A picture paints a thousand words but BIM tells the story

by FM Media
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As group technical BIM manager at Warren and Mahoney, Jason Howden is working across a number of projects in New Zealand, particularly around the rebuilding of Christchurch. He says it is time that Australasian companies wholly embrace Building Information Modelling (BIM) as it becomes an integral part of FM.

FM: In what sense is Building Information Modelling (BIM) becoming the new standard?

JH: BIM is a must for large property owners who have to hold onto a large volume of information. On the day of handover to the client, there can be as many as 10,000 documents and drawings of the building. This pile of paper will arrive on a palette that weighs two tonnes. It’s not easy to transport and it takes up a dedicated storeroom. Five years down the track nobody remembers which box contains what papers and they’re wet because of a flood and the information is lost.

That is where having the information as a complete BIM model comes into its own. In the end the client has all the information in the cloud. They can look and add to it anytime, anywhere, with a computer or smartphone. This is especially useful for large and complex buildings, such as hospitals, universities, prisons, shopping malls or theatres.

BIM started life in North America where the US army saw BIM tech for what it was – integrated workflows, reduced risk and better understanding of budget. In other words, all the things that they pride themselves on to make for a better working machine; so they mandated it. That was a big step change for the industry. Now the UK Government has required industry players to be Level 2 BIM compliant before 2016 if they want to build. The New Zealand and Australian governments are seeking to accelerate the adoption of BIM in the construction industry and requiring the use of BIM on key government projects.

How does BIM save time?

It’s all about stakeholder communication. On a recent project, a situation came up where we had to add a service tunnel into the plans. Using BIM I was able to find out specs from the concrete manufacturer and then input the dimensions, and by the time the conversation was over we had made it into a 3D model. The model was able to provide the exact quantities of how many pre-cut concrete panels were needed and the volume of concrete. This all took place in a site meeting – they were thinking it would be a two-week drafting process, but instead the concept was approved within 20 minutes.

What does the future hold for BIM?

The real visionaries are looking at facility management and asset management – how they can use digital technology to understand and optimise running costs of a building. That’s where highest costs are, not the design. If you can save one percent a year for the next 100 years over the life of the building, that’s a lot.

BIM also has a strong role to play in functional use. It opens up all sorts of avenues. As a theoretical example, a BIM model could be used for way finding in a hospital. You get to the entrance and just want to know where your sick mother is. You could download a 3D model map onto your smartphone to help you find her in the ICU (intensive care unit).

Google is one of the leading pioneers of this technology. It has tools like Project Tango, which uses specialised smartphones to track altmetric and GPS data to map the built environment. Eventually we are going to be in a world that’s completely interconnected. BIM is part of that inevitable progression.

Is BIM a good financial investment?

If you keep to the BIM it will pay you a considerable return. I’ve encountered projects where using BIM to mitigate waste has created savings of more than twice the cost to create the model.

Typically on a project about 20 percent of materials that require manual work such as infloor trunking and duct are wasted as offcuts. I’ve done jobs with BIM where there was little waste ducting because we knew with accuracy what quantities were needed. On a recent project we worked with 15,000 pieces of ducting and only 15 offcuts were wasted. For another job we ordered piping directly from the BIM specifications and we had a one percent margin of error. Admittedly, it is hard to sell that as a tangible benefit to clients because it’s money they never spent.

BIM prevents the situations where the contractor arrives on-site and someone has put a pipe where they were going to put their duct, so something has to get redone or recut. That waste is mitigated because everyone knows where they need to go and it has been coordinated in 3D in the one model.

Explain in one sentence, why does the construction industry need to embrace BIM?

A picture paints a thousand words – but BIM tells the whole story. The BIM model captures and guides the whole process right from design through to operations, all from one location that can be worked on simultaneously and in real time. This has major time and cost saving implications and it needs to be embraced by the industry. Furthermore, everyone has to buy into BIM for it to work – you cannot just have a BIM guy. People tend to want to do things the way they always have but step change is underway and there’s no looking back.

A BIM Design 660x450

In New Zealand, the Christchurch Rebuild has been a catalyst for the adoption of BIM more widely within the construction industry. Warren and Mahoney (W&M) projects in the rebuild that have made use of BIM include:

  • Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct – An estimated 2000 people will work in or use the 42,000-square metre precinct daily. At the peak of construction 500 people will work on the project. W&M has used BIM technologies to assist the Fletcher construction team onsite to check bill of material and schedule of quantities, to digitally set out building elements, and to test prototype building elements for manufacture in the BIM environment.
  • Canterbury Arts Centre – As a result of the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes, 22 of the 23 Heritage buildings at the Arts Centre sustained significant damage and were subsequently deemed unsafe. The restoration and rebuild of the Arts Centre is taking place in phases due to its complexity as one of the largest Heritage restoration projects in the world. Laser scanners were used to assist the capture and creation of a digital 3D model of the original buildings – these models were later used as background to the 3D design documentation. Physical 3D models were also printed from the digital models.
  • Christchurch Hospital Acute Services Unit – major construction will begin later in the year on this 62,000-square metre project. The design has been worked on by Katoa – a consortium of W&M, Chow:Hill and Thinc Health. 3D design documentation was prepared using BIM authoring software, allowing for enhanced visualisation throughout the process.
  • PwC – The new building, to be known as the PwC Centre is centrally positioned near to the developing business centre, retail and justice precincts, as well as to transport links. The building is lightweight, but strong and designed to 130 percent of the current building code (IL3). With a high level of energy efficiency and a distinctive façade that embraces its surroundings, the PwC Centre will be a landmark. 3D design documentation was prepared using BIM authoring software allowing for enhanced design visualisation throughout the design process.
  • Canterbury Engineering the Future (CETF) – This project is a refurbishment of the University of Canterbury and is due to be finished in 2017. The existing buildings will be stripped back to their structural frame, before being recreated. Instead of the present ‘defensive’ layout, with fixed barriers between departments, the new design will be more fluid with a central connecting hub that will link the departments and provide both formal and informal shared teaching space supportive of modern teaching methods. 3D design documentation was prepared using BIM authoring software, allowing for enhanced design visualisation throughout the design process.
  • KEB – King Edward Barracks is a $150 million-plus office and apartment complex around a central square that will be built to replace Christchurch’s old police headquarters. Up to 1500 workers will eventually occupy the site, including 350 public servants. With up to four commercial buildings, walkways, car park building and row of apartments, the development will take up the entire riverside block between Hereford, Cashel and Montreal Streets and Cambridge Terrace. 3D design documentation was prepared using BIM authoring software allowing for enhanced design visualisation throughout the design process.

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