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Cradle to grave

Mark Enzer

Using BIM for better asset management.

While the virtues of Building Information Modelling (BIM) to the building process have been extolled at length, the industry is only just waking up to its importance for asset management. BIM facilitates the storage, organisation, retrieval and sharing of information. Beyond project design and delivery, effective information management comes into its own during the operation and maintenance phases of the asset lifecycle.

The construction industry has a record of providing incomplete and out of date information, and keeping it in unwieldy formats that make it difficult for the average owner, operator or maintainer to use it. As a result, maintenance, repair and replacement involve a lot of costly investigation, assessment, new design and specification, impacting on technical performance, service quality and profitability.

Embedded information

BIM allows information to be embedded in the asset model - for example the location, properties, dimensions, specification, cost, supplier and service intervals for each sub-component. The model can be used to plan maintenance activities for assets with different design lives so that major repair and replacement programmes can be synchronised, minimising overall cost and disruption. It can also be used to record risks and set trigger levels for action to safeguard business continuity. Rich, useful, accessible information is at the heart of effective whole life asset management.

As with asset creation, asset management involves cross-disciplinary collaboration to achieve best value for money in the selection, design, procurement, operation, maintenance, renewal and disposz al of physical infrastructure. Collecting and collating the right information and ensuring it is available for the right people to make the best decisions is key. Too much data can confuse the picture and ultimately costs money to collect and keep up to date. Too little data results in decisions made in the dark. Asset owners need to understand the potential benefits and drive the requirement through production of their own strategy and information management protocols.
Data relating to assets comes in many different forms and typically sits in many, unconnected locations.

There are also usually many different uses and different users of this data. All of this can contribute to a complicated muddle, with different sources of conflicting “truth” resulting in a loss of credibility and value. That value could be dramatically enhanced by connecting it all together.

This does not require ripping information out of existing databases and replacing them with a great big database that does everything. In any case, the current state of technology does not allow this. A practical solution is to connect independent databases using “middleware”.

Interactive visual tools

The beauty of using BIM for managing asset information is that it can be viewed using the interactive visual tools that we associate with GIS and CAD. The right people then gain access to the information needed, in a format that is clear and intuitive to use. They can also see how their part of the asset relates to the whole, identifying risks and opportunities that can be addressed in a way that is impossible when each discipline operates in isolation.

Design and construction account for an intense but brief part of the asset lifecycle, with operation lasting much longer, often involving greater cost, energy consumption and carbon emissions. The social, economic and environmental impacts of closing an asset or reducing its capacity due to insufficient maintenance can be severe.

We are currently pouring major effort into utilising BIM for asset creation.

This is undoubtedly a good thing. But the case for investing intellectually and financially in whole-life information management is compelling.

  • Mark Enzer is Mott MacDonald’s BIM champion for Europe and Africa

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