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This is how the French are adopting BIM [Interview]

The way we build, regulate, standardize and organize construction varies widely between countries. However, there’s one construction trend that seems to be present everywhere: the accelerated adoption of BIM. 

Previously, we've had a look at BIM developments in the Netherlands, the U.S. and the U.K. Now, it’s time to zoom in one of the world’s leading construction industries: France. Marc de Fleury, sales director of Trimble MEP in France, gives an insight into the country’s quickly digitizing industry.  

Could you describe the BIM developments in the French construction industry? 

It all started 5 years ago when many companies started with BIM. Over the last year, we have seen a big acceleration in the adoption of BIM across disciplines. Architects, design offices, contractors and manufacturers are all becoming part of the BIM chain. Moreover, the “big three” of the French construction industry, Vinci, Bouygues and Eiffage, have raised the bar and demand that their partners also work with BIM. These firms have played a big part in advancing the BIM adoption in France. 

What is the French government’s approach to BIM? 

In France, the adoption of BIM is not mandatory. There is no law or regulation for BIM. However, it is very much encouraged by the government, especially for large public projects. In 2017, a BIM standardization roadmap was released to take a leadership position in Europe with regards to the implementation of digital processes in construction. With this document, the government has recognized the need for standardization, which is an important aspect when it comes to collaboration in BIM processes. At the end of 2018, the Plan BIM 2022 was launched to motivate construction stakeholders to introduce BIM into their daily work.

What are the benefits French MEP firms are getting from BIM?

For large companies, BIM is simply necessary to participate in large projects and organize their projects efficiently and minimize costs. Interestingly, the way of working has also gained considerable interest among small companies. Smaller-sized firms are willingly adopting the BIM philosophy and process to increase their share of the market. For them, BIM is a way to be able to participate in interesting and big projects and increase their efficiency. Companies like these have almost too much work today, which means that employees need to be hired and trained to work as efficiently as possible in the BIM process.  


BIM-project for Paris-Sorbonne University by M.S.E. Ingenierie


What challenges are there when it comes to BIM in France?

The main challenge is that since BIM is not mandatory, not everyone is working with BIM. Major construction companies demand their partners to work with BIM, which means that the collaborating design offices need to either adopt BIM or find another way of working. 

The other issue is that because everyone started using BIM around the same time, the use of BIM has been quite disorganized from the start. Everyone is using different pieces of software and formats. The challenge now is to find the best ways for architects to exchange data with design offices during the different construction phases. For example, also in the execution phase information needs to be exchanged with installers, manufacturers and maintenance companies. This means that construction firms need to find a way to collaborate across the project stages effectively. 


How can MEP firms overcome these challenges?

In order to use BIM efficiently across project stages and with different disciplines, MEP firms need to look for workflow solutions for the complete building lifecycle. This can be finding tools that bring different software solutions together, such as Trimble Connect, using VDC services and using tools to bring the model from the office to the field and bring the data back from the field to the office. By using the same constructible content across the lifecycle, firms can collaborate successfully with BIM.


Are there any misconceptions about BIM? 

It can be hard to fully understand BIM, and the misconception exists that BIM is just about 3D models. Of course, 3D models are very useful to look at a project and see if there are any clashes for example. But I would say the most important aspect of BIM is the technical data (the “I” of BIM = Information) that is contained by the objects and in a project. This data allows you to build your model into reality and avoid issues during actual construction. 

Another misconception exists around point clouds. Sometimes people think they can scan a room and generate a 3D model at the push of a button. Although there are tools and workflows available that make the process as easy as possible, someone still needs to design and register the data. BIM is a way of working, but the work still needs to be done. Technology doesn’t replace the work of humans completely - and that’s probably a good thing. 


Learn more about 3D laser scanning in our free guide “3D Scanning Myths: Debunked.”


Which BIM trends do you see emerging right now? 

One of the trends coming up in France right now is the use of Total Stations. These robotic tools help contractors to bring their BIM projects out of the office and into the field. Total Stations are gaining popularity because they allow contractors to install systems quicker with fewer errors. Another great thing is that they are compatible with different software applications, so both structural and MEP engineers can use them for layout work. 

Another big trend is the rising interest of French building product manufacturers. Increasingly, French manufacturers do not just see BIM content as 3D objects but see the value of enriching their content with all the right technical information. This way, their content can be integrated into BIM-projects in the early stage and their products can be installed and maintained later on. 


What can others learn from French MEP contractors when it comes to BIM?

That adopting a BIM process can be a strategic move to not only gain efficiency but also to increase market share. An example is the design office MSE - Mister Thierry Sac-Epée, which is one of the pioneers in France when it comes to BIM. He realized very early on that adopting the BIM process could greatly improve his workflow with more efficiency, and that he could have a better return on investment (ROI). More recently he also decided to invest in a Trimble Scanner to manage point clouds in his projects. Betting on a constructible BIM process allowed him to remain competitive compared to other very large companies. 


Any final tips for starting with BIM? 

Look for a partner that supports you in implementing the different steps of the BIM process. When it comes to BIM, there is no “one size fits all” solution, so partner up with an industry expert who can give you personalized advice and offers a wide range of solutions that can be adapted to your needs.  


Would you like to learn more about BIM? Check out our newest phrasebook with all the terms you need to know: The BIM Phrasebook Volume 2.


About the Author

Anne-Mieke Dekker is a content marketer at Stabiplan B.V., a Trimble company offering BIM solutions for the MEP industry. Her aim is to provide MEP engineers with the right information to optimize their BIM workflow and ultimately realize better building installations.

Profile Photo of Anne-Mieke Dekker