BIM People – Mark McKane, Ulster University


Mark McKane Graduated from Leeds Polytechnic with a degree in Quantity Surveying. Mark’s career started with a placement within Poole Dick Associates in Manchester, followed by a couple of years in Leeds as a graduate surveyor with Norwest Holst Civil Engineering. He then moved back to Northern Ireland (NI) to work for Graham Construction in their civil engineering division for 6 years before joining MacKenzie Partnership in Belfast as a Client’s Project Manager. He moved into Higher Education in 2004, initially with the Northern Regional College and latterly within Ulster University. talked to Mark about his work at Ulster University and the Northern Ireland BIM Region.

Please tell us about your work in BIM at Ulster University?

In 2010, a colleague’s throw away comment about ‘why are you still teaching measurement when BIM can do all that’ made me think – ‘what’s that then? I’d better check this out.’ I was interested in the information and how it’s derived, how accurate it was, how would this affect variation between tender and final account, programme and quality and the management of stakeholders, how does a client specify what they want / need from the supply chain and the like.

My initial interest was in developing modules suitable for the Quantity Surveying (QS) students, but as my involvement with the Regional BIM Hub developed and I delivered some successful BIM related CPD programmes to industry, other course teams approached me to help them to deliver relevant BIM material on their programmes too. I’ve worked with the other teams to adapt my CAD and BIM modules to meet their vocational needs and we think we’ve created something quite special for our 1st years as a result. I’m officially module coordinator for these 1st year modules, but we are all just enjoying the opportunity to work collaboratively across the school and designing assignments that reflect the team-based nature of the construction industry and we are all learning something from one another as a result.

Can you tell us about Ulster University’s BIM courses and modules?

In 2012, we designed a 2-day Professional Development (PD) programme called ‘BIM – The Future of Project Information’ which I delivered in partnership with Prof Andrew Thomas on a number of occasions to over 120 delegates.

In 2014, a colleague and I developed another 2-day PD programme entitled ‘BIM – Supply Chain Capability’, with day 1 seminar based and day 2 being computer lab-based to experience a range of BIM authoring and analysis tools.

These are offered to industry from time to time when our timetables and workload permit.

We’d developed an introductory module for the 1st year of our undergraduate QS programme, which was lab-based and included some CAD drafting and 3D modelling with quantity take-off / estimating outputs. Last year this was developed into a lecture and lab-based module, which has been adopted by Architectural Technology & Management (ATM), Energy, Architectural Engineering, Construction Engineering & Management and QS programmes providing the ideal opportunity to design an integrated collaborative project team assignment, where students play out the role they’d be expected to contribute in a BIM-enabled integrated project team. The deliverables for each vocational programme are agreed by the respective teaching staff, and a multi-disciplinary approach is taken to the delivery of tutorials to support the integrated project team scenario.

We’ve also developed a postgraduate BIM module as part of the MSc in Commercial Management in Construction programme but also offer to deliver it as a stand-alone module within the University’s Post Graduate Diploma in Continuing Professional Development / Occasional Studies programmes to maximise flexibility. This module provides a taster of a variety of BIM software applications within lab-based demonstrations and try-it-yourself sessions plus lectures. It’s aimed to be a general overview so that students from a variety of vocational backgrounds can appreciate the big picture and then seek additional vocationally specific training to fully implement BIM within their organisations.

Can you tell us about BIM research projects at Ulster University?

There are a number of colleagues who have been prolific publishers of BIM related research papers over the last 5 or 6 years. I’ve been collaborating with most of them with publications in the RICS COBRA Conference in Sydney, Australia in July 2015 and a number of articles in the CitA BIM Gathering in November 2015 amongst others. The research has focused on dissemination of our experiences:

  1. Designing our BIM related modules through stakeholder engagement.
  2. Delivering our collaborative projects using Common Data Environments (CDE) of different kinds and the respective student experiences.
  3. Our experiences and lessons learned from participating in the BIM Regions NI team on the Asite Build Newcastle Live 48hr challenge in 2015.
  4. Lessons learned from scanning and modelling existing buildings.

Please tell us about BelMcraft and how it was developed?

As NI BIM Champion I’ve been contacted many times by individuals wishing to be involved in supporting BIM adoption. It was through one of these contacts that the idea developed.

