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10 ways to digitise the construction sector | No 3 BIM for soft landings

In the third of a series of articles about 10 technology research programmes that have been awarded funding by Innovate UK, NCE looks at a project to integrate future operation and maintenance of buildings into BIM

It’s widely acknowledged that buildings in operation do not perform as well as they could – a problem which is made worse by the complete disconnect which often exists between the construction phase and the operation phase of most commercial and public developments.  

The Cabinet Office signalled its intent to improve outcomes for public built assets when it announced that its Soft Landing policy would be mandatory alongside building information modelling (BIM) by 2016.  But soft landings are also now being championed by Innovate UK, the public body sponsored by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS).

SFG20 compliant town

It is supporting a research project by Welplan, a subsidiary of the Building and Engineering Services Association (B&ES), to create a reciprocal and automatic transfer of data between the construction and operation and maintenance phases of buildings.   

As reported previously in NCE, the project is one of 10 research programmes to be awarded £5.6M of funding by Innovate UK to speed up the digitisation of the construction industry and to develop technical expertise that can be exported for the benefit of UK plc.

Welplan marketing and communications manager Kirsty Cogan explains how the project will aim to incorporate B&ES’s industry standard for planned maintenance, SFG20, into future BIM models so that design decisions are informed by future operational and maintenance costs.

“SFG20 was developed by our parent organisation, the B&ES, back in 1990,” says Cogan. “It used to be a paper-based standard and now it’s an online service where subscribers can log in and they get access to about 400 different maintenance schedules that cover about 66 types of equipment.”

Working with Northumbria University, Welplan now wants to create a two-way interface so that all of B&ES’s maintenance data can feed into the BIM model for the design phase of a building project.   

“Essentially what we want to do is help the design phase of a building to really get to grips with how much the ongoing maintenance of that building is going to cost,” says Cogan. “It’s often very easy to level down on a specification for the heating or ventilation system on a project. While at the time that might seem like a good decision, it can massively increase the costs over the lifecycle of the building.”

The research project will also benefit from input from some important names in facilities management and maintenance. Cogan reveals that consultant Faithful & Gould, y which is using SFG20 to overhaul the maintenance at Heathrow Airport, is also helping Welplan with its research.

Ultimately, Welplan’s aim, and Innovate UK’s hope, is to export a subscription-based service.

“Most other countries, with exception of Australia and America, don’t have a comparable standard [to SFG20] and even with the ones that exist in Australia and America, there’s not a universally accepted standard,” says Cogan.

“In terms of internationalisation, we can either just give a completely customisable version that people can upload their own standard into, or we could emphasise that the UK standard is one of the best in the world, so if people want to work at the peak, then they should use that.”

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