different” in order to stay competitive, and developing systemised approaches to bridge the gaps between design and production can go a long way to improving productivity;
  2. parties may need to procure and contract differently when using modern methods of construction – the FAC-1 contract is one option;
  3. modular construction lends itself well to digital assembly from a library of components and this has the potential to offer cost savings;
  4. digital twin users should not ignore the incremental value that can be realised at every stage of the project; and
  5. there are many different and innovative ways in which BIM technology can be used.

By Catherine Simpson, Trainee Solicitor, Fenwick Elliott 

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