Trimble roundtable: BIM to field technology

Trimble invited a select group of construction experts to discuss BIM to field technology


BIM has become something of a hoary term over the last three years in the Middle East construction industry. However, although its adoption lags behind the likes of the UK, which is developing Level 3 BIM, its acceptance is growing.

Megaprojects which are complex by their very nature and often involve multiple interfaces, such as is the case with the new Midfield Terminal Building at Abu Dhabi International Airport and the expanded Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai, to name two, are being designed and constructed using BIM.

Leading technology players such as Trimble MEP are educating the industry on ensuring BIM data is properly utilised on the construction site. As part of its ongoing drive to raise awareness, it hosted a closed-session roundtable on BIM to field technology at the JW Marriott Marquis in Dubai. Invited participants included: Marnitz Schutte, engineering manager ALEMCO; Basheer Massad, Abu Dhabi regional director, EFECO; Chris Milford, BIM/CAD manager, Trans Gulf Electro-mechanical; and Ibrahim Atta-Apau, associate director (digital engineering solutions), Atkins.

Christopher Quirk, business development manager at Trimble MEP, said: “Over the last five years everyone started to invest and spend more time on BIM but only up to the modelling point. What’s the point of doing that work if you can’t transition what you have done onto site?

“You have got to get everyone to invest in this. The main contractors now in the UK, the people who are investing in this BIM to field technology are saying, if you want to come onto this site and subcontract, you have got to use our robot.”

Quirk says he is starting to see a sea change in mentality in the Middle East, albeit at a slower pace than in the UK and USA where Trimble MEP has a strong foothold.

Over the years the company has developed a suite of solutions that transfer BIM models electronically to the job site. Gaining traction in the region is the company’s Robotic Total Stations (RTS), which enables the user to import model data to a hand-held tablet device in the field. Most MEP professionals whether tacitly or otherwise, acknowledge that even before a job has started it will end up requiring some form of expensive reworks, which ultimately impacts profit. Put simply, RTS’ accurate layout of design data negates the need for reworks, says Quirk.

Among the company’s clientele is Trans Gulf Electro-mechanical. Chris Milford, its BIM/CAD manager, said the MEP contractor is benefitting from investing in the technology. By utilising the RTS on one of its projects, Trans Gulf has been able to guarantee that what is being built on site matches precisely with the BIM model.

“The biggest benefit is that you are not giving trade contractors license to go and install where they see fit to install,” said Milford. “You are telling them that once the points are marked and drilled and the anchors are there, that’s where your services go. That’s in accordance with your BIM model. If your model is clash free and approved, there can be no comebacks at all.”

He said the technology is being used by the CAD team as well as the site team and has been straightforward to grasp.

Marnitz Schutte, engineering manager at ALEMCO, said identifiable efficiency savings would be a key factor for contractors in deciding whether to invest in such technology.

“If there is a benefit, what is it going to remove from your work? You can’t just add another element,” he said. “To us it’s about removing cost and inefficiency.”

Schutte said it was critical that contractors ensure staff are properly trained in order to unlock the power of BIM to field technology.

“BIM to field is so far ahead that to get the people that are called BIM or 3D professionals, you need to get the skillsets right up there,” he said.

Schutte added that in order to verify work on site ALEMCO has a “discipline hierarchy” – a standard operating procedure that goes from an engineer to site, and that the company is always interested in more efficient ways of working.

“We are definitely interested in new technology,” he said. “Our heads have turned. We need to follow up with our people to make sure they are ready for that. And if Trimble have said it’s as easy as giving that to a foreman, getting them trained up in a couple of hours or a couple of days, giving them that system and letting them go and set up hanger points or sprinkler points, for example, then that’s something that can remove an inefficiency factor, I can remove a cost factor, I can remove a rework factor.”

Basheer Massad, Abu Dhabi regional director at EFECO, added: “You have to remember that we are still, even in the most advanced jobs where BIM models are being utilised, building from 2D drawings and we are still creating as-builts through red-line marked drawings.”

Milford argued that companies cannot afford to continue to work in 2D and have to “evolve”, adding: “If you are working in the model every shop drawing should come out of the model. That should be the golden rule.”

He said that Trans Gulf tracked labour efficiency savings from Trimble MEP’s RTS through on-site studies, where the speed and accuracy of tasks using the RTS was compared to traditional methods.

The evaluation unearthed that the site team was laying out around 60 points a day between them using 2D drawings but when they used the RTS, this figure rose dramatically to 280 points in just under three hours.

