The engineering and construction industry has traditionally been very conservative when it comes to embracing new technologies. On the whole, the industry has been slow to adopt transformative technologies which has meant that over recent decades, productivity has stagnated or even declined. This situation is, however, slowly changing as more and more companies are taking advantage of digital technologies – specifically building information modelling – and are transforming how they manage and operate projects from concept through to demolition.
What is building information modelling?
Basically building information modelling (BIM) is a central platform that integrates a number of technologies including digital sensors, intelligent machines, mobile devices and software apps.
How does it work?
Probably the best way to illustrate how BIM works in practice is by way of an example. One of the best current applications of BIM is that of Crossrail – the multi-million pound new underground line being constructed across London. Crossrail’s designers and engineers are using a centralised set of linked BIM databases to integrate around 1.7 million CAD files into a single information source.
During Crossrail’s construction, drones have been surveying the site. Three-dimensional printers have prefabricated many of the building components and GPS and radio-frequency identification are being used to keep track of materials, equipment and workers which allow for the optimisation of flows and inventory levels. Much of the actual construction is being completed by robots and autonomous vehicles. Aerial mapping is being used to compare the work in progress with a virtual model thereby enabling course corrections to be undertaken quickly and minimising corrective work.
BIM is the technological platform that integrates and coordinates all these different elements.
What difference will BIM make to me?
In the design and engineering phase alone, BIM will help you to identify potential design clashes and construction issues thereby averting the need for costly corrective work. In addition, project management will be an easier process as information will be more transparent and readily accessible. BIM will also make the task of ensuring quality control and maintaining site safety much easier.
As can be seen in the Crossrail example, BIM offers the potential for cost savings and productivity gains. It has been estimated that the streamlined and automated processes that will come with full-scale digitisation could result in savings of up to 21% in the design and construction phases and up to 17% in the operations phase.
What will happen if I don’t adopt BIM?
Despite the traditional conservatism of the engineering and construction industry, more and more companies are seeing the value of adopting BIM. This means that the gap between the digital leaders and the laggards is widening.
For those companies that want to maintain a competitive edge, it will be increasingly necessary to embrace BIM as an overarching digitisation platform.
Make sure that you upgrade your competency, change internal attitudes and processes and provide the necessary investment in BIM or you could risk losing out competitively.