British BIM start-up spun out of Kier targets new customers

A BIM platform that originated in-house at Kier and is still used for the majority of Kier contracts that use BIM is now actively targeting other contractors and clients, aiming to shift its client base to a wide mix between Kier and external customers.

Technology start-up Clearbox, which has a core product called BIMXtra, became independent of Kier 12 months ago after originating in the contractor’s process and engineering division.

It has already been adopted on a £177m Thames Water sewage works project currently being delivered by an Aecom Murphy Kier joint venture, and is also being used on a Crossrail contract by the BAM Ferrovial Kier joint venture plus the wider team of consultants and subcontractors.  

Clearbox also has an operation in the Netherlands which it says is gaining traction.

BIMXtra manages BIM model data that might originate in a variety of different software programs, and allows data to be uploaded onto the platform, and then enhanced by, different members of the team.

At the end of the project, BIMXtra can also be used to create the COBie outputs from data collected through the job as well as creating an “intelligent” linked O&M manual.

But the defining factor about BIMXtra, says managing director Graeme Forbes, is that it can integrate the BIM data from different authoring tools as well as different projects and allow the combined data to be interrogated and analysed. 

A federated BIM model, using Clearbox’s BimXtra, was used on the Meadow Road sheltered housing scheme in West Sussex

Forbes explained: “Fundamentally, most BIM environments are based on transactional tools, our approach is to create an integrated, real-time information management platform making BIM accessible to all at the point of use. It allows you to see across multiple projects and manage them in real time. It means we can see further and deeper into the data.”

“People use BIM differently, at the moment it can be used differently in different offices [of the same company]. With BIMXtra we can regularise that information and turn it into plain language, making the data more robust for downstream processes.”

Clearbox is an Oracle partner company. “Oracle see BIMXtra this as a game-changer for Big Data in construction, but we are not wedded to them,” said Forbes, a former managing director of Kier’s process and engineering division.   

He also argues that the assumption that each project will have a standalone BIM model will fail to deliver the real enterprise-level benefits for a contractor or consultant using BIM on multiple projects.

“BIM tools can be quite complicated, so imagine using it across a project with 200 models. BIMXtra aggregates all the information across the 200 models and delivers a true common data environment in which to deliver the outcomes.

“The utopia of one model isn’t the easiest way to do it – you need the project in bite-sized chunks, then BIMXtra allows you to hold the bits together as a data centric-solution with a visual interface to view the outcomes.”  

Clearbox’s registered office is still at Kier’s base in Sandy, Bedfordshire – although the business now operates from Basingstoke – and Forbes says that the contractor is now a supportive investor.

“Kier realised that the technology had a wider application than Kier could provide. We also had a lot of interest from non-construction businesses, so Kier enabled us to go to the side but remains as investor by purchasing licences, while we provide a managed service to them and other customers based around a SAAS business model,” explained Forbes.

As well as software licences, the company provides BIM training and change management consultancy. Clearbox BIMXtra will be exhibiting at the ICE’s Transport Asset Management conference on 25 November.

An image of Deepham’s sewage treatment works in east London, a £177m scheme that has adopted BIMXtra

People use BIM differently, at the moment it can be used differently in different offices [of the same company]. With BIMXtra we can regularise that information and turn it into plain language making the data more robust for downstream processes.– Graeme Forbes, Clearbox

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