As in other countries, BIM in China has had a far-reaching impact in architecture, engineering, construction and facility management. BIM has also been used in the design and construction phase in infrastructure such as municipal works, highways, railways and metro works.

Why is BIM so popular in China? First of all there are the national requirements for innovation and development.  The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development’s (MOHURD) 12th national Five-Year Plan declared that the key points of the national building industry development will be industrialization, informatization, urbanization and agricultural modernization with a role for BIM technology in each. Under this policy, regional governments at all levels have been laying the foundations for the implementation of BIM, and the China BIM Development Alliance and various similar organizations have been established in a short space of time.

The three largest QS firms in China have designed their programs to fit in with BIM; it is not replacing QS, but becoming part of it.  Both the government and private sector are undertaking many studies into BIM and QS, focusing on the planning, design, construction and FM stages, and the potential impact of BIM standards, rules and protocols etc.  

An increasing number of BIM conferences, seminars, and other activities have been held across China. In this atmosphere of innovation, various documents have been released to promote the use of BIM, especially in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. New national documents about BIM and its application such as a BIM standard, Protocol, Guidance Note and Practice Code are being studied in depth. Moreover, BIM technology will play an increasingly important role with the development of green buildings. In the past two years, a few typical projects have been selected to use BIM for facility management and it has also been applied in smart cities.

It is clearly a revolution in the sector; governments are implementing national programs in the hope of reaping major benefits, as well as individuals and organizations, with some aggressively moving forward and others waiting for greater clarity. However, some professionals and government leaders still debate on the what, why and how of BIM. It’s crucial to be clear on the current and future state of BIM because some of the key issues are yet to be solved.

 Creating clarity

Although BIM rules and regulations from national and regional governments outline the basic requirements for using BIM in the built environment sector, it is still not mandatory and only a few projects have employed BIM in their design, construction and FM.  BIM was introduced on a trial basis with the intention of identifying its technological benefits.   

What are the benefits of BIM? Some believe it is about saving costs, or optimizing the construction schedule, however it is not yet clear.  For designers, for example, the advantages are obvious. Having the necessary knowledge and skills provides a strong motivation to implement BIM. Because of the lack of clear and consistent definition of the model file, format and exchange protocols, however, some contributors cannot find the right way to overcome the obstacles for the further practice of BIM, especially moving towards 4D and 5D.

Software is still a barrier to the effective implementation of BIM. Two perspectives have been put forward by professionals: one is to insist on the international software such as Revit, Bentley and so on; another is to develop a more affordable native system. Some have suggested that we can use international software in current BIM practice but we must develop native systems in the future so as to lower the cost and meet local requirements.

Data storage, exchange and collaboration on the BIM model are the bottleneck in every period from design, QS, bidding, construction and FM. It is very important to ensure models created by different parties are interoperable.

When it comes to 4D and 5D BIM and the relationship with QS, every QS participant wants to set up the actual model but not a virtual one. However, it’s quite difficult. Can we get the exact bills of quantities (BQ) from an actual BIM model? How can we measure the BQ? In the current Chinese market, QS firms can provide a perfect 3D model for QS use based on CAD files. While using the BIM model, we can get the exact BQ from the architectural and structural drawings in geometry. But is this possible for mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers as well?

China has powerful demand for BIM but we need more specialists and experts to develop suitable guidelines and effective data exchange protocols, and native software to enhance its value.

Donald Pan is Second Director of Shenzhen Sogar Engineering Consultants Co. Ltd.

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