All at sea with BIM?

The art of construction has been embedded into our genealogy throughout the course of time. Since the most primitive shelters constructed at the dawn of mankind, to the great pyramids of Giza – built over 4 and a half thousand years ago – we move into the modern day. Phenomenal feats of engineering, such as the Khalifa Tower in Dubai, the Three Gorges Dam – China, or France’s Millau Viaduct – the tallest, most elegant bridge to date, are all accomplishments which spring to mind when I consider how far humankind has come in their quest to construct.

I myself, a recently graduated apprentice of the CADCOE training facility – provided and developed in partnership with my employer (TDS Midlands Ltd), have found myself immersed – maybe ankle deep, on the cusp of a boundless career – on the shoreline of potential in the vast ocean of the modern day construction industry.

Sink or swim

My time in the industry may be few in years; however I’ve kept my goggles firm on my face up until now. It’s clear to me that this ocean of industry is inhabited by a series of whirlpool’s, ready to drag us to the depths if we continue with the current (and yes, already outdated) methods of practice. Slow lines of communication hinder efficiency; data exchange restraints prevent parties seeing the bigger picture. Overall there’s this looming feeling – Can we provide a better service? Can we make it that much easier? If so, how?

I’m sure all of you now know, or at least, are aware; it has grown from the early whispers and taken it’s first baby steps out into our world. Some of you fear it, some embrace it, and some of you are not that interested in ‘it’ at all.

‘It’ – now with a signpost at every junction of the industry – is BIM. Here at TDS we have already geared ourselves up to be fully compliant, working on Building 7 – Chiswick Park, to full level 2 standards. Impressive as it was to see these ideas come to life around me, I needed more information. I needed an opportunity, and so, my company conceived just that.

S.S Great Britain, Bristol, UK. The date was set for a BIM seminar hosted by Man & Machine, the well-respected Autodesk resellers. Providing me this opportunity, TDS demonstrated that as a company they are actively interested to invest time and money into the future of the industry, furthermore, into me and my future. Here was my chance to really plunder into the depths of what BIM beholds.

The doors open and I wonder in, typical complimentary coffee in hand, a sea of seats and skeptics. Speaker takes centre stage and begins to break down the barriers – spins a joke, some informal smattering of conversation (crowd interaction), but of course, most importantly, a slight glimpse of what is to come. That is why a room full of strangers and I all congregated to one room besides the great ship – a little glimpse of how to modernise a flawed system and fire ourselves into the forefront of industrial advancement.

The various chatter and technical demonstrations which followed can all be traced back to PAS-1192-5, which provides guidance into the implementation of BIM to infrastructure. I was particularly intrigued when the topic of data exchange formats arose (not always the highlight of conversation at the dinner party, but stick with me here). Data exchange is important. If we can’t exchange data, we can’t produce; from architect, to fabricator, to fitter – data exchange is critical and often overlooked. Too often as a sub-contractor you find yourself redrawing an architects set out from a PDF file. Too often you’re tracing over a DWG reference model of a concrete set out. Too often irretrievable time is consumed, re-creating what can already be utilised down to poor availability of the necessary data exchange formats. It’s costing everyone time. It’s costing everyone money.

So then, we must all use the same product to freely exchange data between one another? Of course not! Free flowing data exchange is to dominate the forthcoming era of industry. IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) is a file format that allows models to be shared at will – transcending software specific barriers, allowing us to work more efficiently at all stages of the project. From an architects Revit model, where initial designs take place, the IFC file can be placed and utilised (using real world co-ordinates to meet BIM level 2 standards) into Tekla, where the design can be developed to a fabrication stage – then on again, to an online file sharing database, where your model (along with related models) can be viewed as one complete, federated model. Using this free flowing exchange of models can be managed through using COBie (Construction Operation Building Information Exchange) and taking advantage of the newly incepted National BIM Library. Following these methods will play a key role in the quality of data exchange, improving associated time and cost factors massively. The riptide of poorly translated data will be predominantly avoided. Sharing of detailed models with one another reduces risk of site re-work, communication errors and/or drawing translation errors. Imagine a work day with less paperwork too!

Now from my own perspective, I talk about all this as ‘the future’ of the industry, but I’m wrong. It’s happening right now, as I type, from my desk the co-workers around me are already heavily implementing BIM into their current projects. The prospect of growing in this newly developing system is both fascinating and exciting for a newly graduated apprentice, but equally the enthusiasm should lie with those who have the knowledge, the experience and the character to adopt this new methodology. The responsibility lies with all of us out here in the industrial ocean, to utilise the potential of BIM and continue humankind’s quest to construct. When presented with the opportunity to sink or swim, I can only hope we are all on board to champion the future progress of BIM. 

By Kane Regan, TDS Ltd.