Building Information Modelling (BIM) is revolutionising the way architects, engineers and construction professionals build and design to be more efficient and streamlined. Not only does BIM provide the right insight and tools for design coordination and improved constructability, but it also creates and manages all of the information on a project – before, during and after construction.
Jordan Dye, Drafting Team Lead at WSP Perth, a leading engineering service consulting firm, says that BIM or ‘Digital Engineering’ as referred to at WSP, is more than the practice of producing federated models. “It is a workflow that facilitates accessing multi-disciplinary knowledge and data to provide a single source of the truth in real-time, throughout all phases of an infrastructure project.” Jordan acknowledges in regions such as Europe, (where governments and industries are mandating the method) BIM has gained considerable momentum, particularly in the last ten years.
Apart from all stakeholders having access to the same model, Jordan reiterates that BIM is unique because of its ability to enable a ‘whole of life’ approach to an asset. “This contributes to a safer, more efficient and more sustainable way to deliver projects for all parties,” he claims.
When it comes to transport infrastructure, the current capabilities of BIM enables scheduling, clash detection and visualisation. “This increases productivity through sound decision making and coordination with the ability to visualise multi-disciplinary information in detail,” claims Jordan. Ultimately, it minimises changes and provides a better understanding of project costs, scheduling and performance, which reduces risk during design and construction.
The development of an Asset Information Model (AIM) through a BIM approach supports a high level of collaboration and provides significant advantages to asset owners during the operation and maintenance phases of a project’s lifecycle. As an asset enters the operational phase of a project lifecycle, an AIM can be used to optimise operation and maintenance and ensure whole of life outcomes are achieved by harnessing data in the model.
Jordan elaborates that this includes having access to a single source of the truth, attaining a detailed understanding of various elements, and gaining increased visibility of the interaction between those elements. “In countries where the use of BIM is mandated, a notable change towards collaborative development of assets during design, construction, operation and maintenance is significant,” declares Jordan. He notes that designers, contractors and asset owners are now contributing to more holistic outcomes.
From a design perspective, implementing BIM on a project enhances the engagement of asset owners and construction professionals in comparison to traditional delivery methods such as 2D drawings. Jordan comments that the replacement of manual drawings in favour of digital models enables access to better quality information throughout a project, which in turn supports improved decision making. “What’s more, the ability to identify and rectify issues or clashes with elements at the early stages of a project drives higher productivity and controls costs,” he expresses.
Despite the various advantages, one challenge that many organisations do face in the adoption of BIM is the cost. Jordan explains that aside from software licence expenses, implementation costs can run high with hardware upgrades, training and education as well as business process changes. “Having clear expectations of the outcomes that are achievable with BIM is key to realising a return on investment in the long-term,” he states.
In Scandinavia, WSP collaborated with consultants, asset owners and contractors to implement BIM to meet mandated government specifications for civil infrastructure projects. Jordan reveals the outcome of this approach (which ranged from planning to community engagement, design, construction and operation), have been well received: “Asset owners and communities now have a greater understanding of the projects being developed.” He confirms that contractors can now better identify opportunities to reduce waste, undertake construction differently and improve site safety; while operators have more valuable data to use during the life of the asset. “Ultimately, each asset’s AIM will provide the necessary data to inform safe decommissioning.”
Given there is a vast range of BIM software solutions readily available; Jordan clarifies finding the right one for your organisation is largely dependent on your need for functionality, accuracy and efficiency, as well as interoperability. As software preferences vary across countries, a seamless BIM workflow requires the ability to import and export between corporate applications to maintain a single source of truth.
On the community front, there has been an increase in engagement in the development and design of infrastructure. “BIM is supporting greater stakeholder engagement for asset owners through the power of visualisation as well as virtual and augmented reality,” comments Jordan. Other positive impacts on the community include improvements to the design, construction, operation and maintenance of infrastructure, with BIM ultimately boosting sustainability while providing opportunities for more informed decision making by all stakeholders.
Jordan expresses that although the imperatives for efficient project delivery are certainly driving demand for BIM, we won’t see widespread use across the country until governments and industries mandate the method. With innovative designs and challenging construction methods, implementing a BIM process is paramount to access data throughout a project collaboratively. Without defined specifications mandated, it is difficult to determine long term benefits; therefore design and construction may only consider the short-term benefits such as scheduling, costs and safety.
It’s clear that BIM is helping to optimise critical processes in the construction industry. Jordan declares that we live in a digital world and that advancements in technology such as generative design, software algorithms, robotics, artificial intelligence and virtual reality will change and evolve BIM processes. Thus, new ways of managing and utilising data in a collaborative environment will translate into better-informed designs for many years to come.