Building information modelling (BIM), in layman’s terms, is perceived as a shared knowledge resource for information about an asset which creates a reliable basis for decisions during its complete lifecycle, from design to construction to operations and maintenance.
He says part of the issue begins with different interpretations of BIM.
“If I talk to 10 people and ask them what BIM is, nine of them will have different definitions of BIM and the last person won’t have any idea what I’m talking about,” he says. “It’s not a product, it’s not a data format, it’s not a software program, it’s not a GIS database and it’s not a massive 3D model.”
“A major interpretation is that BIM is about using CAD and creating 3D models for infrastructure projects, but that’s not the case – 3D modelling has been around for more than 20 years. You can’t bill BIM as emerging technology. It’s been used in the oil and gas, power generation and aerospace industries since the 1990s.”
So if BIM is not new and infrastructure projects around the world are applying BIM to deliver significant cost, risk and efficiency benefits, why is implementation in Australia so slow for infrastructure projects?
Mr. Middleton says there are many reasons – the assumption that BIM is a new concept can make its implementation seem like it’s a massive change which people are resistant to. “Australia has had 25 years of continued economic growth so the pressure to innovate is less pressing. Conflicting definitions of BIM confuse industry perception of what BIM is and what it can be utilised for.
This problem is compounded when civil projects, such as road and rail that are linear by nature, try to apply BIM technologies, which were created for building projects that are vertical by nature. Most of all the lack of understanding about who benefits from BIM is probably the number one inhibitor in combination with contracts which stifle innovation.
“If Australia wants to see benefits realisation from BIM I would recommend, rather than reinvent the wheel, Australia would achieve benefit much faster by adopting what is being applied successfully in the more advanced BIM countries around the world. If we can then adapt BIM to meet our unique requirements and apply Australia’s world-class engineering expertise to improve the outcomes for our society, we can save tens of billions of dollars of current waste.”
Mr. Middleton says an exemplar project and BIM approach Australia could adopt, adapt and improve is the Crossrail project in the UK, Europe’s largest infrastructure project. A wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London, Crossrail is managing a $26 billion project that is improving and increasing the rail system capacity of the English capital by 10 per cent.
Delivering on time and to its original 2008 budget has elevated Crossrail to the world’s reference for BIM in a linear civil infrastructure context, asserts Mr. Middleton. “A point to note is that Crossrail is not coming in ahead of schedule or under original budget, but when empirical evidence shows rail projects on average blow out by 144 per cent, (Flyvbjerg and Sunstein – Malevolant Hiding Hand) the incentive to adopt and adapt the Crossrail BIM approach in Australia appears compelling.”
But does BIM only work on large projects? Mr. Middleton says absolutely not, although large when taken as a whole, Crossrail is a project of projects.
It consists of 23 design contracts, 34 advanced work contracts and 45 large main works contracts. “When you look at the projects being planned by each Australian state, every one of them could see themselves as a Crossrail,” he says.
“Crossrail was smart, it took advantage of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 to change the way projects were delivered in the UK. They told the supply chain clearly what was expected. Although not a term used in 2008, it could be argued that Crossrail issued the first BIM EIR (employers information requirement).
“Instead of allowing the supply chain to use whatever tools, processes and file formats they wanted.”
The Crossrail team recognised that it had to manage the asset information for the next 110 years and that if they were to be able to reuse the intelligence created during the design and construction phase to reduce the total cost of asset, they could not allow the supply chain to own the data. That was the old way and Crossrail was starting with a new end in mind.
Mandating a file format enabled Crossrail to achieve BIM level 1. Demanding that information be managed in the Crossrail common data environment (CDE) provided full control to Crossrail and enabled BIM to level 2. Today, the Crossrail CDE successfully manages, controls and shares with authorised internal and external stakeholders, which includes over 1,000,000 CAD files and more than 2,000,000 non-graphical files across all contracts.
For Crossrail, BIM has been at the root of its innovation almost since the project began, and it has benefited the project through reducing design risks, minimising errors, improving collaboration between the parties involved and helping to improve exactly how the project is handed over into operations.
“Australia can only achieve a mature application of BIM if it has a mature understanding of BIM,” says Mr. Middleton. Today, he does not believe that there is a mature understanding of BIM in ANZ. “Every time an owner allows multiple and incompatible file formats to be used they bring risk into the project,” says Mr. Middleton. “Industry Foundations Class (IFC) comes close to making BIM work, but unfortunately it’s not the silver bullet that will solve all information interoperability issues. Currently and for the foreseeable future, IFC is not fit for purpose for linear infrastructure such as road and rail projects.”
BIM is considered in levels of implementation – level 0, 1, 2, 3 and beyond, each of which Mr. Middleton says have general definitions, as laid out in British Standards such as BS1192 and PAS1192 parts 2 and 3, as used on London Crossrail. These standards will become ISO 19560.
