BIM and offsite infrastructure: symbiosis or osmosis?

Improving efficiency in construction has been on the agenda of the UK Government and industry for many years, and various attempts and initiatives have been documented addressing different aspects of the construction industry. Recent initiatives – including Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Offsite Construction – aim to reduce costs through improved resource efficiency and enhanced data management. BIM is becoming increasingly applied within UK construction and its implementation is occurring via a ‘push–pull’ process. BIM is slowly being embedded in various forms and methods in many current construction projects.

Academic literature and industry reports to date have analysed barriers, drivers, implementation techniques and case studies for both BIM and Offsite Construction. The construction industry is moving towards multi-dimensional object-oriented design. Many believe that this will inherently encourage the production of ‘objects’ designed for manufacturing, especially if data can be sent directly to the fabricators.

Construction is a ‘low information intensity’ industry compared with banking or finance. Nevertheless, civil engineering structures are complex entities formed by various sub-systems and diverse components, the majority often of unique design.

 

Offsite workshop: feedback session

The continued reliance of the civil engineering industry on using paper-based drawings as a means of recording designs and fabrication data is inhibiting offsite innovation. With the ‘digitalisation’ of construction data it is expected that advanced automation in design, manufacturing and construction through BIM will increase Offsite Construction.

The UK Government wants to achieve significant saving in construction costs, and aims to implement BIM in all Government construction procurement contracts by 2016 in the expectation that it will contribute significantly to the savings target.

BIM level 2 is articulated by the UK Government through 7 key elements – PAS1192-2, PAS1192-3, BS1192-4, Digital Plan of Works (dPoW), Government Soft Landings (GSL), Classifications and the CIC BIM Protocol. The dPoW development contract, which includes the ‘Classifications’ work package, was awarded on 19 September 2014 to the RIBA Enterprises team that includes Laing O’Rourke, NBS, BIM Academy and Microsoft.

It was evident from the feasibility stage that ‘design for manufacturing and assembly’ (DfM&A) will be a key focus of their work. This, coupled with the first British Standard (BS 85641-5, currently available for public consultation), which was developed under the same ideology as BS1192-4 on Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBIE), emphasises the organic integration of the BIM and Offsite Construction initiatives.

Recent research by CH2M HILL and Loughborough University examined how innovation initiatives such as BIM and Offsite Construction should be considered together to allow leaner design, greater integration of lifetime project data and more novel technical solutions. An area which is seen to benefit directly from BIM and Offsite Construction, and which has significant proven cost savings, is construction planning.

All contractors participating in the research claimed that long ‘lead-in times’ are the greatest disadvantage of Offsite Construction, and if not managed correctly, choosing Offsite Construction could add costs to the project and thereby increase risk. To prevent significant delays in the construction phase ‘information needs to be accurate, finalised and ready long in advance’. Lead-in times can be managed more effectively within a BIM environment.

 

Offsite workshop: the three teams

Contractors claim that BIM enables them to have a superior and more comprehensive programme that includes the manufacturing process, the delivery and installation, which are all linked with the design. Consultants also underline the importance of early scheduling and planning, especially when considering logistics in complex urban construction sites. All participants in the research agreed that the supply chain benefits from timely decisionmaking through early contractor involvement are encouraged by BIM, independently of the contractual agreements. Opportunities for Offsite Construction can be easily identified and introduced because, under a BIM working environment and due to this early decision-making process, ‘changes to the design can be made when they are less costly’, and ‘problems appear earlier’.

Following a successful series of offsite workshops, the team are conducting a series of roundtable discussions, aimed at creating an industry white paper focusing specifically on the way that BIM should address Offsite Construction, DfM&A and ‘factory thinking’ in the infrastructure sector.

 

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For further information on the research or if you would like to get involved, please contact Vas Vernikos, CH2M HILL (E-mail: Vasileios.Vernikos@
ch2m.com
), or Dr. Chris Goodier, School of Civil and Building Engineering, Loughborough University (E-mail: C.I.Goodier@lboro.ac.uk).

 

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