From time to time, new concepts come along that the latest generation of engineers grasp with both hands but which others, frankly, struggle to comprehend. Often, it’s all about the way people were trained to think, and how quickly they can shed that programming and absorb the new ideas.

Yards (or even chains!) and metres, shillings and ‘new pence’, pounds and kilos, acres and hectares – anyone over the age of 40 will understand the difficulties.

Now we have BIM – Building Information Modelling – which is not only new but becomes compulsory at Level 2 for all government-funded contracts after April 2016.

But what is it? And what does it do? And why is it so important? And what do companies need to do to be ready?

All good questions, and good reasons why the recent Rail BIM Summit, organised by Rail Media and hosted by Addleshaw Goddard near the Barbican in London, was sold out. There is even talk of another one in January for all the disappointed people who couldn’t get in.

BIM breakfast

The day began early for those able to attend the breakfast session at 8.30 am – ‘BIM Basics’ presented by Paul Trethewey, engineering data (BIM) manager and Andy Powell, head of BIM, with WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff. This covered the origins of BIM, BIM today and the aspirations of BIM.

Starting, naturally, with the origins of BIM, the presenters began with a quotation from Peter Hansford, chief construction adviser to the UK Government: ”The term BIM doesn’t matter at all. What we are talking about is the use of digital technology in design, construction and whole life asset management.”

A key driver in almost any field of life today is the exponential growth of computing power. The result of this is disruptive change, since it means we have the ability to use computer technology in ways we didn’t dream of only a few years ago. This affects almost everything we do. In construction, it means that we are now able to use digital technology in the way Peter described, in order to deliver greatly improved whole life performance from our assets.

In considering where BIM is today, Network Rail was taken as an example as it is the largest private landowner in the UK, the country’s largest purchaser of electricity and the owner of the third largest telecommunications network.

The company is building appropriate asset information and management systems and the presenters looked quickly at the workflows and tools involved, the challenges and strategies and the BIM execution plan. Network Rail is using a geographical information system (GIS) -esiARCGIS, an engineering data management system – ProjectWise Explorer V8i, a document management system and object modelling to accomplish this task.

Future aspirations for BIM described in the final section of the presentation included sustainability, achieved through such results as the avoidance of re-work and the ability to reuse models. Occupational health enhancement, another aspiration, should be achievable through, for example, the reduction of the need for human involvement in hazardous activities, and via improved results achieved by the use of modelling.

In rail and other passenger transport businesses, the passenger experience should be improved through information management processes and mobile device software apps supported by BIM. Other aspirations include reality capture and rule driven design, streamlining projects and asset management.

The BIM challenge

After a much-needed coffee, the BIM newcomers from the breakfast session were joined by those ‘already knowledgeable’ for the rest of the day. David Philp, AECOM director of BIM opened with a welcome address which echoed the earlier talk by considering why BIM is needed, what it is and what are its key components. In David’s words, BIM is “the act of creating an information model”. He suggested that BIM is needed because we need digital data for (rail) assets from which we can derive asset management information.

The Government clearly thinks so too, and as already mentioned, they have mandated the use of collaborative 3D BIM on all projects funded centrally by government from 4th April next year. To support this they will be ensuring the provision of a clear and complete EIR (employer’s information requirement) with every contract from the deadline date.

David described the standard information exchange method, COBie, mandated by British Standards for all projects where no asset management system (AMS) already exists.

Other BIM Level 2 components include AIR (asset information requirements), AIM (asset information management), and the whole should result in integrated project delivery, integrated and comprehensive asset information management and lean solutions for project delivery and asset management.

In rail, the aspiration is for a digital built rail environment comprising an AIM and AMS, driving asset management, asset renewal and asset project delivery, with asset changes fed back into the AIM and AMS automatically, of course. The vision is that this will lead to a 33% reduction in costs, 50% lower emissions and greater productivity and export success from

the construction industry in the UK. However, it is important to remember that design and construction typically account for only 20% of the total spend on assets, with operation and maintenance accounting for the remaining 80%. This is why the longer term vision for BIM will extend its influence into those phases of asset management, to ensure minimised whole life costs and optimised asset performance in service.

