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Taking BIM beyond construction

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Romulo Simionatto, information manager at BIM.Technologies, says that while BIM is becoming embedded on the design side, there’s still work to do on post-handover.

“It’s all about the data…” This 21st century mantra has made its way from tech and ICT to the AEC industry. There is an increasing buzz in the air about harnessing the power of data to boost all areas of the sector.

To be honest, this is nothing new as the vision for Digitally Built Britain has been around for quite a while. However, it seems that only now clients and end users are starting to comprehend (and request) that their building be delivered with an accurate digital counterpart. Arguably, this is a big step to shift the focus from efficient construction to efficient operation as the ultimate goal.

You may be asking, isn’t fast, cost efficient and risk-free construction the whole point of it all? I would definitely say it is a major goal, but neglects the bigger picture. I’ll explain my view below.

Pioneering architects and engineers are already doing an amazing job in applying digital tools and complex data structures for design. Complex iterations between numerous parameters enabling a wide range of logic driven solutions through generative design, soon to be further enhanced through the application of machine learning and other branches of artificial intelligence.

These processes are breaking away from their confinement within the offices of data scientists and software developers and are pushing to reach the design team’s office faster than we first thought possible.

On the construction delivery side, innovative contractors have fully mastered the time and cost dimensions of BIM. Digital tools now allow construction teams to effectively simulate buildability, establish multiple routes for procurement and programme according to the project while also identifying and simulating key risk scenarios.

All looking good for design and construction, but on the post-handover side there still seems to be a lot of catch-up to do. The industry innovators are continuously proving they have achieved digital mastery over design and construction, but that’s only about 10% or less of the building’s whole lifecycle (and cost). I am not demeaning the focus on delivering construction, but see it is a natural step that builds up to something greater.

The time has come to master how we can simulate our buildings in use and set out at early stages exactly what we want to deliver. With the incorporation of sensors and building operating systems we can monitor our building in real time, identify trends and ultimately understand the how’s and whys of buildings in use. This in turn will feed back into the design of new buildings and unlock a new world of possibilities.

The vast majority of project teams are still delivering tons of manuals and schedules that get locked away and rely on extremely analogue processes. Digital deliverables are happening but the limitations are still evident. They rely on database technology that has been available for decades and do not present any dynamic graphic interface or support for real time data monitoring.

It also takes months, perhaps years, for the FM team to fully understand the building after handover, at which point usually further works and improvements are procured to achieve an ideal operational performance. A first step to resolving this has been taken with the soft landings approach and now with digitally monitored buildings we can effectively “close the loop” on design, construction and in-use.

Thinking a little bit further we start to see how our digitally enabled buildings start to incorporate active functionalities. Automated warehouses and factories are the first examples of these “living” buildings but they do not have a human centred operational requirement.

A few years ago, The Edge building in Amsterdam showcased what can be achieved if operational efficiency is deemed a priority and we put our minds to it. Smart buildings are not science fiction and are arguably a necessity to cope with our increasingly dense urban centres.

Houses, hospitals, schools, universities, transport infrastructure, these have the unpredictable human factor within the mix and are the next challenge. We now start to see how these buildings begin to behave as “nodes” in the complex and ever-changing city environment.

We have to stop trying to predict the unpredictable and start understanding why the built environment performs the way it does. Data is available and in fact it always has been (how many tons of lost O&M manuals and databases are out there?), but it is only with the aid of interconnected digital tools that we can pick up the pace.

At BIM.Technologies we have the opportunity to work with some really high-end projects all over the UK and the drive to deliver asset data has increased significantly over the past months. We are hoping to see more and more of these projects and do our best to help deliver innovation in the industry. Exciting times ahead of us.

Image: Vadim Ponomarenko/Dreamstime

The time has come to master how we can simulate our buildings in use and set out at early stages exactly what we want to deliver. – Romulo Simionatto, BIM.Technologies