Topcon is acquiring companies that are specialized in BIM. Why is BIM important for Topcon?
BIM is about automation of the construction industry and from the perspective of our customers there are a couple of critical elements that we focus on. Firstly, in the architectural world, completely new standards have been developed that are driving BIM. Secondly, technology advancements — especially the cloud — create widespread possibilities throughout the different phases of a construction job. It offers new ways of seamless collaboration, and the ability to collect and apply 3D, 4D and even 5D data in real time. This offers very significant advantages to the people actually performing the field work. As Topcon is focused on this mobile workforce, we offer them open connectivity and compatibility to whatever elements they get from other parts in the entire construction chain, whether it is designing, planning or scheduling. All these types of solutions from various manufacturers need to be accessible and seamlessly integratable for our customers. This is the driving force for Topcon‘s recent BIM acquisitions, fully supporting the quest to automate the construction industry.
What is the situation now in the AEC industry when we look at it from the geospatial side?
From a geospatial perspective, you can say that the AEC [architecture, engineering and construction] industry is becoming more and more connected to the geospatial environment that we live in. Designs are being made in the full context of reality; buildings and infrastructure are designed as an active part of their environment, and in addition have the ability to be optimized to their full extent before, during and after the construction process. These are some striking examples of the traditional geospatial world and the construction industry coming together.
Do you see any specific business driver that is taking people to BIM?
Currently, the main business drivers for BIM are coming from owners and operators on the one hand as they see the potential for much higher efficiencies, and construction companies that see the opportunities in cost saving before, during and after construction on the other hand. And of course, from the owners’ perspective BIM is especially relevant as the largest part of the cost associated with any building or piece of infrastructure lies in its life time management and maintenance when construction is already done.
Do you visualize the construction lifecycle as a continuous end-to-end process instead of distinct phases with handovers and associated data problems?
The main characteristic of construction is that it is an extremely complex process. Every object to be constructed, every piece of infrastructure or a building has its own specialties, often being performed by a large array of subcontractors and other participants. So construction is probably one of the most complex and segmented manufacturing industries. In optimizing this process, there are a lot of synergies and efficiencies to be obtained. Because of the enormous amount of players and specialties in the industry, this will take some time to implement in order for all involved to really capitalize on the benefits, but eventually we will get there simply because of the enormous benefits.
What are your views about BIM-GIS integration?
The reality of BIM and ‘virtual construction’ is that they put construction into a larger, environmental geospatial perspective — whether within the initial planning phases where optimization of the design can be analyzed in relation to its environment, or in its construction phase when there is so much information that is relevant to the project. For instance, think about large scale construction in area-restricted or highly populated urban environments, where building activities need to be planned, shared and executed in close cooperation with that environment and especially the people living there.
The fact is BIM is based on a geoplatform which drives the comparison and similarities between the two. We truly believe BIM is putting construction into a geospatial reference and with that we will be able to bring vast amount of geospatial experience and technologies — in the forms of knowledge and tools — to the construction business.
From the construction perspective, starting from plan to built, operate, transfer and then finally to manage, where is this technology being used most and which is the phase where it is lacking?
Right now we are seeing many initial BIM drivers coming from the architectural side. The design that is being made by the architects or by the planner is where BIM is being used quite widely today. The actual implementation on site depends on many factors, but initially has created the realization for contractors to start thinking and working in 3D. True seamless integration and handover between the various phases is still a developing area, especially when there are multiple stakeholders involved in the process.
In terms of geographies where do you see the uptake most and which are the most probable regions?
I think right now from the government mandate point of view it is very interesting to see that in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom, the governments are the main drivers making BIM a major focus. Also in Asia we see several countries driving and adopting BIM, for instance, China. In other countries too, the governments are pushing and giving incentives to start using BIM. In North America, we see growing adoption to several key elements of BIM in construction.