Building Information Modelling uses in the future model digital construction in Asia.

Thinking

BIM: Future model for digital construction in Asia

Building Information Modelling (BIM) has the capability to shape smart cities and sustainable infrastructure for a better tomorrow in Asia. The good news is that BIM is already here and embedded in the region’s construction industry; the bad news is that we won’t harness its full potential unless we change the way we work.

One of the most widely perpetuated myths in science is that humans use only 10 per cent of their brains, giving us false hope that a huge 90 per cent of untapped intellectual power is hidden away somewhere inside our heads. While this popular misconception sadly may not reflect reality for humans, as engineers at Aurecon we feel it perfectly encapsulates where we are with Building Information Modelling (BIM) in Asia.

What this means is that we have an exciting opportunity to push our engineering industry into a truly digital age if we harness it well.

In many ways, the introduction of BIM is similar to the creation of a brain and central nervous system for engineering design and construction.

It is an intelligence and control system that can oversee every stage of construction, integrating different phases and bringing greater clarity to all stages of the process – this includes allowing us to see how assets will perform over the course of their lifetime.

The development of BIM has transformed the way engineers are able to design and build structures putting digital development, data management and universal collaboration at its heart.

However, in Asia very few projects are truly harnessing BIM’s full potential. This is partly an issue of perception: many stakeholders around the engineering sector think BIM is solely some kind of next level design tool. This is because in most instances BIM’s 3D modelling capabilities are just about the only functionality that is used on projects in Asia.

This is not to be dismissive of that aspect of BIM – it offers obvious benefits when designing projects. In the past, designs were created in 2D and then had to rely on the judgement and skill of the personnel on the project to transform them into 3D. Today, with 3D modelling and BIM, much of that onsite pressure and room for error are removed.

But taking advantage of only the modelling and the most basic collaboration BIM has to offer, limits a project to using only a fraction of its power. This is a missed opportunity. If we can drive our industry to harness the full potential of information management and data, we will open up a whole new world of digital engineering that has far-reaching benefits for the world we live in.

It is entirely possible for engineering to move into a new era of digital engineering based around digital delivery, but at Aurecon, we believe there are currently two notable roadblocks sitting in our way: cost and understanding.

Cost versus value

The construction industry in Asia, and worldwide, has a long-running love affair with the subject of costs, primarily around how to minimise it at all stages of the process. Of course, there is nothing wrong with seeking cost efficiencies in a development, especially one that may have a price tag running into the tens of millions. But thinking of BIM requires a different mindset: one that is focused on value that can be achieved through information and data-led decisions.

The first point to make is that initially the adoption of BIM is going to cost money through the investment in software and training programs. But this is a short-term hit that can be offset through the long-term value BIM brings to projects and organisations, because it truly does have the potential to improve the operations of a business if implemented correctly.

At many of the higher levels in the engineering sector, this is already understood. Consider Singapore, for example, where the BIM Steering Committee (which is part of the government’s Building Construction Authority) published a guide for BIM adoption that “recommends a 5 per cent shift in percentage-based consultancy fee payment, from the Construction to Design stages”. This kind of bold acceptance of the value of BIM is to be welcomed if we are to break long-held habits and prompt stakeholders to make a change.

The recommendation from Singapore’s BIM Steering Committee also underlines another important point: how we must get more integration of BIM at the design stage. Currently much of the focus on BIM in Asia is skewed to the construction phase. If more focus is shifted to the design stage, this will enable smarter engineering of developments through optimised processes. After all, it makes sense to resolve potential issues on a computer screen rather than onsite where the costs of delays have serious repercussions.

It should be noted, however, that making such a shift will require greater contributions from designers, both in terms of skills and time. Organisations that are not prepared must step up and invest in this change, adding skills, training and personnel to take full advantage. Developers too, will need to embrace a change in mindset to make this happen.

To change mindsets in this respect, more time and focus should also be committed to the bidding stage of the project, to make all parties aware of what is proposed. This is the point where it will be important to properly understand the information requirements of a project and document how it will be achieved. Clients need to understand the time and benefits involved in following a digital planning process that BIM enables, and which will encompass elements such as digital risk, capability, and capacity.

The fact is that currently clients are not used to adding cost and time at the start of a project, and to make the matter more complex, the savings and efficiencies that BIM brings may only manifest themselves later in the process. This will be either during construction or sometimes over the development’s lifetime (which could run for many decades).

However, the savings that BIM brings to projects will be much easier to spot through faster problem solving, fewer design issues and better information management (getting the right information to the right person and the right time). That said, for engineers, quantifying the advantages of BIM and then presenting that to investors in a clearly understandable way remains a key challenge for the industry.

Standards and good practice can drive BIM in Asia

The process of engineering and constructing a development is a succession of disciplines and BIM is a fast and efficient way to bring them together and create a harmonious design. It encourages collaboration.

For many local engineering companies, this represents a new way of working and will require them to adapt their operations. For developers and investors, it requires a new way of thinking too (as mentioned above), to understand the benefits of BIM over the course of a building’s lifetime, not only in terms of the early stage design.

This is one of the reasons why Aurecon’s Digital Enablement team exists. Successful implementation of digitally-enabled businesses requires a business-led approach with clear accountabilities for the key processes, it also requires a capability that can support the organisation to transform to a data-driven one.