He says BIM level 0 is 2D CAD delivered on paper.
Level 1 is considered 2D and 3D modelling concepts, with the data shared through a common data environment, which he says is already well-established practice in worldwide, including Australasia.
Level 2 BIM introduces collaborative working across all disciplines and information sources, not just design. This means the data from multiple sources can be used to create a comprehensive information model and ensure every aspect of the project is quick and easy to access.
Level 3 is where whole of life asset management benefits are realised. A single information model is held in a shared and open database where any approved party, including designers, constructors, operators and asset managers, can access and modify the current, approved and controlled data, which helps optimise the maintenance of the asset.
Finally, Mr. Middleton says BIM beyond level 3 is seen as being able to use BIM data for predictive analytics. This is where owners can use the intelligence captured through preceding BIM levels and use it to predict outcomes regarding future asset performance and investment.
Mr. Middleton asserts that for ANZ to embrace BIM and truly take advantage of its various benefits for linear infrastructure, industry and government alike need to take BIM beyond level 1.
So, just how does Australasia take BIM beyond level 1?
“Level 1 in my opinion doesn’t add much value, so like Crossrail, we should start with the end in mind. Ask ourselves why are we interested in BIM? What level of BIM do we want to achieve and why? If you just want to design and construct projects more efficiently, then BIM level 2 is as far as you need to go,” he says. “If you want to reap the full benefits of BIM and reduce the total cost off assets across its whole of life, then level 3 should be the target.
“The construction phase might take one to 10 years. The construction cost be a fraction of what will be spent on the total life of the asset, which for road and rail could be 100 years or more.
“Efficiency in operations is one the major benefits of BIM beyond level 1 for the asset managers and owners.
“A 3D model decreases in value the further you go into a project, especially once you move into the operations and management phase because you have to constantly change and update data as the asset ages. By adopting BIM level 2 and 3 asset managers can update changes in the common database rather than having to update the CAD file. I don’t know many operation managers who rely on CAD files.”
BIM beyond level 1 helps deliver a complete data package of the project from contractor to owner easily and efficiently. The fact that the information is shared in a common data environment assists in the management of that asset. It’s not a 3D model of the asset either, it’s the information on every single facet of the project.
“BIM level 3 makes sure all of this information is accessible while being compliant with legislation, mandates and policies. If any changes do need to be made, its easy to find the information you are looking for, update it and make it available to everyone who needs it – that’s what removes the need for rework and drives down the total cost of an asset.”
Mr. Middleton says London Crossrail identified multiple examples of these benefits coming to fruition.
He says Crossrail employed a full time Operations Director in 2010 eight years before the project handover. By reviewing the design and construct from a maintainer’s viewpoint, the team was able to identify areas to reduce whole of life costs. For example, noticing a poorly placed pressure valve that would prove a nuisance or even close a platform were it to burst, and having it moved to an area where it could be more easily serviced. The fact the Operations team picked that up in the BIM model, and had access to the common data environment in the first place, meant the design was easily changed at a small cost in the digital version of Crossrail. Mr. Middleton says this would have cost exponentially more to move post construction or more likely would never be moved.
“Having the operations and maintenance involved in the design cycle helped improve the design and operability,” says Mr. Middleton.
“We need to build a capacity for these lessons and we need asset owners to better evaluate what their information requirements are on a project.”
“I think the government is already doing a good job in terms of encouraging the conversation around BIM. There is, however, a considerable hurdle in taking BIM beyond its current trajectory due to the way owners tender their infrastructure projects to industry. Contractors are full of smart people, but legal restrictions around many tenders and contracts often restrict the opportunity to apply those smarts.
“If we achieve an application of BIM beyond level 1, we could achieve 20 per cent savings in efficiency. Crossrail has delivered a mega project at 40 per cent lower cost than the average rail project. If we can get just a 20 per cent efficiency in Australia then for every four projects we do, we’d be able to deliver a fifth project for free.”
Mr. Middleton says Bentley software is proud to be the Smart ICT provider to Crossrail enabling the benefits of BIM to be realised on a transportation project. He says the use of one format, stored in one common data environment, means that every designer, engineer and drafter is already adhering to one standard, and all that information can be utilised effectively.
“BIM brings a lot to the market and the work we have done at London Crossrail has already helped inform other projects about the use of BIM beyond level 1, including HS2, Network Rail, KVMRT in Malaysia, Singapore Mass Rail Transit, Highways England, New York Metro, and the Nagpur Mass Rapid Transit and Pune Metro,” says Mr. Middleton. “Owners around the world are focusing on BIM beyond level 1 to realise the long term benefits, but we’re not seeing widespread mature adoption in Australia and New Zealand – not because there’s no appetite for it, but because of our understanding of how to approach it and appreciate what we can do with it.
“There are lots of great Australian companies out there and Bentley would like to work with those that realise that BIM is more than CAD.”