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The DNA of Future Construction

by CW Staff on Oct 11, 2013

Robert Sargent, a director at Stride Treglown, talks to Maan Abdulhafeedh about Building Information Modelling (BIM) and the digital revolution it will bring to the construction industry.

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is leading to a more collaborative way of working, according to Robert Sargent, a director of architectural practice Stride Treglown.

Sargent is the firm’s recognised BIM expert, leading its BIM strategy and providing consultancy services to other companies. He believes that it will lead to a more collaborative way of working across the industry.

To put it simply, BIM is the DNA of future construction. All of a building’s physical and functional information and characteristics are recorded digitally from the earliest stages through design and construction. This also serves as a manual for the operational life of a structure.

The shared knowledge throughout all processes will help decision-making and be drastically more time efficient. What isn’t as simple is implementing this rather new technology in an industry that can be slow to adopt change.

Sargent said: “People are weary of BIM for the classic reason of a fear of change. Different people are all on different phases of acceptance. It takes time and understanding.

“BIM is not just about software, it’s about process and changing existing mindsets on how to procure, construct and transfer information from one stage to the next.”

A lot of people are involved through the many stages of designing, building and delivering projects and with the current way of working, information is often lost between groups of people. Starting from scratch to retrieve certain pieces of data is time consuming and not cost-efficient.

BIM is a virtual information model that can be developed continuously when a new team takes control of a project. It provides more extensive information that is readily available and can help to simplify more complex structures. All involved get a head start with no backtracking or resourcing, since the information is built up collaboratively. For this concept to work successfully, architects, engineers and contractors need to communicate more effectively.

Sargent said: “A word used a lot is collaboration but it takes working with people. I’m working very closely with our HR team to understand how to hold a meeting and get people working together.”

BIM also offers a wider scope of digital information at an earlier stage of development than traditional building plans and two dimensional drawings. Spatial relationships, light analysis, geographic information, and quantities and properties of building components – everything to the nuts, screws and bolts - is recorded and tagged.

Sargent said: “When you get a set of tender documents, it’s dead. It’s a piece of paper. The idea is to give you something electronic. You take that and develop it and it saves you time.”

This modeling and analysis will not only help present and scheme structures but will greatly aid the long term care of a building. This is where a lot of time and money can be saved.

When a building is handed over to a client so will the digital model, where everything from a light fitting, windowpane or piece of furniture is recorded. This makes any of these parts easier to source when they need replacing. The BIM process is made up of three levels.

The first of these involves using the software to help a client visualise its end product. Once this is done, the information created within the initial design is shared with all consultants, contractors and sub-contractors.

This provides information on electricals, plumbing and other systems, reducing data requests at later stages. Individual portions of a project also come together and layers are interlaced and overlapped into a giant 3D model.

The model then goes live for all stakeholders involved in the process to provide their input and determine the best methods, quantities and material for design and construction to ensure the project meets its budget and schedule.

As the model develops, BIM file sizes can grow to 600 megabytes. Traditional methods of sharing files, such as email, are not sufficient to handle such complex documents.

‘Old fashioned’ techniques such as co-location – getting project members together in a room each with their own standalone system, to work on the same project and combine all data, into the 3D drawing is seen as adequate until a more ideal system is available.

Sargent said: “Once the basic information infrastructure is in place and we’ve learned to work with it, numerous technologies, in use or in the pipeline, can be brought in.”

The UK government is expecting savings of around 25% through the use of BIM on major projects, while American government lead projects (GSA) have to all be delivered in BIM. The UK will follow suit so that every construction project in 2016 for the central government will have to use the software.

Sargent feels there are three things industry professionals need to know about BIM. The first is that the digital revolution is well on its way and companies need to change their mindset in order to embrace it. The second is BIM is not just about technology but new methods of collaborative working. And finally, BIM is an insight to the future.

“In the next ten years, BIM will become a part of the natural construction process. BIM will be another word, like brief and be a part of every project.”