Sir John Egan made several remarks based on the findings of his original report in 1998 and the progress of the construction industry in the 10 years since in his 2008 address. The purpose of this essay is to look at some of the main points raised by Egan in his 2008 address and evaluate their relevance with regard to the structure and practices of the modern UK construction industry.
Egan made the suggestion that “you design the whole project on a computer versus a target that you are trying to achieve” (Egan, 2008). In stating this Egan was referring to his past experience in the car industry where new vehicles are designed on computer long before and tooling takes place for manufacture. His suggestion of applying this principle to the construction industry is in the main a valid hypothesis and has in many ways been acted upon to a certain degree.
The use of Building Information Modelling as a project management tool is already being implemented in many areas of construction and will continue to grow in the UK as the “government will require fully collaborative 3D BIM (with all project and asset information, documentation and data being electronic) as a minimum by 2016.” (Cabinet Office, 2011)
This enables full costing and process information to be predicted and calculated long before any construction work takes place on the project, which satisfies the requirement Egan placed on the industry for pre-planning the production processes as well as helping to reduce the supply chain costs by providing accurate information to tender against as opposed to the lowest cost tendering that was based on an idea rather than a design.
Egan (2008) suggests that the government are not trying to be a good client as they have been wasting resources by using lowest cost tendering. (Finch, 2011) says that “since preparation costs are included in their [tendering company’s] overheads, these will ultimately be passed on, in the form of higher prices.”.
It seems that since Egan’s last address the government are finally taking on some of his suggestions through the required use of BIM.
Feedback has long since been a problem for the construction industry as a whole and project tenders, historically, can only really be made through previous experience. “Site managers should report on the technical and financial progress of their projects so that the estimator can learn from the companies experience on site.” (Brook, 2004). BIM goes a long way to removing the problems associated with a lack of information being given back as procedures are put in place to ensure that the overall model of the building project is kept up to date throughout with current costs and progress.
BIM does a lot more than cover just one of the points Egan suggests needs addressing as it brings together the many disparate trades within the construction industry, such as the managers, architects, and engineers. In many cases it has been much more logical for the construction company to take over all of these responsibilities as opposed to the client taking responsibility for some and the construction company for others and separate third parties being involved at all different stages.
Standardisation within the construction industry is severely lacking. “I also think that the industry has no basic designs yet.” (Egan, 2008). With the introduction of BIM there will be more drive towards standard designs as it will become very straight forward to sell a previous project to a new client with the ability to show the full design in 3D.
Even though standard designs may not necessarily be fully viable with BIM, the use of standard build components will become much more common place due to the speed improvements in the design process of using standard components. For example, it may be possible to use the same pre-fab internal walls with all services already fitted for buildings of very different designs.
However, not only will standard designs become more available, all construction will be much more standards compliant with respect to design, engineering, and build. This is because standards, such as the Eurocodes, can be programmatically adhered to and compliance issues raised at the design time.
At this point it actually looks to all intents and purposes that Building Information Modelling is the silver bullet to address all of Egan’s criticisms of the construction industry. Unfortunately, this is not the case; whilst BIM does, indeed, address many of the problems that the construction industry has created for itself if brings with it many of its own issues.
One of the most prevalent problems is “the need to ‘unlearn’ much of the existing workforce approach and unravel the tightly knitted web of such comments as: ‘BIM? How much will it cost me?’, ‘Well, we’ve always done it that way’ and ‘If there was a better way of doing it, we would have found it by now’.” (Philp, 2012). In the very traditional and fragmented building industry, new technologies are not easily introduced.
Changing the human nature of many construction workers is nothing short of a very large task and enabling the uptake of BIM requires that each of these rebuttals is addressed. This will only come with time; as BIM begins to prove itself on projects throughout the UK, more and more companies will see the benefits and invest the time and money, not only in the BIM packages, but also the education that is clearly needed for the workforce.
Is the UK currently in a position to be investing all this time and money into new ideas and systems given that the country has dipped back into the second recession in recent history? The government certainly thinks that BIM is the way to go and appears to finally be taking Egan’s report very seriously with massive investment in these times of economic uncertainty.
But the shortcomings of BIM are not only the stubbornness of the industry’s workforce. It is not suited to all projects (certainly not in the guise of full, 3D BMI). The idea of a small building company implementing BMI for use in adding a ground floor extension to a private dwelling seems counter-intuitive. The amount the company would have to invest in training, software, and hardware, without even looking at investing in the skills of in-house designers is extremely cost prohibitive for such a project.
It seems that Egan was more intent on concentrating on the larger corporations within the construction industry, rather than looking at the whole picture where SMEs make up much of the market. That said as BIM systems become more available and larger companies invest in the development of the required tools, there will be a new market available for those that can offer these services to smaller construction companies. Large corporations may even allow the use of their own expertise within their own supply chain.
Another criticism of BIM is that whilst the full development of a new project can be created from design right through all the processes and even be used for building management the initial time of the design using these methods are likely to be increased for each project. The 3D design may allow for far superior savings further down the line in the lifecycle of the project, but take longer to create than their 2D counterpart.
As already stated, standard designs would make this aspect of the industry much more competitive, but it is extremely unlikely that the client of a construction project will want a standard design. Whilst it may be normal for houses on a building project to have similar designs (usually there are 3 or 4 house designs for a full estate), most commercial use properties require bespoke designs to enable them to be fully utilised. This requires the design to be tailored to the clients exacting requirements, i.e., a bank will not necessarily want the same building design as a warehouse!
The process of tendering for business does not get any easier for SMEs either when using BIM. As the client will not already have their designs drawn up, they are likely to pass any repeat custom to contractors that they are already familiar with which will reduce the impact of the initial design costs that are required for lowest cost tendering. Unfortunately, this process is likely to reduce the opportunities available for gaining new business with larger projects and may also limit the creativity available for new designs.
In conclusion it can be seen that Egan’s report and follow up response ten years later have had a major impact on the way that the construction industry is being run. In particular, major changes in the UK government’s construction strategy ratify some of the points that Egan worked so hard to get across.
The use of BIM within the construction industry is soon to become widespread as adoption will be forced by the government strategy. “The Government mandate will help drive adoption; however, this ‘pull’ is being equally met by an industry ‘push’” (Philp, 2012).
As the speed of uptake increase throughout the industry we should start seeing far reaching improvements in project design and fulfilment as the whole construction project is designed on a computer using the targets that are set by a new breed of ‘good client’ who will now make use of much more standard designs.
Brook, M., 2004. Estimating and Tendering for Construction Work. 3rd ed. Oxford: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann.
Cabinet Office, 2011. Government Construction Strategy. [Online] Available at: www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/sites/default/files/resources/Government-Construction-Strategy.pdf [Accessed 15 May 2012].
Egan, S. J., 2008. Egan: I’d give construction about. [Online] Available at: http://www.bre.co.uk/filelibrary/pdf/clip/sirjohnegan21-05-08.pdf [Accessed 15 May 2012].
Finch, R., 2011. NBS Guide to Tendering: for construction projects. 1st ed.Newcastle upon Tyne: NBS Publications.
Joint Research Centre, 2012. Eurocodes: Building the future. [Online] Available at: http://eurocodes.jrc.ec.europa.eu/home.php[Accessed 15 May 2012].
Philp, D., 2012. Cabinet Office, BIM and the UK Construction Strategy. [Online] Available at: http://www.thenbs.com/topics/bim/articles/bimAndTheUKConstructionStrategy.asp [Accessed 15 May 2012].