BIM and existing infrastructure

Barry Gleeson, Network Rail Survey Assurance Manager, Thameslink, began by asking: “Where’s the as-built and who cares?” There is much to do if the railway is to achieve the full asset information it needs. It must not end up emulating the recent French experience, where two classes of new trains were found to clash with many platforms across the network, resulting in hurried, extensive and expensive infrastructure alterations. The industry has to know what and where its assets are, and maintain that asset information accurately through any changes that may be made to them at any time.

Barry continued by describing some of the problems he has experienced in the past with railway asset information collection and recording. He covered the RINM (rail infrastructure network model) that Network Rail is building and discussed its use at London Bridge.

“It’s all about recording, verifying and communicating data and information,” Barry commented. The way in which this is done is changing rapidly. Scanned data has been used for data collection for some time now, and the use of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones) is increasing. BIM is being geo-enabled, and video information is being combined with the BIM data.

BIM on a new railway

HS2 director of BIM, John Kerby, looked at how BIM could be used when building a new railway. He quoted HS2 technical director, Andrew McNaughton: “BIM is our life blood,…….our central nervous system.” HS2 depends upon BIM to deliver the quality of the railway, the quality of passenger experience and the quality of the business. It will enable the realisation of the full value of the physical assets by the exploitation of the full value of the digital assets in the BIM model.

The company has a target to deliver savings through BIM of £0.5 billion and is mapping direct and indirect benefits in order to be able to demonstrate these. The asset register, network model and asset management systems are critical.

There are challenges in this. In procurement it is essential to include the necessary details in contracts, and initially level 2 BIM is being written into these. The intention is to move from this later to level 3 and finally level 4, at which time BIM will extend to cover the whole of operations and maintenance.

This brought John to the question of specification versus innovation. HS2 is determined to specify what and when rather than how or who by developing a common data environment (CDE) and providing this to the supply chain together with robust EIR (employer’s information requirements). The aspiration is to allow maximum room for innovation whilst ensuring compatibility across the piece, irrespective of supplier.

BIM advances the railway

Ben Feltham, head of BIM for rail at Skanska, and Matt Blackwell, digital operations director with Costain, represented the Costain Skanska Joint Venture (CSJV). Ben began, taking a look at BIM in rail.

Thameslink was an early adopter of the BIM process and he used this project as an exemplar of what has already been done. BIM in rail, as elsewhere, involves collaboration and modelling, and this is becoming established good practice in the industry. Ben considered it unfair that the industry so often gets unfairly criticised for being old-fashioned.

BIM has been vital to the Paddington CSJV project, where a BIM Clinic was set up to support the project team by offering training and facilities to anyone from the project. On Thameslink, the JV has successfully used 4D modelling to assist its project delivery, for example on the Bermondsey dive-under project. And cloud-based technology is valuable, witness the use of EMT (enable my team) on the Crossrail project.

Matt Blackwell took over to discuss the Great Western electrification project, explaining how environmental and stakeholder management are facilitated by digitising assets and adding them to a map. This information is freely available and can be taken around on mobile devices. Mapped data can be used to make predictive information, for example the traffic consequences of closing a bridge to traffic.

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Bernard Fanning, Network Rail, gave an overview of Crossrail 2 which will connect south-west London with the north-east of the city, then carried on to describe how the project team is applying BIM to the development of the project. He, too, asked: “What is BIM?”

“It consists of drawings, models, and more models,” he supplied his own answer, adding that it is essential to think about the desired end product and feed this view back into the ‘recipe’ or ‘ingredients’ stage of BIM development. The vision must be linked to the business case and lead into an implementation plan. On completion, lessons learned should be fed back to drive behavioural change and future improvement.

Existing AIM

Richard Cooper from Bridgeway Consulting recalled how track geometry data used to be collected by the Hallade Method, which involved three people, a string line and a ruler! Today, things have moved on via total stations, to laser scanning, and now UAVs.

However, why is the take-up of BIM so slow? Richard considered that the answer to that question includes fear of the unknown, concern about the costs and competence issues associated with adopting new equipment and technologies, the difficulty of getting from data collection to data collaboration, and finally a concern that BIM is too big a concept for smaller surveying companies.

