Feature Technology

Building Information Modelling: Digital Tech catches up with public projects

John Foster, European Business Manager for BIM and Vertical Construction at Topcon Europe discusses the role BIM and Digital Construction plays in the Irish construction industry and the different aspects involved.

Why is BIM important and what assistance is out there to ensure compliance and adaptation within county councils?

There’s a lot of talk about BIM but what we discuss with our customers today are the benefits of digital construction processes with a real focus on return on investment. We’re looking at understanding our customers current workflows for construction layout or verification or progress monitoring for example and then we offer scalable solutions based on a clear ROI. Rather than talking about implementing complete BIM, we’re looking at specific digital workflows and process improvements within those workflows. We can support our customers including county council departments on understanding what those are.

Can you tell us about your role and duties as European Business Development Manager for BIM at Topcon?

I’m responsible for BIM and vertical construction and our strategy within Topcon in Europe. That involves building and developing partnerships with our technology partners so that we can offer integrated solutions, especially office to field solutions and then offering these through our retail and distribution channels to our European customers. It is vital that we offer integrated solutions with the design, planning and management solutions that our customers are using.

Could you tell us about some of the latest BIM software currently being used by businesses and local authorities in Ireland?

Topcon have moved from a traditional hardware provider of measurement and positioning tools to become a construction technology solutions provider and that’s why we’ve developed integrations with software companies. We need to provide those streamlined office to field integrations that our customers want. So take layout and verification, laying out on a construction site means that now we can use the cloud and mobile devices in the field to connect to the BIM model.

Take that BIM model directly into the field and connect it directly to our instruments, robotic total stations for instance, and streamline that workflow, allowing the customers to get it right the first time, providing a much smoother workflow. That goes for both layout and verification so it works both ways. Checking installations on the field, concrete or piling, for instance, and checking they are in the right place alongside the design model which takes information directly via robotic total stations, synchronise and then share it with the project stakeholders.

New processes include reality modeling, capturing data in the field, primarily for 3D verification using drones or UAVs. They are very popular to capture data on a construction site. Combine that with terrestrial laser scanning data, so a point cloud of data and combine that with perhaps mobile mapping data. There’s a lot of different methods of capturing as built data and the important thing is getting the right data where it can be used as quickly and as easily as possible.

Fast easy processing of the data to make sure it’s in the right place is essential to these workflows. The democratised solutions we offer our customers mean that they can check on a daily basis by doing a 3D scan or flying a drone, take that as built data and quickly compare it with the design sharing with other project stakeholders highlighting any issues and minimizing rework. That’s something we’re very focused on at the moment and especially with an acquisition we’ve recently made on software that can semi-automate the modelling process if required and can compare as built captured data with the design data.

What work is currently underway by the EU BIM Task Group to provide more guidance for member states on developing a BIM deployment policy?

The Task Group’s vision is to encourage the common use of BIM, as ‘digital construction’, in public works with the common aim of improving value for public money, quality of the public estate and for the sustainable competitiveness of industry. The European Commission recently awarded the EU BIM Task Group funding for two years (2016-2017) to deliver a common European network aimed at aligning the use of Building Information Modelling in public works. They have also developed the EU BIM Handbook soon to be available in 14 languages. I understand the Task Group is looking at an autonomous but relevant way forward to continue adding its value to the European construction sector.

What are some of the challenges of BIM adoption in Ireland?

The challenges would be the same in Ireland as everywhere I think. One of them is just being able to get the customer to understand it’s not just an upfront cost and the benefits and sharing those benefits with all project stakeholders and partnering right through the project life cycle.

Most of the benefits with BIM are with the asset owner. When we talk about the benefits of BIM and digital construction processes it shouldn’t just be with the contractor or the construction company. It should be sharing the risks and sharing the benefits. The owner, the asset owner needs to be involved and pushed towards digital construction and pushed for the benefits of BIM.

Another challenge is education and getting the right people involved in the project, making them understand why we’re introducing new digital processes and what the benefits are. With education it’s trying to understand what it’s all about really. It’s a digital approach involving the cloud and mobile technology.

There’s a lot of challenges to BIM, costs upfront, understanding the benefits and return on investments, sharing, education, understanding processes. There are so many challenges. The clear benefits of BIM and going digital would be process improvements, increased efficiencies, minimising risks through improved working processes, saving costs of re-work and ultimately increasing profits and margins.

Does the introduction of BIM into the public tender process give a competitive advantage to the larger firms who have invested and scaled this ahead of the smaller firms and as a result will create less competition in pricing of public projects?

Yes I think it really does give a competitive edge if you can prove you are working more efficiently for the customers and de-risking processes. There’s a definite competitive advantage if you can say that you don’t comply to necessarily a certain level of BIM but you can show your customers you’re using a digital approach and digital workflows and it’s clear to see why BIM processes make everything more efficient.

What is Construction 4.0?

In simple terms, “Industry 4.0” means the “fourth industrial revolution”, i.e. the digitalisation of industry, in general. The digitalisation of the construction industry has many aspects and includes many advanced processes and technologies, many of which Topcon already deliver or support with their solutions, for example:

  • New construction methods such as prefabrication, automation, 3D printing using more factory based assembly and less traditional construction processes.
  • Robotics, for repetitive and/or dangerous processes and drones for surveying and light lifting/moving/positioning.
  • Digitally controlled construction sites.
  • Machines and equipment integrated with simple BIM models ensuring
    more and better data and telemetry from site equipment to support contractors with
    everything connected to ensure accurate information in real time, leading to smoother, error free, faster construction.

How are digital technologies transforming the way infrastructure projects are designed, delivered and implemented?

Digital technologies are finally disrupting the construction industry following years of low investment and low productivity especially if compared to other manufacturing industries.

Over the last 25 years construction productivity has been flat at best, and has possibly declined in real terms by up 10 %. It’s estimated that to meet projected global demand over next 12 years we need to invest 60 trillion dollars but we only have the capacity to deliver 24 trillion of this at current productivity rates. That leaves a gap of 36 trillion, more than half – that’s a big infrastructure funding deficit. That’s why it’s important that we need to bridge this gap not just with our own technologies but forming smart partnerships with technology companies who share our vision and with whom we can develop and deliver new efficient integrated solutions that our customers need, partners such as Bentley Systems, Autodesk and Intel.

One of the ways we’re doing this is by working with Bentley Systems on what we call “constructioneering”, so automating the digital construction process through surveying, engineering design, constructible model development, and as-built data collection within a connected data environment to improve construction execution and reduce project costs. Our Constructioneering Academy with Bentley Systems, an initiative to provide for construction industry professionals to learn best practices in constructioneering, was just launched in the U.S. in February with another in Brisbane in April. We will be running further academies in Europe and the Middle East in the near future.

What advice would you give to Irish contractors working in the construction industry?

Don’t just focus on BIM for BIM’s sake or try and implement full BIM processes on a project straight away. It is much easier to focus on specific workflows that you know are risky and can be improved digitally and discuss with companies like Topcon because we bring a lot more value not only with our full range of digital solutions but additionally with our integrated solutions from our technology partners that I mentioned before. Have a discussion about existing workflows and how we can improve those specific workflows and what the clear incremental return on investment will be. Focus on getting it right first time, reducing project timescales, improving efficiencies and reducing costs.

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