Introducing BIM in Infrastructure (Better Information Management)


From BIM Journal. Click Here to Read Issue 3

From BIM Journal Issue 03 - here.

As a sector it is here where we enter a murky realm that is notoriously difficult for outsiders to pin down. Indeed a good while ago the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) ran a ‘man in the street’ type survey asking people to define what a Civil Engineer did and the responses were as wild as you can imagine[1]. From one lady citing “somebody that stands there holding a clipboard” to others really mixing it up “they implement government policy?” the best that we could hope for ended up being “building and land matters” which is both a reply and a statement. So there really is everything to play for when it comes to enlightening the public in this regard. Otherwise, we could well be walking into some sort of skills crisis.

On the flip side, to the learned of course the distinction between a Civil Engineer and a Mechanical Engineer is simple, as the old joke shows: one builds weapons while the other builds targets. But crude analogies aside an overwhelming chunk of the built environment falls under the Civil Engineer’s remit. Yet herein lies the problem of why it is perhaps so glossed over when it comes to school careers day; is it simply too big and too complex to define? Worse still, not only is the sector rather large and complex, but so too are the many roles and duties within. And the architect is nowhere to be seen.

What is telling, really, is that nobody ever left school with the ambition of becoming a Careers Advisor, yet these people are now in a position to guide and advise young and impressionable others. This might be the real problem there but I digress.

Sector Split

To the less initiated, Construction as a sector is split fairly clearly into the realms of Building and Civil Engineering or “civils” and it is to the latter where we must look to find our Infrastructure projects. Sure there are crossover situations and many projects depend upon techniques and approaches from both camps; railways will always need stations, airports will always need runways, but the general gist is clear. There is an awful lot going on today, much of which is pretty exciting when it comes to the use of technology, which we will look at over the course of the publication. Smart Infrastructure after all is the foundation by which we will construct our Smart Cities and our future growth depends on it. Something that we will also examine in greater detail in a future issue.

The above distinction is something of a crude split however. Not least because there are different contractual relationships applied to both realms and, to complicate matters further, funding for one versus the other is somewhat distinct (indeed how some quarters define infrastructure in the first place)so the scope of the articles will focus on traditional “economic infrastructure” rather than “social infrastructure” which tends to include Schools and Hospitals and the like.[6]

State of Play

In a post Brexit reality (did “Brentry” kick up this hoopla? It is worth looking at the headlines) the whole infrastructure world has been shaken up in terms of the government's commitment to spending after the (sort of) recent general election. In the UK the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) head Lord Adonis went on record to urge investors to ignore the political undercurrent in play and to take the subsequent headlines with a pinch of salt when it comes to looking at longer term plans[5]. The concern being that coalition governments can spend too much time focussing on short term thinking and knee jerk strategies rather than focussing on longer term initiatives that make real economic sense. Time will tell in this regard but there is hope, and lots of it, if the cards are played right - as captured well in the ICE State of the Nation Report earlier this year.

Quite recently however, the UK government launched a transport investment plan for Britain. Essentially a multi-billion pound fund to assist and supplement the proposed creation of a major road network. Funded by Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) also known as a road and emissions tax the strategy, kickstarted by George Osbourne in 2015, it nowadays sets out the need for future projects to show how they contribute to creating a more balanced economy.[3]

This features the proposed creation of a new major road network, which would see a share of the funds then given to local authorities to improve or replace the most important A roads under their management[2]. The plans aim to improve the productivity and the connectivity of towns and cities across the country by tackling bottlenecks and traffic jams while taking away the misery of lorries and through-traffic impacting upon rural villages and main roads. This of course also ties into the Smart Motorway initiative, which we will introduce in the next section.

Connected Towns and Cities - The First Step.

This is exactly what is meant by “balancing the economy” and the above is driven by an effort to help people get to work or school far better by connecting towns and cities, unlocking land for new homes and improving business links. Each of which forms a critical strand of the government’s strategy to rebalance the economy by ensuring that wealth is spread across the UK. It also supports the government’s modern industrial strategy and key schemes such as HS2 and Heathrow, which are merely aspects of a far larger national initiative. Indeed investment will support every part of the country and, where needed, smaller schemes that are proven solutions with real passenger and drivers benefits will be fast tracked.[2] So it is all go.

Transport Investment Strategy

How chancellor Philip Hammond (and crucially the Office for Budget Responsibility) respond over the coming months and years is the real acid test, but industry and “sensitive schemes” in particular will be scrutinised even more closely going forward. In the wake of the deluge of social spending that needs to happen there will always be uncertainty.  HS2, Crossrail 2, the Northern Powerhouse (Road, Rail, Schools, Innovation etc) and the Heathrow expansion could fall foul to petty interpersonal political rivalries[5] and worry-mongering. Although at the time of going to press it seems that Crossrail 2 has managed to get the go ahead.

Going forward however, regardless of however a person voted, as Brexit negotiations take place solidarity is surely the order of the day. Politicians can then get back back to their paper waving and bewilderment when the dust settles. Everybody is watching the UK at the moment and a lot more needs to be going on behind closed doors. To say the least.

Approach to the Publication.

So, delicate funding obstacles aside, there are a myriad superb projects happening at the moment with many exciting endeavours in the pipeline. What better way to begin this edition of BIM Journal then with a look at the impact of digital trends and initiatives on Civil Engineering so far, before looking at smart motorway initiatives, rail, water and utilities, and nuclear and industrial. Each supported by choice interviews and case studies from the UK and around the world.

In further association with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), we will also hear more from key practitioners as well, before concluding with a look at the role of COBie.

Ultimately an entire IT infrastructure is needed to support the real infrastructure - which costs a lot more. When do you see governments using these modern methods day in day out? When is the sea-change?

Most new infrastructure projects, especially those in Norway, Singapore, and Denmark, already have this IT infrastructure built in. So they can then determine when, for example, roads need to be widened or improved for example.

Utility companies are also implementing this technology to find leaks before they happen. This is a critical thing for these companies to be able to do, and this technology offers a 90 percent certainty of where a leak would occur in the next few months.

As more and more forward thinking initiatives take off, it really is a matter of time.



From BIM Journal Issue 03 - here (for all references see BIM Journal)

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