Milford said: “We were training up the people who were setting out on site, and we told them that because of this we are going to be able to use more of you in different places. So that got them enthusiastic about it.”

Ibrahim Atta-Apau, associate director (digital engineering solutions) at Atkins, welcomed more companies making the transition to digital technologies and auto point layout.

“So where you get the benefit is that ideally you have a more accurate, coordinated construction which is based on the BIM model,” he said. “But if not all contractors are using it you still have the same qualitative issues. So it’s a cultural thing, you’ve got to bring everyone.”

Massad agreed with Atta-Apau.

“If you don’t have every significant discipline buy into the process from day one to the installation, then BIM is not going to work. Case studies say that if you want to optimise your model development, you need to engage contractors at 50% schematic design stage. You have to identify your significant disciplines and you have to put them under one roof.

“To get the right coordinated model is the first hurdle you have to overcome.”

Quirk said Trimble MEP champions the use of BIM technologies and software by all project stakeholders.

He said: “You have to get everyone to invest in BIM technology. If you’re subcontracting work and you’ve got the duct guy who’s using it and the electrical guy who’s not – then you’re not going to reap the benefits.”

Hardik Patel, BIM manager at Damac Properties, agreed with Quirk, arguing that everyone has to trust the accuracy of the BIM model in the first instance.

He said: “It’s about the belief in the model, it’s not about training. The more developed these technologies get the easier it is to confirm their use. When we do a model, we quality check it and approve it and it’s all resolved. The moment when we give it to the contractors or whoever has to build from that particular model, they don’t have the belief in that data,” he added: “It’s not only training those people in the technology, it’s making them believe that what you are doing is accurate.”

Patel noted that a major concern for developers is verifying the quality of MEP systems after they have been installed. Quirk said that the RTS is designed for the initial fit out of a building but if numerous points and work needed checking, one of its 3D laser scanners would be suitable.

Trimble MEP has just released its Virtual Design and Construction Services (VDC) in the UK and Middle East after successfully launching them in the USA. It also distributes EdgeWise, which complements the company’s 3D laser scanners and scanning software, to provide end-to-end workflows in producing accurate BIM-ready models.

“EdgeWise is a point cloud software. What it does is automate solid objects from point cloud into a CAD model,” said Quirk.

Schutte said he could see the benefit of post-installation verification software for the construction industry.

“That’s ultimately where you guys want to go; to scan and be able to identify the service that is currently sitting in the ceiling,” he said.

Atta-Apau added: “Currently for LOD 500, which is what we are all aiming for, that is the missing link at the moment.”

Patel said that Damac has developed its own database software to simultaneously monitor systems such as sales, cost, BIM, and planning.

“Change is inevitable,” he said. “There is definitely a case for clients putting in the employer’s information requirements clauses that you will have to use BIM models and you will have to set up using BIM to field technology.”

The roundtable agreed that traditional methods of procurement need to change in order to facilitate better use of BIM.

Atta-Apau said design-bid-build contracts are at odds with BIM’s collaborative philosophy.

“For design and build, where you are collaborating, it can work,” he added. “What Atkins is looking at now is partnering with contractors so that we can approach jobs together with the client.”

Schutte agreed, saying: “It’s about a subcontractor letting a client know that this is the benefit to the client, this is where you can save on procurement, this is where you can save on BIM collaboration. If you can show and prove the savings there will be a lot more design and build.”

Massad added: “The beauty of BIM is that it is involved in all stages. The client needs to understand there has to be an overlap now. Contractors need to be involved in the design and planning stage to be able to carryout this information in the most efficient way.”

Milford highlighted the Al Maktoum International Airport expansion project in Dubai (where Trans Gulf is working under main contractor ALEC) as an example of a scheme which is benefitting from a BIM execution plan driven by the client.

“The client knows what it wants and we are delivering it,” he said. “I can honestly say it’s the first proper BIM project I have worked on.”

The roundtable discussed the challenges of installation on site when BIM models are incomplete.

Milford said: “What we do now is that we pick a time during the model and every bracket goes on. We start adding brackets from almost day one. We’ve invested in Trimble MEP’s SysQue. Because it’s so easy just to draw – and many of the modellers just draw.”

Quirk said that in the United States many contractors using the RTS prefabricate the hangers and rods and install them pre-pour, which ultimately saves time and money.

Massad agreed: “It’s worth studying what the Americans are doing,” he said. “I’ve read maybe 25 case studies about BIM challenges and where work went right or wrong. I would say maybe all of them were in the US.”

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