Interview: UWE’s Trina Ratcliffe – Digitising the university’s estate

The University of the West of England (UWE) is undertaking the task of creating a fully digital estate. Its portfolio includes 166 buildings, of which 16 have either been scanned or BIM modelled, with several others in the process and plans to expand this number in the near future.

UWE’s two latest projects, the £9.8m student union building, designed by Stride Treglown and built by BAM, which opened in September, and the ISG-built Faculty of Business and Law, due for completion in September 2016, have both been modelled in BIM.

BIM+ spoke to Trina Ratcliffe-Pacheco, building design and and BIM manager at UWE, about the university’s progress.

What prompted UWE to digitise its estate?

The Government Construction Strategy was the initial driver for UWE estates to engage in BIM implementation, a process that started in 2012. Since then and after considering the organisation’s goals on estate maintenance, as-built records management and computer management systems, issues were identified to approach the BIM developments as part of a holistic change in the university’s estate management.

This change has been gradually achieved in different aspects that included: an upgraded BIM-enabled FM system; standardised CAD files that include intelligent tags which are used to include space and asset properties to export and link data directly onto the FM tool; maintainable asset indexing and an updated asset register that includes physical tagging; electronic “as-built” record information management; historical archive scanning; and indexing and development of additional technology systems integrated with the updated central space database in the FM tool such as timetabling, room bookings, accommodation system and so on.

Why is now the time to digitise?

Setting our goals and developing our BIM maturity has helped us understand what is valuable in this process. Previously the “as-built” record information consisted of O&M information that included duplications, wrongly named files and out-of-date records.

UWE’s masterplan and capital investment and the renewal of the FM tools set up the perfect opportunity to adjust our BIM goals and employer’s information requirements to enhance our estates management objectives and to achieve the best added value of BIM for FM.

These factors helped identify the buildings that would be modelled and the ones that will remain to be managed in CAD format to be able to gradually roll over the BIM modelling and asset management strategy.

The digitalisation process has been gradual and we have already seen early benefits of engaging in this process. These benefits include:

  • A simplified information management system organised in the same manner as records accessible from the FM tool, allowing for removal of duplications and helping identify gaps in the as-built information, facilitating the identification of areas that need updating/surveying and the survey information requirement standards updated to comply with digitalisation goals;
  • A simplified layer system aids the records to be kept in single CAD files similarly to confederated BIM models;
  • Utilisation of smart tags facilitates exporting data and updating tags in drawings from database to bridge the BIM abilities of Revit in a CAD platform, therefore allowing most of the estate records to be maintained in CAD files while the gradual conversion to 3D parametric model format is achieved. The introduction of smart tags in DWG files make space and asset properties manageable the same way that BIM works;
  • A synchronised drawing record system and space database that minimise gaps in the space data management;
  • Electronic historical records access facilitates sharing information when required and to form part of the client information pack when new buildings or refurbishment works are commissioned.

How will be BIM be used to make your estate more efficient?

It will enhance our records and space database – all other systems will be linked to a unique central space database that is updated each time there is a physical change or a change of space properties.

It will make maintenance tasks more efficient and allow us to access information offsite such as visualisations, asset data, O&M information and health and safety related issues.

16 of the UWE’s 166 buildings have been scanned or modelled in BIM

We will be able to access all building information in one file and simplify the as-built record information management.

When designing new or refurbished spaces, it will enhance communications with stakeholders by adopting 3D models rather than 2D plans

How will digital models be integrated with your FM tools?

Models will be published in a different format to be the 3D graphical interface of the FM, the asset data will be linked to the FM tool in such a way that data can be updated from the database or the model and both will be synchronised, removing the manual data handling or complicated and lengthy update procedures.

At the moment our FM tool has limitations on graphic display of models, but we are confident that market pressure to enhance navigation in 3D will become a reality in the near future.

Will you be producing models of all the buildings in the estate?

As mentioned before, the roll out of BIM modelling has been prioritised by the likelihood that buildings will be refurbished in the future. Therefore we expect to be working in CAD and BIM platforms in the future. The bridging of CAD to BIM by implementing smart tags and using lisping and programming to synchronise data the same way as in BIM would allow us to have similar results in both platforms.

We are also modelling in-house to upskill our technicians to be able to handle changes in the BIM models in the future. Part of our goal is to be able to have a small campus completely modelled to be able to understand hardware, software and skill requirements to manage a site in BIM-enabled FM, including external assets, grounds and external areas.

How has your FM plan impacted on procurement?

We have realised that becoming an intelligent client, or in other words, a BIM mature client, has brought along added fees that consultants charge to mitigate the risk of not being able to deliver our BIM requirements and to guarantee that effective quality assurance processes are in place at the right stages to guarantee the success of the FM ready O&M information.

In the process we have acquired experience understanding the value of laser scanning over traditional survey methods, in terms of value for money, accuracy, lead times and output.

Our standard procurement, tender process and contract have evolved and now include BIM deliverables, setting a legal obligation to achieve the BIM goals, including supporting BIM education available to our academic staff and students.

Consultants and contractors have been responding positively to the challenge and discussions have helped to enable collaboration, open dialogue and enhance teamwork, which gives confidence to overcome the transition from design to construction and the change of responsibility from designers to contractor, resulting in problem solving impacting on decision-making and avoiding expensive changes on site.

Are you aware of other universities that are digitising their estates?

Since 2012 I have had the opportunity to discuss with other universities’ head of estates and maintenance directors as well as other further education, NHS, MoD and council estates managers and have noticed that each organisation is taking a different route to BIM maturity.

There is a range of initiatives that include laser scanning and modelling a big proportion of the portfolio, inclusion of BIM deliverables in the construction process and use of models for design and construction processes. The transition from handover to FM in BIM platform is a common goal but not usually achieved.

I am always looking to learn from others that have achieved BIM FM goals and have been able to learn from years of experience from organisations such as Gatwick and Heathrow airports, gradually becoming more confident that we are evolving as a BIM client and making the right decisions.

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