Timothy Hegarty forwarded to me a link to a Minecraft based education programme that was running in his local area and suggested that we should adopt a similar approach to attract new talent into the university courses. I consulted David Comiskey, a colleague I’ve been working with, who thought there could be some potential. We then brainstormed; it would be good if we could get it to do x and y and z…’ and it developed from there. So we applied for some ‘proof of principle’ funding to develop a prototype to use as a demo of the potential, which was ready at the end of April.

Dale Sinclair included a slide in his keynote address on future trends and BIM in the BIM Level 3 conference in Manchester on 29 June. We presented the concept of the game and it’s supporting material, competitions and the like to NI industry representatives at Ulster University in early July. David, Timothy and I have been overwhelmed by the positive feedback we’re receiving from children who’ve tried it and industry representatives who see the potential it has to attract new talent into construction. We hope to have a developed version ready for roll out to school by February 2017.

What are your recommendations to students and young professionals interested in developing their BIM knowledge and skills?

Well, it’s horses for courses. Too many institutions think that BIM is Revit – it’s not!! BIM affects every discipline in a different way. To borrow a phrase from Donkey (Shrek), BIM is like an onion, you peel one layer and then find there’s another and another and another. It’s going to affect everything and everyone within the built environment, so ‘resistance is futile’. To understand BIM you need to start with the big picture, then identify where you can fit in and add value to the process within your vocation and how you can interoperate with the other team members.

There’s a number of very good books worth a read on the principles of BIM and most undergraduate programmes now contain some elements of BIM, either the principles or some software applications or a combination depending on the relevance and resources deemed appropriate. Use this as a foundation for continuing professional development and you have the opportunity now to select your employers, as demand for graduates is currently exceeding supply. Aim to work for a progressive employer who is actively embedding BIM into their workflows and seeking to develop supply chain partnerships for BIM-enabled projects and who is willing to invest in you to help them take advantage of the possibilities that BIM can provide.

Please tell us about the Northern Ireland BIM Region and the work it has done?

BIM Regions – Northern Ireland has about 22 members. No more than 16 members are invited to any one meeting on a rotating basis but include representatives from designers, contractors, suppliers, and educators. I’m currently NI BIM Champion and the group is co-chaired by Melanie Dawson (Graham Construction). Our activities have included:

  • Organising knowledge dissemination events sponsored by various stakeholders and attended by up to 300 delegates – some of the biggest BIM Regions events in the UK (e.g. Titanic building, BIM Hub launch in 2014).
  • Organising smaller themed events on BIM Technology Showcase and Common Data Environment events.
  • Regular meetings with industry stakeholders on the development of departmental policy and training needs / provision.
  • Establishment of special interest groups. The most active groupings being BIM4Contractors (NI), BIM4MEP (NI), BIM4Clients (NI), BIM4Off-site (NI), BIM4Educator (NI), BIM4Civils+Structures (NI). The Royal Society of Ulster Architects (RSUA) have also established a BIM Working Group, which is chaired by a steering group member.
  • Round table discussions with industry stakeholders on future strategies.
  • Organising a BIM Conference for 25 November 2016 in Titanic, Belfast.

What have you planned for future Region meetings?

The next meeting will be in mid-October to fine-tune the arrangements for the big conference on 25 November. After that, we’ll be considering the strategic plans and definition of measurable targets for BIM adoption within the construction supply chain. It’ll be a top down and bottom up approach. Thereafter we’ll start to think more about Level 3 and beyond, but we feel there’s still a lot of legwork to do to fully embrace Level 2.

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Have companies in Northern Ireland successfully adopted BIM?

Yes, we’ve lots of great examples within the province. The latest NBS National BIM Survey suggests we’re the leading region within the UK for BIM adoption. Every company represented in the steering group and BIM4NI groups are taking great strides in harnessing BIM to deliver value to their clients.

Is there significant interest in BIM among small and medium size consultants and contractors in Northern Ireland?

Yes, the BIM4MEP (NI) group have many examples of their suppliers developing models of products required for BIM projects. Construction Industry Training Board NI (CITBNI) have asked me to deliver some BIM talks as part of their ‘Business Improvement’ programme, which has been well attended by a variety of smaller contractors and developers. Design practices tend to be smaller organisations in any case, but yes, there’s a breadth of organisations taking an interest.

Northern Ireland BIM Region:
Mark’s LinkedIn profile: 

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