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Case study: MoD buildings, St Kilda

BIM gives project remote control

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Romulo Simionatto, Information Manager at BIM.Technologies explains why BIM was the only solution for a small but incredibly isolated redevelopment on St Kilda – the most northerly point in the British Isles.

The archipelago of St Kilda is not only the remotest part of the British Isles, it’s also home to the largest colony of North Atlantic gannets in the world, and a World Heritage Site because of its natural and cultural significance. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s also the setting for a small and uniquely challenging BIM-enabled project.

There has been a small MoD presence on St Kilda for many years, but with the current buildings becoming obsolete, QinetiQ, the MoD’s defence contractor, submitted plans for redevelopment that would see the old buildings demolished and replaced with new, energy-efficient ones, resulting in reduced emissions and fewer supply trips.

Galliford Try Infrastructure, as the main specialist contractor, appointed BIM.Technologies as BIM coordinator for this unique project consisting of an energy centre and research station for missile and weather monitoring and an accommodation block.

Along with Hugh Broughton Architects, the aim is to create two new buildings that will be smaller, more efficient, and importantly for this unique landscape, sympathetic to their surroundings.

Both buildings are single storey, although the accommodation block is distributed along two levels due to the sloped terrain. The other building is an energy centre that will provide power for the whole installation. It is a crucial part of the scheme since bad weather can leave people stranded on the island as has happened in the past, so having a secure and reliable energy supply is a must.

The structures are composed of mainly of pre-fabricated CLT (cross-laminated timber) elements and some steel elements as well.

Construction began in April 2017 and is expected to be complete at the end of 2018. The island’s remoteness and associated difficulties of being a MoD and World Heritage Site (there are many restrictions on visits and materials) created a set of unique challenges for the team to solve.

The project is creating two new buildings that will be smaller, more efficient and sympathetic to their surroundings.

The most obvious challenges are the location of the project, its environmental sensitivities and the very short window for construction. How do you redevelop two buildings on a remote island, with access only available over a few months and with the added constraints of being a World Heritage Site?

The natural solution was to build offsite and ship the parts to the location for quick assembly.

Offsite manufacturing is gaining in popularity as a potential solution to many of the construction industry’s problems, and was highlighted last year by Mark Farmer’s Modernise or Die report. By applying the benefits of BIM to offsite construction, it can be a powerful element in reducing costs and risk, creating accuracy and efficiencies, and improving health and safety, which are all vital components for this project.

As BIM coordinator for this remote build, it is vital to make sure we deliver a perfectly accurate building using a 3D intelligent model accessible by team members who can identify key assets such as heating equipment, catering equipment, openings etc, making the model an as-built version of the real building.

Being in such a remote location requires a reliable method of accessing the building information: viewing O&M manuals, knowing where the equipment is and how to contact a supplier will all be available for the client online. Facilities management for the site will be in digital form, adding tremendous value to the asset.

By creating an accurate 3D BIM model, design solutions and buildability are tested, and clashes avoided well before there are feet on the ground – especially important when there is a tight window of construction opportunity.

BIM.Technologies used the Warboard platform

But the BIM model is also a fantastic way for the client to engage with the entire process and understand the whole lifecycle of the asset. This is the first time Galliford Try Infrastructure has used BIM, and it is incredibly enthusiastic about the process, understanding the value it can bring for the long-term viability of the buildings.

As this was the first BIM project for most of the team, they had to learn on the fly. They have seen the benefits, especially the ability to share information from a single source of truth (BIM model). Providing the remote team with access to the models adds extra certainty rather than relying on just drawings.

Because the design has been coordinated and all drawings derive directly from the 3D models, the site team can plan ahead and focus more on getting things built quickly as they have a very limited time window during the year.

Some clients tend to associate BIM with just a 3D model, but it’s more than that. It provides a digital prototype of a building that can be scanned, queried, and contain detailed information resulting in a full digital representation of the real thing.

We’ve used the Warboard platform for design coordination throughout the project so far, enabling us to run clash detection exercises for the first stages. As the project progresses and the design becomes more detailed in the early part of 2018, more exercises will be run so that accurate prefabrication can begin.

Warboard is a cloud-based platform which manages issues in a federated model helping collaboration and communication across a project team. It enables the team to manage issues found in the model from a common source and set a course for resolution while also tracking any outstanding issues from previous reviews.

We introduced Galliford Try Infrastructure to Warboard for this project, and they have certainly seen the benefits for themselves as everyone involved has access to all the information online and can make comments.

As our team is spread across the UK, including architects based in London, and others based in Inverness and Edinburgh, it’s quite hard and time-consuming to get a team meeting – having an online platform makes the process much easier and speeds up coordination and issue resolutions.

The St Kilda project provides a perfect example of the importance of taking a whole life-cycle approach for an asset, marrying the benefits of BIM, offsite manufacturing, collaboration and coordination.

But we are still in the initial stages of educating clients in our industry, and we need to see more examples of BIM-enabled projects like St Kilda, so they can see the value and then realise what BIM can do on the next project.

By applying the benefits of BIM to offsite construction, it can be a powerful element in reducing costs and risk, creating accuracy and efficiencies, and improving health and safety, which are all vital components for this project.– Romulo Simionatto, BIM.Technologies