The Arcadis Group has developed a clear company-wide building information modelling strategy and has found a new application for the technology in nuclear decommissioning. Ben Cronin reports.
In associaton with Arcadis
When Dutch firm Arcadis acquired Hyder Consulting in October last year, the two companies quickly realised that they needed to have a common building information modelling (BIM) strategy.
Arcadis European BIM business development manager Bram Mommers suggests the ink was barely dry on the deal before he got together with representatives from Hyder - and fellow Arcadis group companies EC Harris and RTKL - to form a European BIM group.
“One week after the acquisition we had our first phone call and right from the start we were collaborating,” says Mommers. “I was afraid that we would have differing opinions and we’d disagree about all kinds of academic stuff, but it hasn’t been a struggle at all and we have found a way to collaborate and make sure we have a common approach to BIM.”
Mommers says the company worked on translating the “very abstract” story about what BIM means for everybody - both for internal teams within the company and for clients further down the line - into something more concrete that could be applied to projects - the Arcadis BIM White Paper. Drawing on some of the definitions of BIM published in Pennsylvania State University’s widely referenced BIM study, the company set about publishing a list of 18 BIM uses to aid implementation.
“We refer to it as our BIM menu,” he says. “It defines the what of BIM. The how is defined in the Arcadis BIM White Paper. To extend the metaphor, our kitchen delivers these dishes using standards like BS1192.”If, for example, you laser scan a structure or building, that is defined as “capturing” on our menu and if we use that information to size the design, we are “sizing”. Those are two of the 18 BIM uses we might use in a project.”
Mommers says the firm is in the process of creating a BIM poster to communicate the 18 uses to its staff and is working on changing its marketing and HR messaging to aid the transition to BIM in the company. It has also set a target to have worked to BIM level 2 on projects right across Europe, transferring the UK mandate and sharing it with all of Arcadis’ global offices.
“We’re looking at securing information to pass onto the next generation. BIM really lends itself to doing that”
Jon Dolphin, Magnox
Hyder principal engineer and BIM manager Ben Harries says: “Like many companies in Europe and the UK, we have some people already at level 2 and we have others who are at level 1. Therefore for us, it’s more about sharing the knowledge rather than teaching from scratch and for that reason it’s more than achievable.”
Mommers adds that Arcadis also wants to have 25% of all projects at level 2 by the end of the year.
“That’s a huge ambition,” he says. “I’m not afraid that we can perform to level 2 BIM, but to deliver 25% of our projects that way is a real ambition.”
Further down the line, of course, there is BIM Level 3 to worry about.
But as the firm moves towards this, it is also finding new applications for BIM. A good example is the way it is “retrofitting” BIM into existing buildings and exploring a niche for the methodology in nuclear decommissioning.
Nuclear decommissioning project manager Jon Dolphin engaged Arcadis to apply BIM to help decommission redundant nuclear facilities and support their ongoing care and maintenance.
His company, Magnox, is responsible for 12 nuclear sites across the UK including Hunterston A in North Ayrshire pictured above. He recently wrote a paper about the potential for the technology in this respect.
“We could talk all day about nuclear generation and using BIM in the design, construction and operation of new build power stations. That’s where a lot of people’s interest will be,” he says. “But nuclear decommissioning is a £3bn part of the industry, which could also benefit from BIM.”
Dolphin thinks the information embedded into a BIM model could prove crucial as redundant nuclear power stations are prepared for a quiescent period for 60 to 70 years. This period is to allow radioactive material in reactor cores to decay before a new generation of engineers returns to dismantle them.
“One thing that this industry is very good at is storing lots of data as paper copies, or as electronic files. What we struggle with now, and definitely in the future, is being able to link that information to where it’s relevant,” he says.
“We’re looking at securing information to pass onto the next generation. BIM really lends itself to doing that and provides a nice neat portal to the information.”
“At the moment BIM is very object based and we want to turn it into an information based system”
Bram Mommers, Arcadis
He thinks this is particularly important given the amount of time that will elapse before the next generation returns to these sites. “I’ve placed myself in the shoes of the people who are going to be looking after these sites in the future. The last Magnox site is due to go into care and maintenance just prior to 2030, so within my working life I will see an asset care organisation come to fruition which will employ people that will have never worked on the nuclear sites they are looking after.”
Harries says this ties in with the government’s soft landings policy which aims to ensure that the transition from construction to operation is smooth.
“It’s very much trying to structure that information and bring people on board as they take over and say: ‘here’s the information, it’s all tied in neatly and co-ordinated accordingly and it’s where you think it would be.”
In the intervening period, Arcadis, like other consultancies, will have to get up to speed with the government’s mandate for BIM level 3.
So how does the firm think the use of the technology will evolve?
“At the moment BIM is very object based and we want to turn it into an information based system,” says Mommers.
“The UK government and the BIM task force have done a brilliant job with level 2 strategy; I think the whole of Europe can learn from it. Level 3 is more academic, I think, and will be about smart cities and semantic web technologies.”
As BIM moves towards this more information-rich template, Harries thinks the industry will have to be careful that it restricts the amount of data that is directly attached to BIM models.
“We need to be careful because you can hit ‘infobesity’ where there’s so much information but it’s useless because you can never find what you want,” he says. “It has to be about sitting down with clients and reviewing what information is and isn’t required to prevent that.”
To reduce clutter, Mommers suggests that BIM models could contain web links that would direct the user to external sources of information rather than try to cram all of that information into one place. And Dolphin highlights the example of the way Arcadis has worked with Magnox to pair BIM with geographic information systems (GISs).
“BIM is one tool which works very well for buildings and GIS is something which works better for larger areas,” he says. “One thing we are working on is meshing BIM and GIS together so we can get the best of both worlds.
“We can use GIS as a portal to then fly into sites and from sites go into individual buildings and then bring up the 3D BIM environment from that.”
However the end-user accesses the information, Harries thinks BIM level 3 has to be about making a link between the performance requirements and objects of a building.
“Our third internal BIM target is to implement a systems engineering approach to BIM,” he says.
“That’s about tying the design and thought process into an object so the BIM model doesn’t just describe the volume and specification of the object, but also the reason why it’s there.”