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Could BIM Be the Key To Better Project Outcomes?

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Building Information Modelling and digitised documentation could hold the key to delivering better outcomes not only for project teams but also the end customers—the asset owners, facilities managers and occupants, according to digital engineering experts.

There is also a push coming for industry-wide uptake. Requirements from big clients, including government departments, and the reforms are being progressed following the Shergold + Weir report.

Global Head of Digital at Willow (formerly Ridley), Daniel Kalnins tells Jobsite ANZ there is a mandate for major projects in the eastern states. State Departments of Health and Road as well as Rail bodies in Victoria, NSW and Queensland especially are driving the uptake.

Adopting BIM for Operations and Maintenance

Transport for NSW now has a digital engineering framework for all new projects. The Victorian Government, on the other hand, has adopted a Victorian Digital Assets Strategy (VDAS) that incorporates both the design and construction phase of assets and the operations and maintenance phase.

Kalnins says it is “not that big a leap” to move from BIM in the design and build phase to BIM approaches that apply to the ongoing operations and maintenance. However, Kalnins says, there are two main areas where companies may need to address gaps so that they can adopt the approach—process and technology.

In terms of process, Kalnins’ own experience and the experience of those he’s worked with confirm a clear understanding of what the client and their asset management team will need to know to operate the building effectively is indispensable. Having that kind of knowledge at the early stages informs the design and construction process in both the digital space and on-site.

Entering data relevant to O&M does not mean the BIM model needs to become overly large and complicated, he explains. There only needs to be one point in the model for any specific item, for example, a switchboard. It can then serve as a “hook” that provides a link to a separate smart database of all the relevant information and documentation.

The key is “knowing which assets we care about” and which do not necessitate a full documentation. Plasterboard or architraves, for example, may not be among them. However, parts of a mechanical system or essential building services probably will benefit from full digital documentation.

There are simple ways to structure and implement the technology-supported information and documentation, Kalnins says.

It can be built on the data and documentation project teams already tend to put together as part of the design and build process. These include the schedule of quantities and detailed product specifications.

Big Payoff for End Users

Kalnins has also observed the use of BIM with O&M data incorporated into the digital build does not require any additional time and cost for project teams.

Moreover, he has noticed the payoff for end users, for instance, when a building needed to replace a boiler four years post-completion. In just 15 minutes, the facilities manager was able to obtain every bit of necessary information. Otherwise, the process might have taken weeks.

The approach helps future-proof a project, too. Kalnins gives the example of a completed building where a tenant moved in soon afterwards and needed to undertake a full energy assessment of their fitout. Using the base building data, the FM team was able to promptly provide the tenant with all the details of the lighting systems. They could access everything even the digitised asset registers and detailed product specifications. The alternative—an on-site assessment—would have required days to gather all the necessary information.

Further benefit digital O&M data provide is that it informs the directors and liable parties owning assets about the potential safety risks, such as oil-filled transformers.

According to Kalnins, environmental and safety concerns are even changing how assets managers consider building purchases. Therefore, more comprehensive building information is a real market plus.

Digitisation of Built Environment

The real value lies in producing more than just BIM—it’s about the digitisation of the built environment and the creation of a digital twin, he says. A digital twin connecting geo-spatial, static and live data together can allow for actionable insights across a portfolio of buildings and infrastructure.

Steven Coyle, Regional Digital Engineering Lead at Arcadis explains that the process of developing a digital twin for an asset depends on whether it is a brownfields project—an extensive redevelopment or refurbishment—or a greenfield new build.

For a brownfield project, the team really needs to “know the building.” This involves gathering and digitising all available documentation as well as leveraging the layers of data and information gathered by the surveyors during the pre-build stage.

But most importantly, he says, there is a need to sit down with the client and ask them what they want to achieve with a digital twin. This requires discussing the planned facilities management solution.

This conversation helps establish the asset information requirements, Coyle says.

As the project progresses into the design and construction stages, there are two options when making a BIM model. One may either embed all the reports, spreadsheets and other data assets in the model. The drawback, however, is that the model becomes very large and complex. Alternatively, specific information fields and assets may be connected to a unique attribute within the BIM model.

For a lifecycle approach, Coyle says, including sensors strategically in the building from the specification and design stages can deliver operational benefits. Thus, predictive analytics and maintenance may be available.

On a new build utilising digital twin approaches, Coyle says, it is crucial to bring in the construction team and the facilities management team throughout the design process from early stages. He says that “developing a strong information management process is key.”

This will set out what information is needed and when throughout the project delivery. At each major milestone, the model and the project’s progress should be questioned. This will result in a better-designed project and benefits for the operational lifecycle.

Coyle says contractors not yet embracing the digital approach need to see how the industry is evolving.

Coyle says contractors not yet embracing the digital approach need to see how the industry is evolving. Smaller or leaner firms may find forming partnerships or “ecosystems” to share knowledge and expertise beneficial.

“The end goal [as we see it] is all around modular and prefab construction and design for manufacture and assembly,” he says.

Digital twin models allow builders to work more directly with manufacturers to engage with methodologies, such as DfMA. They can also integrate with verification, for example, compliance verification, through utilising scanning during construction that links into the model.

Arcadis itself has a “strong digital agenda,” Coyle says. It has a goal of 100 per cent of projects being BIM level 2 by 2021.

It is part of an overall strategy of combining BIM, construction commercial management, operations and maintenance, he says.

The Shergold + Weir recommendation is an important one for the industry as “we’ve got to be aspirational.” The industry needs to be moving towards alternative methods. For that reason, it should embrace 3D printing within construction, robotics, automated construction, and construction drones.

Coyle believes that if the industry could “get together” and make the leap into digital, it would “inspire others and lead by example.”

Coyle believes that if the industry could “get together” and make the leap into digital, it would “inspire others and lead by example.”

One of the major needs is for there to be more examples out there of lifecycle digital modelling in action. Currently, there are very few in Australia, he says.

The industry also needs to embrace the “digital realities,” one of which is “customer experience.” Coyle believes, “The biggest thing to understand is customers are moving targets—for customers, it’s about the experience rather than the outcome.”


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