CostX: Fully Integrated 2D And 3D Estimating Software

Published by the Cabinet office on 31 May 2011, the UK Government Construction Strategy announced its intention to require collaborative 3D BIM on its projects by 2016. Essentially, the objective of the programme is to reduce capital cost and the carbon burden from the construction and operation of the built environment by 20%. BIM is central to this, with the idea being that it will unlock new, more efficient ways of working at all stages of the project life-cycle.

So with the UK mandate looming ever closer, has the UK market implemented BIM to a larger extent than Ireland? “Not as much as it may appear. There is a lot of information being made available in the UK and various standards being published, but it’s a high level approach with a lack of practical implementation advice,” says Simon Lovegrove, Product Solutions Director at Exactal. “Although large firms are investing heavily, at practitioner level a lot of people still aren’t on board yet. Still, the impetus is certainly growing. In Ireland we’ve seen more of a grass-roots movement and there are some firms using BIM at a very sophisticated level, driven by client demand on key projects. But it is not widespread and in the absence of a co-ordinated lead or direction, Ireland could fall further behind.”

Exactal develops estimating software for the construction industry and, more specifically, to integrate the estimating process with CAD drawing files. Their BIM & 2D estimating software, called CostX, allows the user to view and takeoff from 3D models / BIM and it also supports 5D BIM using information from the model live-linked to user-defined rate libraries and workbooks. The firm has a strong customer base in Ireland amongst QS firms and contractors. “A notable trait is their high level of intellectual curiosity and wanting to push the software to its limits. Some of our top worldwide CostX super-users are Irish and they are using CostX so effectively that one US client on a highly complex BIM project in Ireland contacted us and bought CostX as well!”

Demand for BIM software is on the up but it’s not a done deal, says Simon. “There’s general acceptance of the theoretical benefits of BIM but there is concern that it may not be as broadly applicable as its portrayed. A significant proportion of the industry particularly in the SME area is unconvinced that it is relevant to them. Also, QS’s and Estimators are canny people and they tend to be sceptical about anything that might be perceived as a fashion or fad. It’s human nature for people to ask the question ‘what’s in it for me?’ and until they get a good answer they won’t engage.”

Simon believes that the biggest stumbling block to BIM is training and education. “In Ireland, more knowledge is needed. The lack of a government or industry lead in terms of setting standards will also become more of an issue. In both Ireland and the UK, at practitioner level there tends to be a common perception that ‘BIM doesn’t really apply to me’ as it is seen as something that big firms do on big projects. This is probably a bigger issue in Ireland where there would be a higher proportion of smaller firms.” Simon believes the hardware, software and training costs are also seen as a major issue, together with a general fear of the unknown.

The BIM mandate has created an imperative, but the actual catalyst for change in the UK has been the successful initiatives in support of the mandate, especially the work of the BIM Task Group, says Simon. “The Irish market would benefit from a similar body or forum of key stakeholders to implement a whole-of-industry approach to BIM. On the other hand, the UK BIM environment is quite formalised and there is a lack of practical, day-to-day procedural advice which would assist SMEs in particular to better engage with BIM. This could be addressed in Ireland to achieve a better balance between theory and practice.”

A co-ordinated approach is key to successful industry wide implementation. “This would need to be guided by a government or industry body with defined terms of reference in areas such as education and training, codes and standards, object libraries and regulatory frameworks. Also a forum for participation by practitioners to share lessons learnt and publish case studies would be a huge help.”