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BIM is changing the game for construction

Richard Humphrey
Richard Humphrey
Senior Director, Infrastructure and Collaboration Products,

Even though the uptake of BIM and 3D modelling is an encouraging trend, the AEC industry is lagging behind sectors like manufacturing, says Richard Humphrey, Senior Director, Infrastructure and Collaboration Products, Autodesk

How is building information modelling (BIM) turning the construction and infrastructure industry on their head?
Building Information Modelling or BIM is a process and it is already changing the game for people in the construction and infrastructure industry. However, the AEC industry is lagging behind in many respects. Based on my previous experience of working in the manufacturing industry, I would say AEC is roughly 15 years behind what manufacturing refers to as digital prototyping. What we call BIM today was adopted by the manufacturing industry in their digital design and manufacturing processes a long ago. As a result, while the manufacturing industry has seen an exponential curve in productivity gains over the last 15-20 years, we have not witnessed much productivity gains in the AEC sector even in the last 50 years.

BIM for infrastructure is enabled by technology, and recent technology developments should help the AEC industry cross the chasm towards greater BIM productivity gains. Autodesk’s InfraWorks 360 is one such technology. It is a 3D modelling solution that helps unlock all the available data to design and make better decisions in the context of reality. One can extract various bits of information from GIS data, CAD or satellite imagery and integrate all that into a 3D model. The key for BIM is to create a model that can be leveraged in the entire project lifecycle right from the delivery process. For example, the city of San Francisco leveraged BIM to create different scenarios for their master and project plans.

But the vision now is to move towards re-use of this data from project delivery. If the data that is collected and processed during project initiation and construction phases by engineers and architecture firms is delivered back to the owner in a 3D model, it can used for asset management or maintenance.

This way, the BIM model for the entire city also continues to get bigger and bigger for authorities to make better decisions about managing existing assets and planning capital projects. Therefore, the key is that the model as well as the associated data remains in the entire lifecycle of the project.

What according to you are the main business/economic benefits of BIM for infrastructure?
It is all about productivity gains. If owners and planners utilise BIM in the project planning stage, they can save time in generating proposals. A 3D model that can be explored is also far better in communicating design intent to key stakeholders, thus reducing the time needed to gain approvals.

According to the San Francisco Planning Department, earlier it used to take months to gain alignment with engineers in the public works department, but now the same work is being accomplished in just a day’s time. Another example is the Denver International Airport, one of the largest airports in the US, which has created full 3D models of the airport and its surroundings. Earlier, it used to take airport authorities months of meetings with various people even to add a fire station or any such facility. But in one recent case, they were able to coordinate with multiple stakeholders the initial conceptual designs in a single one-hour meeting. The authorities did all their planning with the help of Autodesk InfraWorks 360 and were able to improve their efficiency and productivity.

3D Digital modelling also adds a lot of new essence to the infrastructure industry. For example in the Middle East it takes years to get approvals for planning processes either from the government agencies or high-end stakeholders. However, if they have a model with which they can engage the stakeholders and help them become part of the process, this whole process can be reduced from, say, five years to less than a year.

A BIM model-based process can achieve 30% more efficiency either through more productive or efficient design or through better coordination and collaboration. One can easily detect fine errors and clash detection in the digital/virtual world. Also, one can perform simulation and analysis to predict and simulate how their project will perform.

This is accomplished because errors can be address virtually before construction and the ability to simulate project performance and maintenance costs ensures that the optimal design is chosen early in the project life when changes are easier to make and have a greater impact.

If you can design a better road or highway, which delivers best level service, in such a way that it has reduced construction time and material costs, ultimately your operation costs will be less and you will have huge long term efficiencies and cost gains.

How much have we progressed on the road to BIM-GIS integration?
BIM is a model-centric process. Its core is a data model which is all about information. Therefore, the BIM model data about roads and buildings is one type of information and the actual spatial data that exists is another kind. We have to bring both of them in a single environment. This kind of convergence is happening today. Different types of information are leveraged in one single process. More importantly, it is the convergence of BIM and GIS that unifies all kinds of data and leverages the Cloud, Web, mobile and social technologies.

How is implementation of BIM taking off globally?
There have been a number of countries which have mandated the use of BIM. Autodesk is among many other companies which are a part of UK’s effort to define BIM specification for public projects. There are many other Infrastructure owners that are including or planning to mandate BIM deliverables. For example, several US transportation departments are calling for building according to BIM specifications. In fact, the Map-21 policy of the US incentivises states for using 3D models and visualisations, and using BIM effectively. We recently gave BIM tours to the government in Japan where the RMIT group is leveraging Autodesk technology.

Countries like Brazil, Mexico, Japan and Finland are also pursuing BIM standards similar to that of than UK. In fact, Finland is two years ahead of UK; by the end of this year, all its public projects will have a BIM mandate. In the Middle East, Qatar, Dubai and Saudi Arabia have BIM as part of their Infrastructure specifications. We are working in Qatar around BIM specifications for infrastructure and buildings. Big economies are betting on BIM for public projects, the rest will certainly follow. However, there is still a long way to go.

What are the Autodesk offerings in this area?
We have a broad portfolio of products, and InfraWorks 360 is our latest solution. It can be integrated with our other solutions such as Civil 3D, Map 3D, Revit, BIM360 and Recap. With this portfolio, engineers and planners can aggregate BIM data from Civil 3D and Revit with existing conditions data from GIS or reality capture into a single 3D context model. Reality capture refers primarily to the use of photogrammetry and LiDAR/laser scans of the existing conditions. The power comes when this data can be integrated with BIM and GIS, so planning and design can start with a high-quality model of what is real. InfraWorks 360 enables this aggregated data model to be visualised and provides tools to rapidly generate and analyse new designs in that real work context model.

BIM is mainly deployed for design and project delivery process, and with InfraWorks 360, we pushed it down to master plan and project planning phase. The next stage would be to have owners and engineering companies align around BIM deliverables to be included as part of the Owner Asset Management process.