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Stick to your digital guns, HS2 engineers told

Discipline will be key to maintaining a digital focus while preparing in earnest for the £43bn High Speed 2 (HS2) scheme, the project’s technology head has warned.

Jon Kerbey, head of management systems at project promoter HS2, said it was easy for engineers to avoid cutting-edge technology when under time constraints.

He was speaking about the planned rapid rail link from London to the North as part of an NCE webinar that explored the challenges of creating the truly digital railway.

Kerbey said using a digital model for designs in the Hybrid Bill put before Parliament last year – in effect the planning application for the London to Birmingham phase of the project – required a step change in thinking.

“Phase one of HS2 is due to go live in 2026 so we have a quite big design and construction phase ahead, which will cross almost every single discipline,” he said.

“The information and data requirements are very complex. We tried to think about what we need at the end of the project from the start; planning for operations and maintenance from the beginning.

“We set up a common data environment for the supply chain to work in, and this was used for the designs for the Hybrid Bill. It is all about the integrity of the data and getting people to understand the importance of working with data.

“It is really easy for people to slip into traditional ways of working when they are under immense pressure to deliver. The temptation is to ask for a PDF or a bit of paper to sign. We have to instil a culture of people being comfortable using data and information. That is what we are trying to do at HS2.”

Malcolm Taylor, head of technical information at Crossrail, said HS2 would benefit from the experience gained on the £14bn trans-London scheme.

“If we were starting Crossrail now, we would do some things differently,” he said. “Some because of new technology, and some because of lessons learnt.

“That is where HS2 is going to be a great example of what can be made to happen [digitally].”

In response to a question from a webinar delegate, Taylor said he would have “forced” suppliers to use 4D BIM if he started Crossrail procurement again.

“I would have set it down as a requirement,” he said. “I would have been more prescriptive. These little animations, if they are linked to models and schedules, are a perfectly valid way of expressing what you are going to do.

“As a client we had to use 4D to understand the complexity of the project. We had to understand how contracts pieced together.”

Scepticism can undermine efforts to use vital new technology

Overcoming the doubts of individuals about new technology is the main obstacle to getting new technology accepted, participants in NCE’s Defining the Digital Railway webinar heard last week.

People are “the biggest blocker to getting anything done”, said Crossrail-Bentley Information Management Academy manager Iain MisKimmin.

“You can have the most fantastic technology in the world, and take it to a construction site, but if a person doesn’t want to use it, he’ll stir his tea with it and your initiative will fail,” he said as part of a panel discussion on creating the digital railway.

MisKimmin said there was a “cultural barrier” to changing the ways people worked into the digital era.

“There was a strong message [on Crossrail] but it was not being passed along to the teams delivering the contracts,” he said.

“The guy who bids for the work is not normally the guy who delivers it.

“We are all clever engineers, we never like to do something without knowing why. If we can tell people the big ‘why’ then people are more comfortable with delivering what we want.”

The academy was set up in late 2012 to increase competency in building information modelling (BIM) throughout the Crossrail supply chain. It has so far trained about 900 people at main contractor level, plus about 600 from suppliers and even from the client itself.

“If your own teams don’t understand what your vision is, you might as well pack up and go home,” said MisKimmin. “They need to be telling the people they are interacting with.”

Taylor said that as a client, Crossrail had set out to build two railways – one virtual and one physical.

“It is the virtual one that will be used for managing and maintaining the physical railway for the next 150 years, so getting the data right now is really important,” he said.

“We used to have lever arch files full of data, the integrity of which was questionable,” Taylor said of past construction projects.

“We started off on Crossrail trying to create a common data environment to ensure all our contractors and designers can share [data] because we have the technology to create that – it’s really just a set of connected databases people can access.”

But he added that it was important to distinguish useful digital information from the rest.

“We have to be really mindful about the amount of data that can be collected just because it can,” said Taylor. “There are only two reasons why we would collect it: either because we are contractually required to; or because it can be used to make decisions in the future.

“3D models are great ways of showing what we want to construct and we can link this to programming. In the future this is the way the world of project management is going. In 10 seconds you can get a clip that shows you a really quite complex construction sequence.”

He said Crossrail would be run using data management.

“We are going to have a route control centre at the heart of where our information is gathered, were we can utilise information about trains, infrastructure and passenger movements.”

Taylor said people in traditional roles needed new skills for current and future engineering schemes.

“We need people who used to be document managers to be information managers,” he said. “CAD technicians need to be very mindful of planning and construction in the same way that planners need to know how CAD works.

“It’s about getting people to understand the importance – to have that ‘ah’ moment about what these extra skills and competences can mean. It’s also for the managers to see the cost:benefit ratio of increased efficiencies from increasing competencies.”

CH2M Hill to spread BIM word

CH2M Hill is keen to promote learning on BIM across major projects, including from Crossrail to High Speed 2, the company’s head of BIM development Vasileios Vernikos told last week’s NCE webinar.

“We are in a privileged position to work on both projects,” he said, speaking at NCE’s Defining the Digital Railway webinar. “It’s important for our intelligent clients to work with a supply chain that works together to understand their needs and how to capacitate them.”

Vernikos said CH2M Hill used a variety of methods to ensure BIM skills were developed throughout its business.

“We have a starter pack for graduates to understand BIM. They may have Googled and watched YouTube but we have a very firm definition of what BIM is within CH2M Hill that we want them to understand,” he said.

“We also have annual and biannual workshops with senior level staff where we are all kept up to date on government initiatives.”

Vernikos expressed sympathy with universities trying to produce civil engineers for the digital age.

“It is very difficult,” he said. “We want people that understand civil engineering and can code.”

But he said the future was bright, with clients becoming more aware of the need to understand digital technology.

“It’s a good time in civil engineering right now,” he said. “I feel privileged to be here.”



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