Crossrail and software house Bentley Systems last week agreed a unique technology partnership. It underpins the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) on the £14.5bn project. Antony Oliver reports.
Having spent a significant part of his career wrestling with inefficiencies and unnecessarily exaggerated costs in the UK construction industry, Crossrail chief executive Andrew Wolstenholme is very aware that his project is a major opportunity to lead change.
And clearly accelerating the use of rapidly emerging digital technologies across the industry is core to his thinking on Crossrail. It is also closely aligned with the government’s stated aim of mandating the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) tools on all public projects by 2016.
The new Crossrail technology partnership announced with Bentley Systems last week underlines his passion to change the way the industry operates. For a major public client to align with one provider is a radical step but one which, Wolstenholme believes, will really break down barriers and enable the industry to truly embrace BIM.
“Bentley is aware that it is not the only firm that out supply chain procures its software from”
Andrew Wolstenholme, Crossrail
“This technology partnership is the culmination of much discussion and is part of the journey that Crossrail has been on for many years now. It is about the best use of digital technology not just in the delivery but in the lifecycle of the whole asset,” Wolstenholme told a meeting with the project’s supply chain at Bentley’s London office last week.
“It is very much part of the government and [chief construction advisor] Paul Morrell’s agenda to introduce BIM across the public sector by 2016,” explained Wolstenholme. “It is an opportunity for the supply chain to use Crossrail as a vehicle along this path. I’m passionate about this stuff.”
Wolstenholme’s 2009 government-backed report on construction efficiency entitled Don’t waste a good crisis
concludes that construction had been very slow to embrace digital technologies over the last 20 to 25 year compared to the automotive and aerospace industries (NCE 15 October 2009). Output has, he maintains, suffered as a result.
Big wins to come
The headlines to date have been around missed savings in design and in construction, where 30% is estimated to be wasted through poor communication and project control. But the point being made very strongly now by Wolstenholme as he rolls out BIM across Crossrail, is that the bigger wins are in the commissioning, operation and maintenance of infrastructure assets over 60 or 70 year lifecycles.
The key, he explains, is for clients to work with their entire supply chain, using digital
technologies to manage and join up “the thin red line” of data that underpins the design, construction and operation activities of an asset across its lifecycle from conception to decommissioning.
“What I am looking for is a single BIM model that connects the data set from the start to the very end”
Andrew Wolstenholme, Crossrail
“What I am looking for in Crossrail is a single BIM model that connects the data set from the start right through to the very end,” he explained. “As an industry we are not very good at this - we break that line up in many parts. The as-designed versus the as-built versus the as-maintained tends to be on different platforms and I am going to ask our technology partners and the supply chain how we can link these in a single format that we can pass seamlessly to the operator.”
The new partnership with Bentley Systems will, he hopes, enable this goal to be achieved - pioneered on Crossrail but then driven into the supply chain to become the norm.
“It is in many ways the start of a consultation process to find out how we can position ourselves and work with the supply chain to seal these benefits in,” he added. “I am delighted that many years ago, Crossrail had the foresight to invest in a product that they could instruct the supply chain to use. We have the opportunity here to create an environment where it is safe to ski off-piste.”
Extending down the supply chain
The partnership will see Crossrail’s current Enterprise License Subscription for Bentley applications extended down the supply chain thus removing any barriers that may have been created by the need to invest in new software.
While this will give contractors access to Crossrail’s ProjectWise servers, the partnership will also see Bentley offer Crossrail’s supply chain access to the ProjectWise platform for its own project workflows outside of Crossrail.
The current thinking is that the partnership will also provide all Crossrail’s contractors with unlimited access to the Bentley LEARN suite of virtual classroom training and on-demand e-learning courses along with subsidised Bentley Institute classroom instruction.
However, one of the key new initiatives resulting from the partnership is the Crossrail/Bentley BIM construction academy based at Bentley’s London office. This will see contractors invited individually to specially facilitated workshops to assess, introduce and enable new ideas and innovations from across the construction BIM sector which take advantage of emerging hardware and software capabilities.
