UK Head of BIM
UK Rail BIM Manager
Parsons Brinckerhoff is a global consulting firm assisting public and private clients to plan, develop, design, construct, operate and maintain critical infrastructure. Andy Powell, UK Head of BIM, and Paul Trethewey, UK Rail BIM Manager, Parsons Brinckerhoff, spoke with Geospatial World on how Building Information Modelling (BIM) has the potential to not only change business dynamics but also add value to clients
It is often said that BIM is disruptive. What is your opinion?
It is disruptive in the sense that the introduction of Building Information Modelling (BIM) working methodology in many ways is not an evolutionary change but a fundamental change in the way we produce engineering design content. This is challenging and questioning whether established roles and responsibilities are suitable for the technical tasks at hand. As an example, since the introduction of Computer Aided Design (CAD) into the design and construction sectors there has been a partial separation of duties by two groups of individuals – those that do the engineering of a design and those that would create the digital representation of that design through CAD. BIM changes this. What are often still referred to as CAD software applications are now advanced enough to incorporate much more of the engineering development. This means that these tools are more likely to be used by engineers.
The roles of traditional CAD staff are also changing. The requirement for more advanced technical outputs comes with the responsibility of robust and comprehensive data management. However, traditional CAD outputs are not redundant; they still hold their value and the level of BIM implementation on a project should always be appropriate for the requirements of the agreed work.
BIM has the potential to be a ‘game changer’ in the field of construction too. Historically, on the construction site, we have struggled to read 3 metre long pieces of paper (as railway track design drawings often are!) which are only a two-dimensional representation of a design. We are now developing the tools to allow interrogation of the complete design as a 3D model on a portable device; panning, zooming and rotating to whatever part of the design is required. These benefits may seem obvious but there is a challenge in conveying them to those who feel completely out of their comfort zone when handed an iPad!
3D model of the Crossrail – the new high frequency, high capacity railway project under way mainly in central London.
Does Parsons Brinckerhoff have separate BIM practices for each line of business?
Yes. Parsons Brinckerhoff is organised into business units that cater to different market sectors. Buildings, Civils & Structures, Power, Rail and Highways are the big units within our UK offices. The client and project requirements for each of these units vary and to meet those requirements it is necessary to implement a different flavour of BIM. For example, BIM working practices and the associated digital tools that are utilised to achieve this output are relatively well proven within the building design sector. One reason for this is the self-contained nature of a vertical structure; geospatial constraints are usually defined and the entire building itself can be viewed as one asset. We therefore need to take that expertise and apply it effectively in other parts of our business. The design of linear assets such as highway or rail infrastructure presents some additional, albeit stimulating, challenges to take into consideration. These include questions on how one manages the geospatially correct digital representation of such a large geographic scope of design whilst ensuring existing IT infrastructure is not over-tasked. To what level of detail should engineering components be modelled? What digital tools are available (and best suited) to provide a design that is integrated with the track geometry or highway strings? Parsons Brinckerhoff is working collaboratively with clients and industry across the UK infrastructure sector to shape the responses to questions such as these. It is an exciting and innovative time to be involved with BIM implementation.
How does Parsons Brinckerhoff manage its corporate BIM strategy?
A high level corporate BIM strategy was published as a guide for the whole of our UK business. From then on each of the main business units has been tasked with creating its own, more detailed strategy (yet aligned with the national goals), which takes into consideration the requirements of particular types of projects and the demands of clients. To a degree; where appropriate, we are developing and applying standards and practices which run across all of our business units. This includes things like training frameworks and license arrangements. However, due to the wide range of business unit requirements there will always be a wide range of digital tools being employed within Parsons Brinckerhoff and that is how it should be; i.e., the right tool for the job at hand.
4D construction model of the Heathrow Airport.
Traditionally BIM has been primarily employed at the design and construct phases. Do you foresee it being applied increasingly for O&M as well, in other words providing value to owners?
This is certainly the aspiration, yes. Within the UK the majority of our major clients are already planning how to achieve this. For the most part, facilities management teams remain to be convinced of the benefits, but it is only a matter of time before more tangible examples are available to show how powerful an information-rich model of an entire asset can be. What will be key to the success of this is defining some additional user friendly interfaces, most likely web-based, than are currently on offer. We have had some experience of this particularly from our work at Heathrow Airport, where the client recognises the value of having a detailed data model of its asset being delivered alongside the physical one.
How do you manage gaps in data management?
The government, in its mandate for BIM on public sector projects, has stipulated that the information generated needs to be managed effectively. Until recently IT infrastructure has not been conducive to rigorous data management to respond to the complexities inherent in the construction supply chain.
In general we need a better understanding of the importance of data in our designs and to understand that it has an inherent value. People need to be able to manage the data content of designs through procedures which are secure, robust and part of a structured workflow. We are in the process of meeting these requirements by implementing a combination of a data management system (primarily used to host the graphical design data) and a document management system (used to host all non-graphical design files). These two systems must have an integrated workflow and operate in unison.
Do you believe that partnering a BIM person with a line-of-business person is a way of leveraging limited resources?
In order to ensure buy-in and support for BIM from senior management, tangible examples of cost savings and benefits in efficiency must be provided. The implementation of BIM is high on the agenda for and each business unit is fortunate enough to have support at the Director level in seeing this goal realised nationwide. We recognise that BIM is a tool and needs to be used, often by our younger less experienced staff, in conjunction with the broad experience of our senior engineers.
What do you see as the main business benefits of BIM?
We have seen from our own experiences that BIM provides us with optimisation efficiencies in the design process and increased versatility (and consequentially value) of our technical outputs. BIM workflows lean towards strong collaboration within the design team that will ultimately deliver a better outcome. The coordination aspects that it provides, increases the reliability and quality of the design. And the effective communication that it enables ensures that everyone involved in the design and construction process has a better understanding of what is being developed than could be achieved using just a two dimensional approach.
We also believe strongly that as a working method, utilising BIM will provide added value to clients particularly in terms of capital cost and carbon usage.
Do you foresee that in the future architects and engineers are going to have to be conversant with an increasing range of software tools?
The range of software available means that we can be much more tactical in choosing which tool to apply to a job. We have global agreements giving access to the full range of applications from several major vendors so we can access the most appropriate functionality for each task. This will require architects and engineers to be familiar with a wider range of tools, but should mean that capability is increased accordingly. We are seeing new tools emerging into the market rapidly and we understand that although BIM is very much a process, using the best tools available can considerably aid its effective use. This does require that complete and robust project standards are necessary in the form of a BIM Execution Plan, which must be agreed by all key project team members. Data management and interoperability must be considered as part of this process and we are constantly watching the market to ensure that designs developed in separate packages are done in the relevant open standard. Within the next year all our projects will be managed in a structured content and data managed environment, which complies to BS 1192.