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Future Technology: The bigger picture

Given just how challenging the process for implementing building information modelling (BIM) in some infrastructure projects has the potential to be, it might seem counter intuitive to suggest that the industry begins to look beyond it.

But Excitech principal consultant Dave Bosworth argues that this is exactly what the sector ought to be doing to make sure it realises the full potential of the step change in working practices and technology.

Bosworth admits that problems persist at a practical level in terms of trying to align the Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie) specification to infrastructure, but while companies and their clients try to address these, he thinks they should also try to focus on the bigger picture of how BIM can be combined with other construction methodologies such as Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) and Lean Construction to deliver even greater efficiencies.

“If you look at the idea behind IPD that the client, the consultants and the contractors can all be part of a team and actually work through everything together, it aligns itself very well with the idea of the collaborative processes within BIM,” he says. “If you could combine that in a BIM project that would be the ideal mechanism to deliver a successful project where the discussion takes place and everyone is involved at a very early stage and all of the issues can be bottomed out before work gets seriously underway.”

Creating an entirely new team with IPD, Bosworth argues, removes all of the barriers to closer working and co-operation: “The contractor is embedded within the design team and is able to influence outcomes early on in the project – disagreements are resolved more easily and there is a less adversarial environment,” he says.

“Every BIM project or Lean Construction project should include a strategy for measuring outcomes so that we can assess how effective the process has been”

Dave Bosworth, Excitech

Similarly, he thinks that some of the assumed benefits of BIM dovetail perfectly with the ideas behind Lean Construction. He points to the way that both methodologies aspire to produce more cost-effective and carbon-efficient projects and argues that having a BIM model and all of the data that it provides will aid the process of splitting a project up into different work packages to work out whether things can be done better.

During project delivery this could involve using BIM data to provide real time analysis of whether the team is ahead of time, behind time, how much the project costs to a particular stage and how well it is being delivered. “The process of BIM and the BIM model behind that, aids that process greatly,” says Bosworth. “You’ve got a model that you can look at and clearly that all aids the Lean Construction process.”

When it is put to Bosworth that introducing BIM is difficult enough without trying to align it with other methodologies, he argues that the industry is already doing it: “Some of the ideas behind Lean Construction are being implemented anyway but they’re just not being identified as that,” he says. “If it’s a BIM project and we’ve got a 3D model, we naturally look at that model and assess how well the construction process will work with different scenarios, but we’re not calling that ‘Lean Construction’. So what I’m saying is that the next step is to formalise that process and put some real process behind it and take it to the next level”.

A clearer vision: BIM can be used to show whether a project is ahead or behind schedule and also if it is on budget

A clearer vision: BIM can be used to show whether a project is ahead or behind schedule and also if it is on budget

For this to happen, of course, there need to be more examples of infrastructure and particularly highways projects that have been carried out using BIM. “Every BIM project or Lean Construction project should include a strategy for measuring outcomes so that we can assess how effective the process has been to guide ours and others’ efforts moving forward,” says Bosworth. “Better information about outcomes is what is missing at the moment.”

To this end, Excitech has consultants working on a number of BIM projects where they are acting as BIM Manager or BIM Co-ordinator, and are gaining insight into how to achieve the best outcomes. The company has recently been assisting clients working on a Highways Agency BIM pilot project where the entire process has been successfully created in a 3D model with asset data attached to it. Bosworth thinks this represents real progress but says there are still some unknowns about how useable COBie is as a format of delivery. “The more examples we have of using COBie, the more questions we can ask. For example, what were the employer’s information requirements? What was actually specified and how was that delivered? I don’t think anybody is really doing that.

“BIM has been used on infrastructure projects but it’s been very much used on certain aspects of the project that lend themselves to BIM, for example, BIM models with full asset data may be delivered on some of the building assets in a project, but often this doesn’t extend to external or site assets.

“The more examples we have of using COBie, the more questions we can ask. For example, what were the employer’s information requirements and how was that delivered?”

Dave Bosworth, Excitech

It’s been used in part successfully but I’m not sure that it’s been transferred to all parts of an infrastructure project and certainly how we use it on highways projects still isn’t clearly defined.”

A case in point is the fact that the Highways Agency has suggested that COBie will be the data delivery format moving forward, but for the moment it’s still requiring the original asset data to be supplied ready to go into its own systems. Bosworth says that this goes to show that there are still a lot of question marks about how COBie is going to work in practice. Once engineering firms and their employers manage to clarify the way BIM will work for these types of projects, he thinks that industry skill sets and job descriptions will also have to change. Engineers will need to be educated in all of these new ideas and cope with the introduction of new technologies such as cloud-based collaboration while still trying to deliver good, cost-effective projects.

“If we’re really going to align BIM with IPD and Lean Construction, perhaps instead of adopting BIM and saying we’ll have a ‘BIM manager’, we’ll have somebody whose job it is to look after all of these processes,” he says. “That person would have to be a ‘process manager’ who would oversee all of those processes in a construction project and not just the one aspect that is BIM.” 

Produced in association with Excitech.

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