It is no secret that technology is gaining an increasing foothold in the world of engineering.
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Be it the use of building information modelling (BIM) in design processes, drones mapping out rail routes or the ever-increasing presence of Elon Musk boring us all to tears, technology has become an ever-present fixture that is here to stay.
Closer to home, the change of focus has led Costain’s chief executive Andrew Wyllie to change the way his company recruits. He is now prioritising engineers who are tech savvy.
Significant multi-million spend profiles
“Whether it’s Network Rail or Highways England or [clients] in the water sector, there are significant multi-million pound spend profiles but all those major customers are saying the way in which their money is being spent is fundamentally different from the previous period, with technology at the heart of everything they are doing,” he says. “The use of technology is key to winning that work.”
One of the main ways in which technology can improve the UK’s infrastructure is not while it is in design – which is already being done well – but in the post-project phase.
As highlighted by the recent tragic Polcevera viaduct collapse in Italy, the benefits to successful asset management and monitoring could be life saving.
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London to Channel Tunnel rail link operator High Speed 1 (HS1) head of asset management Joseph Inniss says that delivering projects is just the start of an asset’s life. It is how the asset is maintained post project which ultimately paves the way for its future success.
“A lot of projects are really good at providing information for delivering a project,” Inniss says. “But in the past we have struggled to see data as being structured for the asset’s life.”
He adds: “We can never say asset management is complete, it is always about continuously learning and improving.
“While High Speed 2 is going to be fantastic, there is already an awful lot of existing infrastructure that we need to be looking after and managing better.
“So where BIM has massive value is in structuring the way we maintain existing data and assets, rather than just delivering new projects.”
Likewise, London Bridge Associates director David Sharrocks believes that the best potential use of BIM is as a post-project tool.
“If we are going to use BIM as a tool, which we are, then we’ve got to redefine what BIM is being used for not just for a project but for an asset’s lifetime,” he says.
While a large chunk of the construction industry understands and is willing to accept the potential that technology presents for improving asset management, there are pockets of resistance which remain stubbornly in the dark.
BIM4 Infrastructure UK chair Steven Eglinton spends his working life helping clients and contractors see eye to eye on technology uptake.
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While he admits that certain industry clients have been quick on the uptake and “absolutely get it”, he says that many have no level of awareness whatsoever.
“In the client world there are some who absolutely get it,” he says. “London Underground (LU) gets it, they absolutely get it.
“And HS1 as well. When we were looking at digital transformation HS1 is already shooting really high.
“But unfortunately a lot of other projects just aren’t there. Take LU. Some projects are there, they get it, but go to another project and conceptually they are miles off.”
Even within clients that are on board, there are pockets where knowledge is lacking, he adds. “That’s the biggest challenge: that there isn’t an appropriate level of awareness across the board.”
Eglinton believes that BIM has enabled companies to embrace change. He says the people who understand BIM are on board for entire digital transformation, especially in terms of asset management.
He now wants to see those who already understand it demonstrate its success.
“The challenge is the messaging,” he says. “I don’t think we should be shouting louder about the successes of BIM, I don’t think we are mature enough to get the wording right.
“Now is the right time to demonstrate the literal value of digital transformation.”
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Bentley Systems vice president Mike Coldrick also believes that real examples of successful implementation must be showcased as best practice moving forwards.
Crossrail was a high profile early adopter of BIM and, despite its current issues, Coldrick says it remains a blueprint for future asset delivery.
“We need to take more people with us to understand how important this topic is and how important it is to the future of our industry,” he says. “Future collaboration, productivity, profitability, all of these things can be gained out of a better understanding of managing data from within the supply chain.”
He adds: “I firmly believe one of the most important aspects of delivering Crossrail was getting all of the supply chain through the Crossrail Academy to understand why and how it was operating within the supply chain.”
But it is not just about talking about success stories. West Yorkshire Combined Authority head of transport policy Liz Hunter believes there must be a way of capturing the monetary value of using BIM in order for it to unlock future project funding.
“What I don’t see, and what needs to happen, is at the end of a project working out how much using certain technology has saved a project and then embedding those stats in future business cases,” she says. “I think by doing that you would drive awareness and adoption.
“I’m not seeing it at the start of projects at the moment.”
Transport for London head of PMO, major projects directorate Subash Tavares believes that focusing on value away from cost is the only way to accelerate BIM uptake. In particular, this means promoting social value above monetary savings.
Social versus monetary value
“It’s like our cycle superhighways. There is no business case for it, no tangible benefit, but we have an agenda to provide healthy streets, encouraging people to ride their bikes,” he says. “So the tangible benefit is very hard to measure, and measuring the performance of that piece of infrastructure is very difficult.
“Likewise with HS2, the business plan starts to cater for everything from environmental impact to disruption to driving business in certain towns and cities. It is not just putting a rail line in from A to B and therefore cost cannot be the only thing to take into consideration, it just cannot work like that.”
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If making a solid business case for implementing BIM on new projects is difficult, then how is it ever going to be used to monitor existing infrastructure?
That is the question which is currently plaguing Tavares and LU.
“For LU, with such a diverse portfolio where data has never been managed or collected in a consistent way, the question for us is how far back we go,” he says. “On new major projects, moving forward we can establish something from the very beginning from A to B, but for us there are hardly any projects where we don’t touch existing infrastructure.
“So the question for us is how far back do we go to establish the baseline and at the end of the day it is all about money.
“ I like the idea that new contracts must implement this technology and I think we should hold the industry to that because otherwise we can never make that change.”
BIM Level 2
The UK government mandated the use of BIM Level 2 on all centrally procured public sector projects by 4 April 2016.
The strategy highlighted BIM’s use as the key to challenging existing industry business models and practices and driving greater collaboration, efficiency, innovation and value across all elements of the industry.
BIM Level 2 requires all project and asset information, documentation and data to be electronic, which supports efficient delivery at the design and construction phases.
At the design stage, designers, clients and end users can use BIM to work together to develop the most suited design and test it before it is built. During construction BIM enables the supply chain to share precise information about components, reducing the risk of errors and waste.
This report is based on a round table discussion which took place during New Civil Engineer’s UK Transport conference in London in June. The participants were:
Dave Beddell director of strategy and growth – transportation, Aecom Infrastructure & Environment UK
Mike Coldrick vice president, Bentley Systems
Steven Eglinton head, digital national asset register, Cabinet Office
Ian Gill, Mott MacDonald
Satbir Gill chairman, London Technical Advisors Group
Manoj Gupta head of rail UK, Waterman Group
Mark Hansford Editor, New Civil Engineer
Stephen Holmes director, Dragados UK
Rob Horgan News editor, New Civil Engineer
Liz Hunter interim director of policy & strategy, West Yorkshire Combined Authority
Joseph Inniss head of asset management, High Speed 1
Alex Lubbock head of digital construction, Infrastructure & Projects Authority
Subash Tavares head of PMO, major projects directorate, Transport for London
David Sharrocks director, London Bridge Associates
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