The use of Building Information Modelling, or BIM, in the design and construction of Defence infrastructure is not only strongly encouraged at the present time, together with Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) methodology, it is due to be mandated for future contracts from 2016.

Nigel Pittaway | Melbourne
However BIM itself has not been as widely understood throughout industry in Australia as perhaps it should have, and there are significant misconceptions.

Speaking at ADM’s third annual Defence Support Services summit in September 2014 for example, Bentley Systems’ industry solutions director, government and defence, warned industry representatives that they must clearly understand what it was they wanted and what they needed to deliver, but that they also needed a clear understanding of what BIM is themselves.

“BIM is not a product,” he stressed. “It is a process supported by people and technology that all need to work together, it is a grouping of multiple systems.”

What is BIM? Building Information Modelling is a computer ‘model’ of a building or project, in which digital information regarding the physical and functional characteristics of a project are included.

It is therefore a ‘digital representation’ of the facility, which can be shared and can contain information which may be accessed and used not just during the construction phase, but also throughout the whole lifecycle of the structure.

It is used by the architects, the main contractor(s) and sub contractors and owner/operators alike to input information and has been described as providing the ability to build something twice – the first time virtually.

BIM is not a new concept however, being first used in the 1970s, albeit limited by the computing power available back then and the term itself can be traced back to the early part of the last decade.The official definition is, according to the National BIM Standard – United States (NBIMS-US),

“A digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. As such, it serves as a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility, forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life cycle from inception onward”.

Initially viewed as basically a 3D modelling tool, BIM is actually a great deal more, adding a fourth and fifth dimension (time and cost respectively) to the three primary spatial dimensions of height, width and depth.

Other information which may be critical to the future upkeep of the building, such as equipment part numbers, or the location of service access points, can also be stored and updated throughout the lifetime of the structure.

The ability to model a structure in detail before construction begins therefore dramatically reduces risk and it also has a major impact on wastage.

It has the potential to provide further opportunities to pre-fabricate sub-assemblies offsite and wastage minimised by reducing stockpiles of materials.

Across some areas of the construction industry, BIM has been credited with delivering savings of up to 10 per cent during the construction phase of a building and as much as 30 per cent in facilities management.

Defence and BIM

A report into the industry-wide adoption of BIM in Australia at the end of 2012 revealed that its uptake across local industry was falling significantly behind other developed nations.

Defence has however become the Commonwealth lead in the adoption of BIM techniques, due to the large number of Defence Estate construction projects in its portfolio.

“The concept of building something twice, once virtually, has the potential to provide great benefits,” Brigadier Darren Nauman, acting head of the Defence Support & Reform Group’s Infrastructure Division said back in 2013. “If you can find your mistakes when they are a design on the computer it’s a great idea.

Being the Commonwealth lead has meant that Defence has the opportunity to engage with local contractors and subcontractors to drive the efficiencies realised by BIM across the industry.

“If you can find your mistakes when they are a design on the computer it’s a great idea.”


“What we have to do is work out how we as an industry can come together and get some agreement on how we see this going forward. We are willing to get in there and lead this push as a client, to bring industry along with us – to try and define what BIM can be for Australia,” BRIG Naumann noted in his address to the 2013 ADM Defence Support Services summit.

“With BIM we think there is a heck of a lot we as an industry can gain out of this and we are very keen to see it progress to a point where we are achieving some significant benefits.

Some recent (and ongoing) examples of where BIM has been used successfully by Defence include infrastructure for the Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance platform being acquired under project 7000 Phase 2B, the construction of sustainment facilities for the Canberra-class Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ships being acquired through project JP2048 and the large-scale Moorebank Units Relocation (MUR) program.


BIM in isolation is viewed as only part of the desired outcome. Another significant tool in the Defence toolbox is Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), which together with BIM is intended to assist in the making of well-informed whole-of-life decisions.

IPD is a collaborative model which requires all stakeholders, from the prime contractors through to the subcontractors and even the facility managers, to be involved in an infrastructure project from the outset.

The idea is that decisions made at the outset will cater for the whole life cycle on the facility, not just the construction phase.

Although the IPD process may mean a slower momentum than is the case today at the beginning of a project, the decisions taken are intended to realise a quicker construction phase with significantly reduced wastage.

The Defence infrastructure suite of contract documents has now been amended to take both BIM and IPD into consideration.

Together, the two initiatives are designed to realise the efficiencies discussed, but Defence is reliant upon industry answering the call.

“We don’t BIM and IPD in isolation, we see them as complimentary and there’s a marriage required between them if we are to get the maximum out of both,” BRIG Naumann said in 2013. “With regard to IPD, decisions made early have the biggest impact on the outcomes of a project.”

Also speaking in 2013, DSRG’s Defence construction contract director Bob Baird said that if the strategies can achieve the 10 per cent saving identified across the broader sections of industry, the savings for the Australian taxpayer will be significant.

“Part of my job is to use Defence’s purchasing power to drive change in the industry,” he told a construction innovation forum. If I can actually bring BIM into contracts, a lot will be piggybacked on by the other Commonwealth agencies.”

Note: The fourth annual ADM Defence Support Services Summit was held in Canberra on September 22. ADM will be reporting on the event in due course.

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