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Future Technology: Making BIM fit the form

This may be a legacy of the fact that BIM – shorthand for building information modelling – originally emerged from shared project models, focused very much on ensuring everyone was sharing accurate design information.

Since then, however, BIM has become more sophisticated, and is now seen as a way of bringing together all the information about a project, from conception to handover, and on into operation and maintenance. As a result, BIM is extending further down the supply chain, with key suppliers and subcontractors able to provide information for the project model.

But temporary works suppliers are rarely included in that process. It appears that, in the virtual world of BIM, temporary works design is still seen as something of a “dark art” that sits outside the mainstream design process – despite the fact that formwork, scaffolding and support structures have a physical presence on a construction site that can easily be modelled in 3D.

RMDK engineering director Ian Fryer believes the sector has much to offer both in the 3D environment and when we start modelling construction activities in 4D, with the fourth dimension being time. “When it comes to temporary works, time really has an impact on both cost and programme delivery,” he says.

Contractors usually pay for temporary works according to how long the equipment is on site so, as Fryer says, if you can reduce hire time, you can make significant savings. “If 4D programme solutions can be developed from BIM data, outlining not just the 3D models of the formwork and shoring but the timings of delivery and collection, numerous benefits can be delivered to a wide variety of projects.”

This and right: Formwork companies like RMD Kwikform to produce computer models but these are not often fed into BIM systems

This and right: Formwork companies like RMD Kwikform to produce computer models but these are not often fed into BIM systems

RMDK has been developing the capability to design temporary works in 3D, making use of a version of Autocad, combined with a library of its standard components, to come up with the most efficient solution. “We have some bright engineers who started to program the software, and we realised we could achieve some very good time savings by automatically populating the model in 3D and counting the equipment,” explains Fryer.

But at the moment, the company is often given 2D design information from the project’s engineer or contractor, rather than being able to import directly from a 3D model. And the 3D modelling RMDK does is not fed back into the BIM model, despite being in a compatible format – and this is where the industry is missing out, says Fryer.

“The benefits of 3D have already been recognised throughout the industry, but for temporary works delivery there are a number of key additional areas that are not being taken advantage of,” he explains. “We often talk about how 3D can be used to avoid clash detection, but by introducing time we create a 4D solution around the avoidance of clashes within the programme itself.

“If you have a potential programme clash, you can make changes to the phasing of the project by knowing when equipment is being erected or dismantled. It also focuses the mind on design solutions that can assist with further programme time reduction.

“Having the 3D model also ensures all of the equipment needed on a particular project is delivered,” he adds. “When you work this up to a 4D model, you can even determine which components need to be delivered to site at what time, which moves you much closer to creating a just-in-time approach, minimising the need for site storage and additional hire costs.”

RMDK has been developing its 3D modelling expertise as a means of cutting the time – and therefore cost – involved in temporary works design. As Fryer says: “We make our income through renting material, so we only get paid when equipment goes out the door. We can spend a lot of time, energy and cost not winning a job, and over the years that’s driven us to seek ways of designing our equipment more effectively and reducing In association with our overhead cost of engineering.”

He says the company is becoming “ever more ambitious” with its 3D work, and sees enormous value in being able to take a customer’s 3D design, produce a temporary works solution in 3D and export it to the project’s 3D model. “It has the potential to completely change that relationship,” he says.

One way of doing that is to make even more use of the 3D models that the design teams produce, in the form of animations and virtual and augmented reality. “Once we have created a 3D model, we can use it in many different ways,” says RMD divisional CAD manager John Watson.

Watson’s team is in the process of making incredibly life-like visual representations of each of its standard products, so when they appear in virtual reality models or animations they look as realistic as possible – even changing tone as the light changes.

This helps the company to show contractors’ site teams exactly how the temporary works will look when they are in place.

Using virtual reality headsets – more familiar in the gaming world – it is possible to walk around a temporary works installation, getting a clear idea of how much space it takes up, where the barriers are, and how it might interact with other site equipment. This is one example of what Watson calls “gamification” – using gaming technologies to help people understand the temporary works environment.

Other examples include active animations, which give a viewer the ability to move through a product demonstration in a way that a straightforward video does not. Watson’s team has produced an animation of RMDK’s Ascent climbing formwork system that clearly shows how the system and its protective screen work on a high rise construction project.

“The benefits of 3D have already been recognised throughout the industry, but for temporary works delivery there are a number of key additional areas that are not being taken advantage of”

Ian Fryer, RMD Kwikform

While a video of the system could be produced to show it from various angles, an animation based on a 3D model allows the viewer to decide exactly what they want to look at and from what viewpoint. “With a straightforward video, you can sometimes miss the things that are important to you,” explains Watson. “A more interactive presentation gives many more benefits to the customer.”

The viewer uses a games controller to move around the model, choosing exactly where they want to go and what they want to see – for example watching the formwork’s lifting mechanism as it climbs. Watson believes it could be very useful for highlighting safety issues.

RMDK has also been experimenting with augmented reality, both on desktop computers and mobile devices. It enables the company’s sales force to visit a site and show customers how specific products would look in situ. “If you are out on a greenfield site, you could bring up a model of the build that’s about to take place and add in our equipment using augmented reality,” says Watson.

4D modelling: Time can be saved on fast track building projects

4D modelling: Time can be saved on fast track building projects

He agrees with Fryer that the integration of temporary works design models with construction models would bring enormous benefits.

“Working it into a 4D model could save a lot of time,” he says. “If you combine our model with a construction programme model you could look at things like how far the equipment sticks out beyond the perimeter of a building, and how much space you have to get a crane in or move cladding panels.

“We would expect to be able to provide answers to contractors before they ask the questions.” 

Produced in association with RMD Kwikform.

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