The role of digital engineering in the future of major sports projects

by Peter Barker | October 30, 2020 |  4 min read

Figure 1: Design Authoring and Coordination, 2012 Olympic Stadium, London (Source: Fulcro Engineering Services)
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Major sports projects are extraordinary feats of engineering ingenuity and economic planning, not to mention risk management. Involvement is required from a political level through to local organising committees, project managers and an extremely diverse and experienced supply chain team made up of designers, contractors, engineers and many more.

At a time when digital technology has never been more widely needed in construction and infrastructure, to address challenges relating to environment, complexity and communication, the sports sector is particularly ripe for the application of BIM for construction projects, particularly as it prepares for its reinvention in the post-COVID era.

Looking back in time

Reflecting back on some of the UK’s major sporting projects and taking the 2012 London Olympic Stadium, for example, this project was built within a 40-acre site with a seating capacity of 80,000 during the event and converted to 25,000 for legacy. The design team was tasked with coordinating the mechanical, electrical and public health systems using BIM (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Design Authoring and Coordination, 2012 Olympic Stadium, London (Source: Fulcro Engineering Services)

Figure 1: Design Authoring and Coordination, 2012 Olympic Stadium, London (Source: Fulcro Engineering Services)

This ultimately supported design development and multidisciplinary design coordination on site. Other outputs such as quantities, drawings and visualisations were derived from the basis of a coordinated and accurate model. This saved time across various activities and simplified the process for everyone to understand areas of complexity and constraints relatively quickly to reach optimal resolutions.

In addition, client representatives were using BIM as a basis to create a site wide rendered visualisation model to support communication and engagement.

Overall. some of the key benefits included better information management, communication, simplified design coordination and improved project delivery.

A little further afield at the same time, the application of BIM was very much prevalent in the Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Birds Nest. Figure 2 here demonstrates the use of 3D modelling and analysis.

Figure 2: 3D Structural Modelling, Birds Nest Stadium, Beijing (Source: Tekla)

Figure 2: 3D Structural Modelling, Birds Nest Stadium, Beijing (Source: Tekla)

In this project example, BIM was used to not only model, coordinate and analyse the design but also to reduce the construction costs as the designers removed the top roof and enlarged the area of the roof opening, which reduced the total steel weight from 45,000 to 42,000 tons.

Fully appreciating BIM requires initial investment, buy in and coherent management – on a very high-level industry recognises that the use of BIM on major sports projects is practical and valuable through the graphical representation of design elements and associated metadata.

Modern day sports BIM

BIM is now at the forefront of development for the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup. The starting point was Al Wakrah Stadium, designed by Aecom in association with Zaha Hadid (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Al Wakrah Stadium, Qatar (Source: AECOM & SC)

Figure 3: Al Wakrah Stadium, Qatar (Source: AECOM & SC)

From the initial setting up of strategy, standards and templates right through to the procurement of information management systems and actual execution of BIM on live projects, BIM was implemented for various uses including design authoring, clash detection, quality assurance, environmental analysis, digital fabrication, construction sequencing, quantification, structural analysis, crowd modelling, visualisation and operations and maintenance.

The data derived from these areas could then be used by various departments across the client organisation to make informed decisions, understand constraints and provide feedback.

BIM provided teams with better quality information (through a central data repository) that was reliable and accurate enough to inform decision making. This coupled with other information management and technology initiatives including GIS, dashboards and camera monitoring solutions provided a whole new world of further innovation and benefits for managing construction activities.

Sports experience at BIM Academy

From our experiences at BIM Academy we recognise BIM can without a doubt be successfully implemented on major sports projects in various respects.

Furthermore, it is important to recognise that successful execution requires a well thought through strategy, robust standards, experienced and knowledgeable staff and the ability to join the dots between different initiatives.

Equally stakeholder management and engagement from the top down needs to be continuously coordinated in order to ensure real value can be derived across the entire ecosystem of a project.

Subject to BIM being implemented correctly during design and construction, the use cases for facilities and asset management through to operations are open for exploitation.

The opportunities are immense for rolling out BIM and related digital engineering workstreams on major sports projects, whereby we certainly recognise no single project is the same with relentless pursuits of greater efficiency and dynamic delivery environments.

To this end and as we enter a new era for the sector, it is imperative we continue to educate clients in the benefits of BIM application on projects of this scale, for improvements at every stage from design through to operation.

For further reading, see the BIM Academy work on the new HK$30bn sporting complex, Kai Tak Sports Park, currently being constructed on the site of the former Kai Tak Airport in Kowloon, Hong Kong.

For more information, contact Peter Barker: [email protected].