Every decade brings it’s own jargon, slang and buzzwords. Do you remember some from only a few years ago? Kanban, WYSIWYG, transparency, future-proof, synergy, outside-the-box, blue-sky, proactive. Some of these were in it for the long haul, some represented a paradigm shift and others were not so robust. All required the learning of a new vocabulary every few years.

One of the latest is BIM. It’s actually an acronym – Building Information Modelling – and it applies, in one form or another, to almost all civil engineering projects these days.

While most engineers probably have some understanding of BIM, many would probably struggle to define it rigorously or apply it to a project. Given that Government clearly sees it as crucial to the future success of engineering in the UK, and is mandating its use in all government projects from 2016, engineers clearly need to learn quickly or take specialist advice from those already ‘in the know’.

One of those specialists is CH2M. Recently renamed from CH2M HILL (and before that Halcrow in the UK), the company is making sure that it is at the forefront of BIM in the UK. So Rail Engineer recently visited Vas Vernikos, the company’s head of BIM development, to find out more and how BIM is being used in rail today.

What is BIM?

BIM is an integrated data management and design process that creates value throughout the entire life of an asset, from its procurement, design and construction right through its useful life and its eventual decommissioning.

A BIM model is a 3D model that not only shows the completed structure but includes details of every individual element within it. Project stakeholders can determine what data is stored in the model, but the possible range is exhaustive. Dimensional data and other physical characteristics of elements form the essential minimum, but financial data, information about the source of the element and much more – such as health and safety requirements – may also be included. Once fully developed, a BIM model will be useful to all stakeholders throughout the life of the project, enabling the management of costs, construction sequencing, sustainability, safety and more during the construction phase. On completion of that phase, the model will greatly assist the facilities management and maintenance of the completed works and assist if redevelopment or updating of them is required at a future date.

By improving efficiency, reducing costs and risks and by enabling better design, BIM adds value to projects. This is achieved through the existence of a geometric, spatially aware model of the project that, as already described, is linked to relevant and appropriate data.

It is therefore unsurprising that the UK Government has mandated the use of what is known as Level 2 BIM for all government projects from 2016 onwards. Briefly, Level 0 BIM involves basic line drawings produced by computer-aided design (CAD). Level 1 requires the adoption of 2D or 3D models, whilst Level 2 means fully fledged BIM programme supporting models, objects and collaboration.

For BIM to be universally accepted and applied, there clearly needs to be a standard format for information exchange, so that different BIM models or elements can communicate with each other seamlessly. A standard industry format has been developed for this, known as COBie (Construction Operations Building information exchange), the use of which may well soon be mandated by Government.

CH2M and BIM

Like all new technologies and management approaches, BIM doesn’t stand still for long. Organisations such as CH2M therefore have to have a well-defined BIM strategy that is assessed and revised regularly to ensure that it encompasses all new government requirements and client needs.

CH2M is in the forefront of UK BIM development, and this year’s strategy focuses on reinforcing the relationship of BIM with operations and maintenance, ensuring an improved lifecycle cost and asset management offering. The ultimate aim is for BIM to become ‘business as usual’, fully integrated within the design delivery and project governance processes of the firm.

Working to achieve this goal, the company hosted a BIM conference for the Environment Agency (EA) in March 2014, and is working with the Agency to move it successfully towards the 2016 target date. The company has contributed to the development of relevant British Standards, and is piloting COBie on several projects in which it is working with the EA.

As recognition for its work, CH2M has won two Bentley ‘Be Inspired’ awards for its work on BIM. In 2012, the award was for work on a wastewater treatment and recycling facility project in Denver, Colorado. The award in 2013 was for a similar project for the City of Las Vegas.

Rail projects the company has been involved with include the London Underground Bond Street station upgrade which has been covered by Rail Engineer (issue 105, July 2013 and issue 129, July 2015). The use of BIM on this project was critical to successfully threading the new works through the tangle of existing infrastructure within the confined site volume, both above and below ground. CH2M was responsible for this model throughout.

In addition, CH2M is assisting Network Rail Infrastructure Projects to manage the Great Western Route Modernisation Programme. The transit and rail team from the company’s Transportation Business Group is currently providing engineering data management services under a two-year contract and CH2M staff are seconded to Network Rail offices at Reading, Swindon, Bristol and Newport. A team, expected to reach as many as 25 at the peak, will manage all GWRM Programme data in a BIM environment that will be the controlling mind of the project.

To learn more about BIM, and how it is applied to rail projects, you should attend the Rail BIM Summit in London on Tuesday 10 November. More information can be found at www.railbimsummit.com