Richard’s colleague Simon Hatch took over at this point to speak about modelling of existing assets. BIM is being used to supplement the rail industry, he said, by integrating what he called ‘siloed data’ from different sources within the industry. Clients need to think what they need and why, and develop their EIR to suit their purposes. Consultants such as Bridgeway can assist with this.

CBIA

Neil Pawsey of software and systems provider Bentley Systems described how the technical complexity of the Crossrail project, and the sheer number of contracts involved, mean that the risks are significant. BIM is a key means to minimise these risks, and the Crossrail BIM strategy included the Crossrail Bentley Information Academy (CBIA). Hosted by Bentley Systems, its purpose is to enhance supply chain knowledge, and also to drive innovation in construction.

The curriculum is defined by Crossrail and its chief executive, Andrew Wostenholme, is enthusiastic about BIM and has driven it throughout the life of the project from the earliest days.

The impact and benefits of the Academy have been great and wide ranging. It has helped to educate the supply chain, assisting them to understand why asset information and modelling are critically important to the project. It has allowed first class coaching and training of people from all levels of the project.

Malcolm Taylor is head of technical information at the Crossrail project. He stressed that information must meet the required standards, be appropriately structured, asset focussed and appropriate to the asset life cycle. Its storage must be considered as well as its collection, and there needs to be a common data environment to ensure compatibility and consistency.

Asset information must be complete, accurate and up to date. For example, no asset may be changed without that change being recorded correctly in the system immediately. That applies whoever makes the change, whether a maintenance team or a renewals project.

Data handling must be optimised, and the use of a common data environment (CDE) is essential for this. Then it becomes simple to hand over the data from Capex (the development project) to Opex (the operations and maintenance team). ‘Playlists’ can be created for different users, to ensure that each gets the data they need. Crossrail has over a million separate assets that will be tagged, and has already generated over 2 million e-documents thus far. Without its systems this volume of data would be impossible to manage efficiently and effectively.

Adapting to BIM

Olly Thomas of BIM Technologies stated: “BIM won’t wait for you and you shouldn’t wait for it.” Clients need to think what they need and want, taking appropriate expert advice where required. People are critical, and separate teams for design, construction and so on are not good enough. A project must have an integrated project team.

Steve Eglinton, director of GeoEnable began his presentation by reiterating that whole life cost matters, not just the Capex cost. Delivery of the lowest whole life cost requires collaboration and the integration of systems, disciplines, organisations and data formats. Good data management and use adds value, turning data into information, intelligence and, ultimately, knowledge.

People are essential in all this, so where will the rail industry find them? They may come from many different backgrounds such as the ICE, RICS, IStructE and more. Rail could look in other sectors besides its own and needs to avoid the jargon and acronyms that inhibit essential cross-discipline collaboration.

Benefits of BIM

It seemed appropriate that the final presentation of the day, given by Matthew Conway of OSL Rail and Matt Lees of BIMevoke, looked at this subject.

Matthew began by reminding delegates that the rail sector is not alone and doesn’t have a monopoly of problems or solutions. Similar issues run across all sectors, so it is crucial to learn from others where possible. He considered the vision, philosophy and mission of BIM (or visual design and construct as he preferred it), before going on to enumerate the benefits he saw from BIM. These include efficiency throughout the life of a project and integration of the design approach, improved safety, more adaptability and improved sustainability.

Matt Lees concluded the presentation with a discussion of a real world example his company had been involved in, the Liverpool waste water scheme. BIMevoke had worked with AECOM and Atkins on this, using Autodesk BIM 360 Field. The contractor, Costain, had provided its staff with iPads, enabling them to access information and upload new data directly from site.

That concluded a fascinated, and lengthy, look at the world of BIM in Rail. Everyone present was convinced of the need to implement BIM in one form or another, and of the benefits that would result. The Government’s target of Level 2 on all projects from April 2016 seemed to be challenging but achievable.

However, as HS2’s John Kerby commented, the real challenge was to engage with all the people who weren’t there on the day, as they were the ones who were not yet on board with the drive to implement BIM throughout the rail industry.