We must have the digital tools to take BIM onsite

Having the same level of access to data, models and email history onsite as those in an office is invaluable, says Paul Daynes, regional director for UK and northern Europe at Newforma.

With the introduction of mobile networks, smartphones, tablet devices and now BIM across the architecture, engineering and construction sector, those working onsite now have an abundance of tools that can aid flexibility and productivity.

In fact, according to the NBS 2016 National BIM Report, 52% of respondents are aware of and are using BIM. However, while these tools are aimed at providing design support, the consequential data derived from these tools has increased and now needs to be managed.

With a clear need to work efficiently onsite, the AEC sector must now consider how it can manage, access and store critical data to ensure it does not become a factor that can hold back their progression.

One of the main reasons for the UK government’s insistence on the introduction of BIM last year is its ability to help with collaboration. BIM has allowed businesses to collaborate and plan before any foundations are laid.

By enabling construction teams to be involved in the design cycle from the very beginning, BIM can help highlight potential design flaws that may not have previously been considered.

Historically, BIM has primarily been used by multiple stakeholders to easily and quickly share and update projects in an office environment. Now, with the advent of powerful mobile devices, the use of BIM is set to grow outside company walls and into the onsite environment.

Taking BIM onsite and freeing those working on a project from their desks, enables them to spend more time viewing the construction process as it happens to ensure correct procedures are followed and that the right designs are used.

For example, having the right drawings and blueprints available onsite and accessible from a mobile device allows those working on the construction project to follow the most recent plans.

In addition, they can also help identify onsite issues and connect with the design authors who can then make changes and share new designs with all the relevant stake holders. This helps greatly reduce risk and the time it takes for issues to be fixed.

However, while collaboration is key, it can also add complexity, particularly when handling data and moving from office to onsite. BIM models and the drawings and blueprints created from them that are often available in an office can sometimes be inaccessible when working on a building site.

This means that simple tasks such as accessing the latest plans or checking an old email for a crucial bit of information can sometimes be incredibly hard to accomplish.

This is where BIM, while clearly a powerful tool for the design teams, can also be detrimental to increased efficiency on the construction site. With the continued creation and growth of data and information generated by BIM, there needs to be a solution in place that can help to distribute managed information in a federated way, so that access of information can take place anytime and anywhere.

However, projects that use BIM generate terabytes of data, comprising hundreds of thousands of emails, models, metadata tags, drawings and varying types of information files. This volume and torrent of information that can be created by BIM and other related project information is understandably difficult to manage.  

BIM’s “data explosion” presents two problems for those needing to use it onsite. Project information management (PIM) tools have emerged that can help manage not only manage the data generated from BIM, but also all the information that large projects can create. Without adequate PIM tools, the flow of collaborative manpower will stall and mistakes can creep into even the most well-maintained projects.

The second problem refers to the real risk that some companies may buckle under the weight of poorly-managed BIM data sets. Projects that don’t adequately address the issue of information management will compromise collaborative integrity between teams, leading to risks and issues that affect the whole supply chain and ultimately project delivery.

It is therefore crucial that efficient information management systems and tools are in place from the very beginning of a project.

New ways of working

For BIM to be an effective onsite tool, it needs a reliable and easily accessible PIM solution. Having the same level of access to data, models and email history as those in an office is invaluable. With PIM and BIM leading the way, new tools and methodologies such as lean project management and planning are also set to change the way the AEC sector works to deliver projects on time and on budget.

Having a selection of apps that provide the same levels of access to those based in an office can help open up new ways of working. For instance, PIM tools that help manage the data from BIM and provide easy access to models from a mobile app can help further empower employees.

Those working both on and offsite can share and exchange data in real time, no longer having to face physical boundaries to information. When all stakeholders can access project information quickly and easily – regardless of location – solutions to problems can be found, agreed and implemented. This not only saves time, but ultimately reduces the chance of expensive overruns.

BIM and PIM onsite

When properly implemented, BIM can deliver huge benefits to all project stakeholders: from client to design to construction and ongoing operators. However, the continued adoption of BIM across projects in the AEC sector, coupled with an increasingly collaborative way of working, is creating a perfect storm of information that threatens to derail even the most disciplined companies.

For the promise of BIM to enable extra flexibility and increased collaboration between onsite and offsite teams to be realised, businesses need to consider the supporting structures, systems and digital tools that can be used to maximise its potential.

With a new breed of worker fresh out of university now entering the AEC industry, now is the time to ensure your digital tools and systems are in place to handle BIM both on and offsite.

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