Though most media coverage of High Speed 2 (HS2) has emphasized either project cost (currently weighing in at an estimated £72 billion to £98 billion) or timeline (completion is expected in 2040), Britain’s new high-speed railway project is breaking new ground in the construction of complex projects.
Designed to revolutionize Britain’s transport network, this massive infrastructure project has also become an unprecedented proving ground for innovative building techniques. The driving force behind that innovation is a government initiative previously viewed as controversial—a mandate requiring that contractors obtain Building Information Modelling (BIM) level 2 or higher certification in order to qualify for participation in state-funded projects.
While there is some validity to the argument that this excludes smaller contractors, it’s also true that the use of BIM systems and related digital tools is the way of the future. The U.K. banked on their 2011 Digital Built Britain initiative (and a future-focused strategic construction plan) to gain an innovative edge—and is now leading the way in adoption of technologies designed for use in the architecture, engineering and construction of large-scale infrastructure.
The reasoning behind the U.K.’s BIM mandate was simple: adoption of digital tools unlocks efficiencies which streamline communication, break down information silos, promote transparency, encourage cooperation and improve efficiency—all of which support project success and speed modernization efforts.
The policy gamble has proven sound, as the past few years have shown the use of BIM systems and software unlocks opportunities for collaboration, supporting valuable breakthroughs and improvements. Guaranteeing that all contractors involved have obtained a certain level of technical proficiency also ensures that they can effectively weigh in on decisions throughout the project lifecycle, eliminating excess change orders or adjustments to schedule. Joint efforts are also encouraged, as generative design and construction technologies offer architects, designers, engineers and construction professionals the opportunity to collaborate and innovate in new and exciting ways.
HS2 has been excellent proof of concept. From the use of 3D “printfrastructure” to the invention of zero-trim piling, HS2’s many Joint Venture teams have effectively demonstrated why streamlined data-sharing and collaborative design are the way of the future—and key to modernization of large-scale projects. And, though BIM has definitely proven its usefulness, the rise of cutting-edge, AI-driven tools for iterative design, generative construction and construction optioneering are taking digitization of complex infrastructure projects to a whole new level.
Though Britain was the first to require BIM certification, similar mandates are already in place (or well underway) in most European and Asian countries (excluding China), as well as a handful of countries in South America.
The U.K. has already announced new mandated requirements, effective in 2025. During the next phase of the strategy, contractors and service providers will need to upgrade from BIM level 2 to BIM level 3—a level which requires that all workers use a BIM app where they can view general project information, as well as tasks assigned for completion. BIM level 3 certification will be required for all contractors serving on publicly funded projects within the U.K.
If you are a contractor, general contractor or developer not currently BIM-certified, you should strongly consider making the commitment. Though use of BIM is only currently mandatory for some federal projects in the United States, regulations vary from state to state—and from city to city—with an increasing number of local municipalities requiring its use.
The writing is on the wall; considering whether use of generative construction tools and technologies might be the next step for screening contractors is simply a proactive line of thought. Digital adoption is driving industry innovation and shaping global construction policy. Contractors and service providers who are serious about bidding on large-scale infrastructure projects should take note.
Don’t sell yourself short of the most lucrative projects. Familiarize your team with today’s tools and technologies to remain competitive—or risk falling behind.
Read the article as published on Forbes here.