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Rail: Building information modelling

An academy for BIM learning and development set up by Crossrail and Bentley Systems may soon find a place on most mega-projects.

Shared experience

The academy brings together people from across the Crossrail supply chain

In association with

In association with

The Crossrail Bentley Information Academy is not about training people to use software, nor essentially focusing on software at all,” says academy manager Iain Miskimmin.

“The facility at Bentley’s central London office has a much wider function: bringing contractors and suppliers up to speed with the requirements and procedures of modern mega-projects, and working methods demanded by ‘Big BIM’.”

This initially means meeting the Level 2 BIM required by 2016 by the government’s Construction Strategy, but also the “intelligent model” BIM beyond.

“The purpose of the academy is not simply about training in how to match the requirements, but learning about why they are being used , seeing how other people do it, and exploring the systems as they evolve,” explains Miskimmin.

About 80% of what BIM is about is passing on information and data associated with models in a structured way

As a result, anyone attending the academy will receive explanation by the client, as well as brainstorming, information sharing and comparison sessions to see how others are working, both at senior management level and for those working on the nitty-gritty. As well as Crossrail setting out its views and needs, there is the chance for members of its supply chain to talk to each other, and even for management teams from other mega-projects worldwide to come in to learn and share methodology. Thames Tideway is one organisation that has joined the discussion, but others include major schemes in the Middle East and Australia.

This first academy has been set up by Crossrail in conjunction with Bentley to bring working teams up to speed with the particular requirements of the £14.8bn scheme.

“It is a way for us to elevate the importance of how we see the need for accurate and joined-up data to be collected during design and construction - to help ensure it will be efficiently handed over to the railway operator and maintainer,” says Crossrail head of technical information Malcolm Taylor.

Crossrail is one of the first major schemes in the world already using what is essentially Level 2 BIM. In fact, it had set in place a philosophy of integrated design and construction and collaborative working throughout the entire supply chain from the start, even before the government’s strategy was published, and this has helped it to move quickly towards the full requirements of Level 2.

All this requires far more from the supply chain than a knowledge of 3D modelling and how to exchange models, says Miskimmin. “About 80% of what BIM is about is passing on information and data associated with assets in a structured way,” he explains. Some of that is for collaborative working, for good “as built” information, and especially for populating the eventual asset management system.

Enormous scale

The scale of the task at Crossrail is enormous: the project currently has 64 major contracts - set to rise to 84 next year; and 1,650 users tie into the common data system, which so far contains nearly 1M CAD files and 1.26M documents.

The highly disciplined framework that Crossrail has developed for all this, based around the standards and processes within BS1192, improved Uniclass data descriptions and common data environment, imposes new requirements on contractors and suppliers for passing on and depositing data as they go, rather than simply completing their own tasks in isolation.

“It is no longer possible for the ‘as-built’ to be a final afterthought task at the end of a project,” says Miskimmin.

Crossrail’s requirements essentially match the four “data drops” of Level 2 BIM. At the moment this uses Crossrail’s own data protocol, as the COBie standard for BIM is still in development for infrastructure assets. It is called the Asset Information Management system.

The academy is helping to establish a new culture in construction, claims Miskimmin. Although Crossrail’s contractors are signed up for new, collaborative ways of doing things, very often the teams setting up the contracts move on before implementation.

“The people who come in to do the actual job are not always sure of what is expected and, more importantly, the significance of it,” says Miskimmin.

As a result, they might not pay sufficient attention to the new requirements in time to fulfil them.

The peer pressure is an element that is pushing things forwards

Some while back Crossrail chief executive Andrew Wolstenholme mentioned this potential project risk to Bentley CEO Greg Bentley, and from this was born the academy. Bentley offered premises and equipment for seminars and hands-on experience at its London base, while Crossrail provided personnel to lead the sessions and provide the curriculum.

The first, experimental, year has seen the evolution of a number of threads for the academy, with activities aimed at different levels within the contracting organisations.

Awareness briefings for senior management focus on the Crossrail philosophy, with regular sessions including a performance monitoring and comparison system devised by Crossrail with a wide range of red-yellow-green indicators to show contractors how well they are keeping up and how others are doing.

“The peer pressure is an element that is pushing things forwards,” says Miskimmin.

It is already clear from these indicators that those contractors that have been through the academy do pull ahead in their implementation, he adds.

Understanding contracts

Awareness also covers understanding how contracts impinge on each other, and the importance of communication and collaboration around the information models.

For middle management there are coaching sessions to explain the Crossrail systems and methods. These include explanations of the document management, GIS and other information modelling systems.

A critical part of that is how information gets passed on into the asset information system.

A final “layer” of sessions goes into things in more detail for those on the ground.

Not surprisingly, time is also spent looking at the wide range of software tools that are being used on the project, but this is not a central element of the agenda.

And the learning does not focus specifically on the software itself, but more on the specific configurations and standards to be applied for the Crossrail project.

“We also have the possibility to explore some of the new technologies in development, like digital pens, Bentley’s Asset Painter and mobile drawing validation tools,” adds Miskimmin.

The sensation is so realistic that some people have had vertigo looking down lift shafts

A digital pen is a pen with built in tracking that is used to do physical red lining on a printed PDF with a special dot matrix background. The mark-up is transferred automatically to the digital model.

New technology is also coming to the academy itself. The organisation is expanding its equipment to include a very large interactive video display and the use of virtual reality headsets. The latter, based on modern game technology, allow users to walk around “inside” 3D models.

“It is a powerful way to look for issues in designs, such as usability, constructability and clashes,” says Miskimmin. “The sensation is so realistic that some people have had vertigo looking down lift shafts.

“The academy has produced good results in its first 18 months. Bentley sees it as potentially a tool for many major projects,” he adds.

As well as Crossrail talking to contractors, and contractors talking between themselves, the academy has developed high level sessions to share Crossrail’s experience with other significant clients, such as High Speed 2 Ltd, EdF Energy, China Metro, Austrian contractor Züblin,
Toronto Metro and Bechtel.

The sessions allow these clients to exchange information about systems, methods and approaches, and could also lead to them developing their own academies.

For Bentley, the reward is in developing good relationships with major users of the software. It also improves its understanding of how major projects work. This can then be fed into its own software development.

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