Baffled by BIM?


From time to time, new concepts come along that the latest generation of engineers grasp with both hands but which others, frankly, struggle to comprehend. Often, it’s all about the way people were trained to think, and how quickly they can shed that programming and absorb the new ideas.

Yards (or even chains!) and metres, shillings and ‘new pence’, pounds and kilos, acres and hectares – anyone over the age of 40 will understand the difficulties.

Now we have BIM – Building Information Modelling – which is not only new but becomes compulsory at Level 2 for all government-funded contracts after April 2016.

But what is it? And what does it do? And why is it so important? And what do companies need to do to be ready?

All good questions, and good reasons why the recent Rail BIM Summit, organised by Rail Media and hosted by Addleshaw Goddard near the Barbican in London, was sold out. There is even talk of another one in January for all the disappointed people who couldn’t get in.

BIM breakfast

The day began early for those able to attend the breakfast session at 8.30 am – ‘BIM Basics’ presented by Paul Trethewey, engineering data (BIM) manager and Andy Powell, head of BIM, with WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff. This covered the origins of BIM, BIM today and the aspirations of BIM.

Starting, naturally, with the origins of BIM, the presenters began with a quotation from Peter Hansford, chief construction adviser to the UK Government: ”The term BIM doesn’t matter at all. What we are talking about is the use of digital technology in design, construction and whole life asset management.”

A key driver in almost any field of life today is the exponential growth of computing power. The result of this is disruptive change, since it means we have the ability to use computer technology in ways we didn’t dream of only a few years ago. This affects almost everything we do. In construction, it means that we are now able to use digital technology in the way Peter described, in order to deliver greatly improved whole life performance from our assets.

In considering where BIM is today, Network Rail was taken as an example as it is the largest private landowner in the UK, the country’s largest purchaser of electricity and the owner of the third largest telecommunications network.

The company is building appropriate asset information and management systems and the presenters looked quickly at the workflows and tools involved, the challenges and strategies and the BIM execution plan. Network Rail is using a geographical information system (GIS) -esiARCGIS, an engineering data management system – ProjectWise Explorer V8i, a document management system and object modelling to accomplish this task.

Future aspirations for BIM described in the final section of the presentation included sustainability, achieved through such results as the avoidance of re-work and the ability to reuse models. Occupational health enhancement, another aspiration, should be achievable through, for example, the reduction of the need for human involvement in hazardous activities, and via improved results achieved by the use of modelling.

In rail and other passenger transport businesses, the passenger experience should be improved through information management processes and mobile device software apps supported by BIM. Other aspirations include reality capture and rule driven design, streamlining projects and asset management.

The BIM challenge

After a much-needed coffee, the BIM newcomers from the breakfast session were joined by those ‘already knowledgeable’ for the rest of the day. David Philp, AECOM director of BIM opened with a welcome address which echoed the earlier talk by considering why BIM is needed, what it is and what are its key components. In David’s words, BIM is “the act of creating an information model”. He suggested that BIM is needed because we need digital data for (rail) assets from which we can derive asset management information.

The Government clearly thinks so too, and as already mentioned, they have mandated the use of collaborative 3D BIM on all projects funded centrally by government from 4th April next year. To support this they will be ensuring the provision of a clear and complete EIR (employer’s information requirement) with every contract from the deadline date.

David described the standard information exchange method, COBie, mandated by British Standards for all projects where no asset management system (AMS) already exists.

Other BIM Level 2 components include AIR (asset information requirements), AIM (asset information management), and the whole should result in integrated project delivery, integrated and comprehensive asset information management and lean solutions for project delivery and asset management.

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