Why the Netherlands is a perfect breeding ground for BIM
Digitalisation is changing the world in construction in many ways. Building Information Modelling (BIM), for instance, plays a large role in that development and is ever on the rise, as we have seen before in results from European Architectural Barometer reports focusing on digitalisation.
BIM in Europe
Vast differences in levels of BIM usage between countries in Europe can be seen, however, and we have argued before that government influence partly explains those differences. In countries where government legislation makes BIM mandatory for public construction projects, the usage of BIM went up, whereas in countries where this was not the case such a rise could not be seen. In that sense, for companies involved in large public construction projects, BIM has become a license to operate in certain countries, but it stands to reason that this top-down influence is not the only explanation for the differences in BIM usage.
For quite some years we have monitored BIM usage among architects. As the traditionally omni-present influencers in the construction process, and as the obvious frontline of users of digitalisation in construction, architects are excellent indicators of developments in BIM usage. Given the current levels of BIM penetration, however, it becomes increasingly interesting and valuable to see how other parties experience these developments, especially major players in the construction process like contractors.
Since data on contractors’ experiences with digitalisation, and especially their usage of BIM, was rather limited, we focused on digital construction in the H1 2019 Contractor Monitor to see how contractors’ usage of BIM matches the architects’, and what explanations can be found for differences between European countries aside from the top-down explanation for BIM usage.
As is apparent in the picture, on a European level, only 12% of the contractors use BIM, and a vast majority of 62% contractors are not even aware of BIM. These averages are majorly influenced by some countries, as vast differences are seen between countries. In Italy, for instance, BIM awareness is even lower and BIM usage almost non-existent. Similarly, in Germany and Poland, BIM awareness and usage is relatively low compared to the European average.
In Belgium, Spain and France, BIM usage among contractors is also still quite low, but awareness of BIM already a bit higher. This is in line with results from our Architectural Barometer results, in which we have seen a rapid growth of BIM awareness among architects in countries where governments made BIM mandatory for public construction projects. Belgium, Spain and France are examples of such countries where BIM has become a license to operate in public construction projects.
Difference in size
Differences are also seen between differently-sized companies. In Belgium, Spain and France BIM usage among mid-size contractor companies is almost non-existent, whereas between 11 and 16 percent of the larger contractors are already using BIM. The same difference can be seen in the UK, the country with second-highest BIM usage and awareness in Europe. There, about one in four of the larger contractor companies are already working with BIM, whereas only one in twenty of the mid-size companies report to do so. Also, the percentage of contractor companies that are aware of BIM is twice as high for the larger companies in the UK. Again these differences can be explained by government legislation. Public construction projects are usually large-scale projects that involve the larger contractor companies. If a government demands the usage of BIM for public construction projects, it stands to reason that both usage and awareness of BIM among the larger contractors is higher as well.
And then there is the Netherlands, the country with the highest usage and awareness of BIM among contractors in Europe. A staggering 42% of the contractors report to be using BIM. Usage among both the mid-size and larger companies is two to three times higher than in the UK. Almost all larger, and well over half of the mid-size contractor companies in the Netherlands are aware of BIM. These high figures provide an opportunity to explore other reasons why BIM usage is so high.
Government legislation plays a role in the Netherlands similar to other countries discussed before, but other correlations can be found as well. For instance, the level of digitalisation is generally quite high in the Netherlands. Also, results from our Architectural Barometer show that a relatively high percentage of Dutch architects are using BIM. It stands to reason that the more architects use BIM, the more contractors are confronted with BIM, which increases awareness and eventually usage.
Other factors seem to be at play as well, however. Labour shortage in the construction sector is quite high in the Netherlands, resulting in higher labour costs and consequently higher project costs. This increases the demand to reduce labour costs by building more efficiently. One way to reduce the amount of labour needed at the construction site is by using prefabricated elements. Indeed the use of Prefab is quite high in the Netherlands, not just in government-controlled public projects or large non-residential projects, but also in residential projects, especially when a large amount of similar houses are being constructed. To apply prefab elements efficiently, BIM is incredibly useful, almost a must. So factors like government legislation and high levels of digitalisation, but also pressing labour shortages and more usage of prefab make the Netherlands a perfect breeding ground for Building Information Modelling.
BIM in the future
Since labour shortages are growing in a lot of European countries, and prefab is on the rise as well, BIM awareness and usage will keep growing in the future, especially in countries where government legislation has given BIM an initial spurt. The reason why we follow these developments closely is because increased BIM usage among parties other than architects, like contractors for instance, affects the roles and influence of these parties in the entire construction process. For instance, BIM allows contractors influence at an earlier stage of the construction process, at the design stage in which the architects were traditionally the main decision makers. For brands and manufacturers that were previously targeting architects because of their influence at that stage, contractors might be a lucrative new target group in countries where BIM is used more. To do this effectively, data on BIM usage and its developments is invaluable.
For more detailed information about the usage and attitude towards BIM and other forms of digitalisation among contractors in eight different European countries we refer you to the H1 2019 Contractor Monitor.
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