by Mark Crowe | February 5, 2021 | 8 min read
The implementation of BIM within the construction industry, following PAS 1192 and, more recently, ISO 19650, has demonstrated a wide range of practical complexities alongside the clear theoretical benefits of embracing comprehensive information management as part of the design, construction and operational processes of facilities; as the scale of projects to which its applied rapidly increases, the necessity to carefully manage these complexities, to distil significant volumes of data into easily actionable insights or decisions, becomes ever more critical.
Over the last half a decade, BIM Academy has had the privilege to support the delivery of a range of large-scale manufacturing facilities, the most recent for a major premium car manufacturer. These projects have uniquely magnified a set of challenges.
As always, it’s critical to define early the information requirements for the project and this is even more important on large projects, due to the volume of data quickly produced, which if incorrectly managed, can quickly lead to saturation of development, verification and management workflows. It is always therefore necessary to strongly test the value of information required, to ensure its collection is directly measured against its value case – we may not want asset management to have to manage billions of dimensional data points arbitrarily, just to have the manufacturer reference number for an asset, where they could easily extract dimensions as needed from the model! Likewise, with the disparate nature of standards followed by authoring software developers in how their modelling tools expect to function, it is important to evaluate where information can be better ‘calculated’ rather than expecting designers to arbitrarily fill in fields by hand – we don’t want a ‘count’ field as is so commonly asked for, we want the software to count for us!
One of the quickest areas where the data volume becomes apparent is the management of design / coordination issues. For projects where there may be 30+ buildings, many of which are larger than football pitches, and each may have exceptional specialist requirements and systems, there can be a lot of issues at early design stages – or even later! As with all projects, ensuring the checks being carried out are appropriate and relevant for the project is key, every project is different, every designer is different, every authoring platform is different, and they all have their little modelling quirks. Where on one project you may not expect any pipework or fittings to be visible behind a window, for a large plant facility it may not be a problem; where internal walls are simple plasterboard constructions, tracking internal penetrations at early stages may not be beneficial. Unfortunately having a single library of checks rolled out for all projects is not sufficient, and at its worst, risks leaving reviewers ‘managing’ false positives more than working to improve the actual project.
An area of design / construction that is still fraught with different perceptions and expectations is ‘Issue Prioritisation’, which has become particularly more apparent since the adoption of 3D geometric checking. There’s little consistency between even priority categories for different organisations – the ‘high’, ‘medium’ and ‘low’ is at least relatively universally understood – but then the question of what is ‘medium’ can lead to fraught debate based on personal experience; past experience also tends to be ad hoc, based on what stands out at the time, and naturally issues that may be no less critical but are not proximate may be forgotten. With the volume of issues presented by projects at such scale, major issues risk being lost in a volume of mixed importance issues, or worse, issue volumes can seem insurmountably high, leaving project teams without a clear route forward, and the client dismayed at a volume of issues that traditionally they simply didn’t have the opportunity to see. Capturing and curating a protocol on issue priority can be almost as valuable as the library of checking rules itself, allowing a clear targeting of issues that need to be rapidly solved, to get the project in a workable position, and tracking lower priority issues that are resolved as the design matures in technical detail.
In particular, for projects where BIM is being used to support or deliver cost estimation / management of duplication is an important factor to review within the checks, and sadly in the current state of play for authoring software tools and exchange practices it is a common issue. The IFC export process from less mainstream tools is still not well documented, or in some cases well supported and we’ve seen many instances of models containing thousands of instances of the same, seemingly random object included. While project sizes are small, these large duplication issues may be more easily noticed in quantifications, but for large scale projects they can be too easy to miss without robust checks in place – 1000 extra pipe fittings may not be too surprising, but the costs add up. Furthermore, slight errors / overlaps in modelling of elements such as floor slabs can have a significant impact on volumes of concrete required – these can be no less important than major collisions, particularly when seeking cost approval.
Or there is the ‘fun’ issue for a coordination review, when the volume of issues suddenly skyrockets, and halfway through the review it becomes apparent that the MEP models (or one out of 20+ MEP models!) coordinates have dropped by 200mm and its now clashing with everything. To avoid getting halfway through a review only to find all the issues identified are unhelpful, it may be beneficial to have some way of easily identifying models are in the correct location prior to starting any review, again this is almost unnecessary on more moderately sized projects as it can be obvious, but on large projects with tens or hundreds of models it may not be so clear. This is again particularly a consideration when IFC exports are being used for the coordination review. A great idea, from traditional workflows, may actually be to go back to having a coordination point – it doesn’t have to be a survey point, an origin point, or anything beyond simply a single agreed point in space – where all models should contain a single 3D object, then an initial check can make sure all coordination points perfectly clash, if any deviate its immediately clear that they are not aligned; and this works as well for 5 models as it does for 100.
All of this produced and shared data, however is difficult to comprehend from a project performance perspective without good, targeted presentation. Again, for more typical scale projects the issue may not be so apparent; for the most part major issues are probably known by everyone involved and remembered week by week – some perhaps even making it into the dreams of designers – leading to a simple list / presentation / email with bullet points (bad!) of issues being ‘sufficient’ to track progress. However, it’s important to reflect on the key questions people, particularly in managerial functions want to know, and for the most part, its not ‘How many issues?’ or ‘How good is the model?’; at least not quite. Instead for the majority of the time for large projects, it is ‘What is the progress on X?’; which is natural, these large projects are effectively building small cities, the design process can easily run for multiple years, and construction a few more on top. Within teams, its acknowledged that things are not immediately perfect, but how perfect they’re expected to be is directly linked to that factor of time; and how happy the client is, is directly related to the amount of progress being made. Effective communication of work done / issues resolved / improvements in quality / etc over time are incredibly important factors to be presented not only to encourage and streamline progress but to provide assurance not on ‘what issues exist’ but that resolution of issues is tracking in the correct direction at a velocity to coincide with the completion of works.
Large projects do not always necessarily present the BIM function with entirely new challenges unique to their scale, however what they do exceptionally well is exemplify / magnify challenges that exist within smaller projects but go more easily unnoticed or are easier to manage away with resource. As the consequences of challenges increases with the scale of construction, the value of having a proactive robust solution in place from the very start of such projects is critical. Furthermore, the benefits of these solutions at scale can have direct quality of life benefits across all projects, ensuring that whilst issues may remain low, the most effective communication and workflow methods are utilised to deliver the project and allow focus to remain on delivery of a quality product.
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