To maximise the use of BIM, we must move to a system where there is widespread acceptance of the technology and also the standards that guide its use.

A good analogy is to think of the invention of the motorcar. We have cars, and we have people who can drive, and it is easy to see the benefit of cars. But if we have no roads, no laws, no traffic signs and no safety practices (i.e., no standards), we will only have a powerful tool that we are unable to optimise.

Understanding this gets to the heart of why it’s important to make use of standards to guide our use of BIM.

The good news is that we currently have comprehensive standards for the use of BIM: ISO 19650, from the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). In many Asian countries, there are also appendices guiding the use of ISO 19650 in individual markets.

The next step is to build a much stronger business culture of BIM, driven by more complete acceptance of the standards that guide its use. At Aurecon, we believe there are three key areas companies should address to do this:

  1. Implementing a Digital Work Plan (or information delivery plan)
  2. Upskilling the team and changing perceptions
  3. Evolving the role of the traditional BIM manager

Firstly, it is our belief that implementing a Digital Work Plan (DWP) is one of the fundamentals of getting any new project design running. The DWP can be the single most important key to success for any new development achieving its goals and requirements. Done right, the DWP will provide information and resources to all stakeholders and keep work to schedule. It defines much of what will be done including: the work and task procedures; the coordination and delivery plan; and information management strategy and technical methodology.

Secondly, in addition to moving to a new normal for best practice that incorporates the use of DWP, it will be equally important to upskill workforces and change perceptions. As mentioned earlier, it is crucial to shift the mindset away from BIM being purely a design tool. There are lots of ways to do this, such as making a note on each project of the benefits and lessons learned from BIM. To increase our understanding of BIM we need combine technical training for engineers with education around the holistic benefits it brings.

Finally, we need to update how we view the traditional BIM manager. The BIM manager is a well-established position in Asia, but to advance, we need to increase the prominence of this role. We need to appreciate that the person overseeing BIM should be one of the most significant roles on the job. Through a balance of project management and technical skills, the BIM manager will drive all information management on a job, via communication, coordination and authoring the model.

If we want to move beyond our current point and evolve the role of BIM managers, we need to harness the knowledge of engineers in its future iterations, along with developers and modellers. Especially the current young generation of engineers, who have known nothing but BIM in their careers.

Further down the line, engineering companies should reach a point where information management is everyone’s responsibility. The BIM manager will not necessarily be one role but a part of everyone’s job.

Harnessing the true power of BIM

At Aurecon, we have invested heavily in our digital enablement capabilities as part of our drive to be a leader in digital engineering services. We are already seeing the benefits it brings us as a company and our clients and partners on the projects we work on.

Setting targets for any kind of digital transformation is essential. At Aurecon, we have achieved 50 per cent digital competency since mid this year. We are also embedding information management champions into all our project teams and embed BIM processes as the default on all projects.

Not only have our BIM capabilities been further strengthened by Aurecon’s acquisition of renowned BIM experts and consultancy, Digital Node in March this year, we are also actively supporting the growth of the BIM specialisation, particularly with women, through Women in BIM. Looking more widely at digital engineering, we’re able to harness tools such as laser scanning and virtual reality to support BIM work and bring even more value to the design process.

We believe that this is a position all engineering companies need to get to if we are all to truly benefit. It will only work if there is buy-in from all stakeholders, from investors and developers right through to the sub-contractors on the jobsite. Everyone has to be on board. Done correctly, BIM will bring unparalleled benefits to the design, construction, and performance of buildings from the drawing board right through to end-of-life demolition. It is exciting to think what the future holds when BIM is harnessed to its fullest potential.

Asia has a great opportunity to learn from others and to do things better.

Ultimately, we want Asia to be the envy of the world, a hive of smart cities, automated public transport, green spaces, subterranean infrastructure, universal connectivity and adaptive defences that will protect our communities. Whether we achieve that, will be down to us but one thing is for sure, if we can harness the true power of BIM, then our chances of success increase dramatically.


About the Author

Chris Smeaton is Aurecon’s digital leader for Vietnam and Singapore. With over a decade of experience working in the digital space, Chris leads both digital engineering teams in Vietnam and in Singapore. The team explores new technological innovations to help clients and the company advance its digital capabilities and to increase productivity in projects. Chris is also working closely with clients to design and develop smart cities in Asia by using innovative digital technologies.

Chris is also an active contributor to the industry where he leads the development and implementation of building information management and ensures that the development of standards, methods and procedures are in line with the latest industry standards. A well-regarded leader in the digital engineering space, Chris regularly shares his insights and perspectives at various conferences in the region and publishes articles in industry journals.

Sanphawat Jatupatwarangkul leads Aurecon Thailand’s digital transformation through the development and delivery of future digital strategy and implementation. Sanphawat has built a reputation as a trusted commercial and strategic digital and BIM advisor on a wide range of projects and corporations in AEC industries.

Sanphawat also helps clients define digital goals and execute project initiation through design, construction, and operation. His expertise and experience have assisted many organisations to accomplish the BIM Organisation Standard and drive business value in the projects they undertake. As the founder of BIM Club Thailand and having co-established the Thai BIM Association, Sanphawat is a well-regarded digital leader who has contributed his VDC – BIM knowledge and skills to the community in Thailand.

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