“It is about the best use of digital technology, not just in the delivery, but in the lifecycle of the whole asset”
Andrew Wolstenholme, Crossrail
“The relationship that we have with the supply chain is absolutely vital to laying down the foundations for a digital model that is not only going to support of this delivery process but also to unwrap the value through the whole lifecycle phases,” says Wolstenholme.
“Bentley is aware that it is not the only firm that our supply chain procures software from. Our responsibility is to ensure that the output we derive is for the industry as a whole - to work as technology partners to push the boundaries for the good of the industry.”
Bentley Systems chief executive Greg Bentley is very aware of his firm’s responsibility. And he is clearly committed to investing to ensure that the Crossrail project provides a unique platform from which the UK construction industry can leap forward in its use of BIM technology to drive the collaborative approach to construction.
Thin red line
Crossrail team has already paid “conscientious attention”, he says, to maximising the use of its data across the so-called “thin red line” between concept, design, construction operation and maintenance.
The new Academy provides a unique opportunity for the industry to explore technology driven ideas and progress
towards a fully enabled and more efficient future, he adds.
“We really would like to have a sand box where the contractors can try new things,” he says pointing out that any technology advances have to be useful to the industry. While technology firms happily invent and develop powerful and innovative digital applications such as dynamic printing techniques that allow pen marks on drawing to be digitally captured, the key is to make these useful in the field. “The academy is for us to sit down with contractors and ask: ‘would this be useful to you - and then would you try it?’” says Bentley.
Crossrail head of technical support services Malcolm Taylor agrees that working with the supply chain is crucial. Taylor has been seconded from consultant Aecom to lead Crossrail’s adoption of BIM technology over the last couple of years. He says the work to create the BS1192 standard for the management, naming and collaboration around design technologies has been critical to establishing the right data management culture in the Crossrail team.
“The academy is for us to sit down with the contractors and ask: ‘would this be useful to you?’”
Greg Bentley, Bentley Systems
“We are moving from the design stage into construction and then into operation and one of the key challenges for us is how we really exploit and use the technology,” explains Taylor. “The use of BS1192 has been pivotal
He describes Crossrail’s BIM strategy as starting with becoming “the pinnacle of best practice” through close working with Bentley and the supply chain. The second priority, he said, was to ensure that BIM is adopted right through the project all the way to operation and maintenance
“We have to keep remembering that we are heading towards hand over. Our challenge will be to hand over the right information in the right way at the right time.
Finally Taylor points out that it is also critical to ensure that the value of BIM is utilised immediately during the during the construction phase, hence the need for the new Bentley/Crossrail BIM Academy to help draw out innovations.
Greg Bentley describes Crossrail as a fantastic opportunity to create a benchmark example of BIM and in particular what he describes as “information mobility”.
“There is so much to be gained from working smarter and more closely together,” he says. “You don’t get there by dictating but by incubating. The UK has a willingness to get organised and approach things collaboratively.”
“In the oil and gas realm this is not new thinking - information reuse is ingrained and core to safety processes,” explains Bentley, pointing out that by contrast there has been very little uptake in the building industry. The civil engineering and public works sectors, he believes, have the appetite to embrace BIM given the right incentives.
Inertia, he says, is the enemy of progress in construction, highlighting the fact that in construction, adopting change in culture is often difficult. The unique thing about the Crossrail project, he says, is that there is an owner with the appetite and quality of people looking down the road to the value of the investment in BIM.
Everything is, he adds, lined up for Crossrail to be a landmark project in the history of BIM in infrastructure across the supply chain and across the asset lifecycle.
“The government’s strategy in the UK [to introduce BIM by 2016] cannot be implanted top down. You need innovations and insights from the supply chain,” he explains. “I’m not a believer in step changes - I think that changes occur in steps that you can barely see.”