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Talking Point with Nigel Rees

Building information modelling (BIM) is being used on many major construction projects, but what does it mean for the geotechnical design industry?

BIM, adhered to correctly, will create cost savings and a data rich end result - a database, rather than a series of drawings or static bills of quantities and so on, that will encapsulate all the project data, from the general to the detailed. The BIM process should also reduce liability and the effect of human error.

The critical part of BIM is how the information is transferred between teams and it is the way that software interacts that will determine the success of the process on a project. Are we at the stage where a click of a button will transfer all necessary data? No, definitely not.

BIM involves diverse disciplines, typically architects, consultant engineers, fabricators, contractors, facilities management and the client, each with their own sub sets. Each discipline will focus on their speciality and push information back into the central repository so other disciplines up and down the chain can access the information. So it stands to reason that, with each iteration by each design discipline, the repository becomes ever richer with data and more valuable. This puts a huge amount of pressure on the industry to manage the BIM process effectively and to safeguard the information contained within.

“The geotechnical industry forms a critical part of the delivery chain for BIM, yet a lot of our processes remain disconnected.”

The geotechnical industry forms a critical part of the delivery chain for BIM, yet a lot of our processes remain disconnected. A consequence of this is that undertaking “what-if” scenarios or sensitivity analysis can be costly and therefore prohibitive, tempting project teams to stay with an approach that has served well in the past, when in fact engineers know it

The good news is that progress is being made, and the major software vendors are starting to collaborate to aid the sharing of data in a coordinated way. Take Crossrail, for example, where shafts and tunnels have been analysed using Oasys XDisp software. Huge time and cost savings were achieved through transfer of data with CAD and GIS tools. If the design was changed by someone in the design team the analysis model could be updated in minutes rather than hours or days.

If we can move high integrity data like this around subsets of the design teams, it will reduce the need to rework and rebuild models that have already been developed. To this end, Oasys has developed a tool to combine structural analysis and soil settlement, taking into account soil/structure interaction. It means we can channel structural loadings into the soil model automatically on raft foundations - a job that could normally take days is reduced to minutes. From a BIM perspective we can now coordinate the soil model with the structural model as well as further back up the chain into the central database.

If we can get to a stage where the tools we use in geotechnical design are all communicating, and can feed off and feed into a central BIM database, we will be able to streamline workflows that are better suited to big projects and the ground engineering teams will be fully integrated into the world of BIM.

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