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Utilising BIM to its full capacity – a roundtable discussion

BIM in action: Melbourne Park

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is advancing so rapidly that it tends to leave a trail of buzzwords and misconceptions in its wake.

In this article, Stephen Logan, Aurecon’s Leader for Building Sciences, Quentin Jackson, Aurecon’s Service Leader for Environmental Modelling, and John Hainsworth, who leads its BIM team within Buildings, expand on what Building Information Modelling (BIM) really is, and open the window on its potential.

How would you define BIM?

John: There is no single definition – BIM, as it is understood today, can be defined as the creation of cross-disciplinary, coordinated 3D models, incorporating 3D objects that can be presented across synchronised 2D drawings.

BIM software is database driven, so objects can be counted and ordered, and they act as placeholders for relationships for any amount of data that we might attach to them. The manipulation of this data is also called BIM.

Quentin: The key phrase is ‘any amount of data’. The power of BIM lies in being able to understand and connect information, so that it can be presented as an intelligent model. BIM has moved us from just representing an object on a page to knowing what sits behind an object – we understand what something looks like and what it does.

Stephen: First, we must dispel the notion that BIM is just another documentation system. It is a powerful tool that can act as an integrator of several aspects of engineering and architectural design, including building utilisation.

As engineers, would you say BIM is an essential tool?

John: There is no doubt that ‘digital engineering’ will define the ‘new engineer’. BIM envelopes this so-called ‘digital engineering’.

Rapidly advancing technologies are beginning to drive how engineers interact and collaborate through design processes. BIM is something our current generation of engineers is thinking about and exploring.

Of course, technology continues to advance and so our designs will be ever-increasingly driven by digital engineering. For our next generation of engineers, BIM will not be an optional skill: ‘BIM-savvy’ will be an essential proficiency.

Stephen: Quite definitely, BIM is becoming an essential tool. It will soon be a standard requirement across a range of projects as it eliminates the risk of a great number of errors and failures in coordination. BIM can also take design drawings into the fabrication stage to be used for cost, programme and construction sequencing, with cost, time and quality benefits.

Quentin: I wholeheartedly agree with John on the inevitability of having to become proficient in BIM. There are so many benefits to BIM, from error reduction and efficiency to increased productivity. A highly significant benefit is that BIM promotes – almost demands – enhanced collaboration between teams, merging their thinking into one integrated model that allows others to see exactly how it will all work before construction begins.

If BIM can contribute to decision-making about a facility from the earliest conceptual stages, through design and construction, is this its main use? And if so, what kind of decisions can it inform?

John: BIM has potential to be used as a cradle-to-grave tool that informs decision making at every stage of the asset life cycle from idea, design, construction and operation to demolition.

At the beginning though, when integrated with the earliest conceptual stages of a project and conveying the design intent, the data that we author can inform big picture macro decisions that make the difference in the success of a project. The earlier you commit to BIM, the earlier you can make the right decisions that can drive down risk, and support cost certainty.

Quentin: Properly integrated into a project, BIM tells the story of how to put the building together, manage it and demolish it. Also, by encapsulating easily accessible and intimate knowledge of a building’s construction, it facilitates adding other parts and understanding their impact.

Stephen: A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that BIM is only about virtual representation of the elements of the project that eventually get built and adding as much information about them as possible. But it is much more than that and starts much earlier in the design process.

BIM, when elevated to its highest level, also includes Building Integrated Engineering. Aurecon has for many years integrated the simulation of diverse design issues such as thermal and energy modelling, natural lighting studies, fire and smoke management as well as pedestrian movement modelling. Much of this work happens when the building form is still developing, before the detailed design of individual building elements.

This building simulation stage can help inform decisions about the size of circulation paths, the nature of the facade, and even the orientation of the building.

What are some of the latest exciting trends in using BIM?

John: A number of innovative, interrelated trends are emerging during this evolution of BIM: the simulation and optimisation of the trustworthy models Aurecon builds is an exciting area of BIM development. The objects that we place to create drawings contain data that can be manipulated in many ways, thereby improving and advancing our current BIM capabilities.

Similarly, increased use of cloud storage, and on-demand infinite processing power from data centres will impact current BIM trends; we’re exploring now how our access to this technology can optimise collaboration between the engineer and their client throughout the design process.

Design processing that used to take days or even weeks can now be completed in real time, both optimising the solution and delivering critical time and cost savings on projects. These technological advances offer the possibility for BIM-savvy clients to watch the design process in new intimate ways, with instant access to what we produce and, excitingly, be able to manipulate the data themselves, view the simulation and make well-informed decisions.

Cost-efficiencies achieved through this emerging technology are a trending topic in the BIM space. Its ability to react to different simulations, fuelling rationalisation, optimisation and standardisation, means that BIM can positively contribute to cost-efficiencies over the life of a project.

In amongst all of this future gazing, we still need an offering. Aurecon is focused on providing solid design-intent BIM. This means, while the objects aren’t as geometrically advanced as their physical equivalents, they can be used in other software for cost planning, for example. By focusing on trustworthy design-intent today, we are making BIM more accessible so it can be used by a broad range of professionals on any given project.

Stephen: I agree that BIM functionality opens up the possibility of costing/ordering applications. The objects of BIM can carry attributes for sourcing them, providing cost estimates and even ordering them automatically.

More broadly, 3D animations of virtual people using the building and how they are affected by temperature, lighting, wind and crowding will revolutionise the ability of clients to visualise how their buildings will work in practice.

Quentin: What must be appreciated is that the idea of BIM has been around for a long time but the technology hasn’t. As the technology is getting smarter, BIM is evolving from a niche technology to a general competence. The ‘wow’ factor lies in the speed, complexity levels handled and how much it can do.

How would you define Aurecon’s BIM expertise? Can you describe some of our current BIM work?

John: Aurecon is very experienced in 3D projects and has been doing them for well over a decade. More recently, we have incorporated BIM processes into our buildings projects; creating hundreds of BIM documentation projects to date.

The next step in the evolution of our BIM expertise sees us creating an ‘army’ of digital engineers – our new generation of BIM-savvy professionals, capable of authoring and manipulating the data in the models.

We’ve learnt from the past and now we’re focused on training our engineers to go beyond traditional deliverables, to be industry-leading digital engineers across the full breadth of Aurecon’s services – be that in planning or designing of buildings or infrastructure.

Stephen: Aurecon is one of the leaders in BIM and exponents of some of the ‘cutting-edge’ developments in its field, especially during the design and construction phases.

BIM is the future – there is no going back – it makes sound business sense for us to ensure that all stakeholders in a project are able to contribute to its effectiveness and see the benefits realised.

Quentin: Without question, Aurecon is a leader in this field who continually pushes the boundaries of BIM and looks at new ways it can be used to inform design (rather than just document it).

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