06 July 2016

Building Information Modelling (BIM): Industry improvement or additional requirement?

By John Cunningham, Design and Engineering Director

Industry demands for increased design deliverables can add time, cost and complexity to a project. In recent times Building Information Modelling (BIM) has been one of these calls from both government and industry where the design information ceiling is set to move from supplier to client level.

BIM is a digital concept that gathers and stores project component information in one place. Individual suppliers’ components constitute single pieces in a full system that may include tens of thousands of pieces. Information on how those pieces connect together is provided by BIM.

At a casual glance BIM appears to be a collection of supplier CAD models combining to create a full installation model. Closer inspection, however, reveals deeper levels of information that can change the model into a 3D virtual data library.

The client benefits are substantial from concept stage through to facilities management and maintenance. The ability to drop suppliers BIM models into a virtual installation and ensure components such as pipework and cables line up, connections are compatible and the space envelope is suitable, is invaluable. Compatibility checks at the BIM stage can ensure correct items are purchased and help eliminate potentially expensive rework or delays.

It seems inevitable that BIM will become a standard construction industry requirement and the success of similar systems is evident in many other industries. In 2000 the Ford Mondeo was the first completely ‘digital’ car where suppliers synchronised their 3D digitally designed components using propriety Ford software; this method of working is now the automotive industry standard. Process plants have also used 3D infrastructure modelling for many years to create virtual full plant models. These are just two working examples of where industry information models exist and also suggest where BIM will most certainly end up.

As with most new proposals there are some concerns. These mainly centre on Intellectual Property (IP) and the level of detail and visibility within some BIM models. Visibility is increased by collaboration levels. Collaboration is a term used within BIM to indicate the level of cooperation between suppliers on a project. In the most open BIM environment (Level 3) all suppliers have full access to the BIM CDE (Common Data Environment) where supplier’s models are open to interrogation and can carry a high level of potentially sensitive data. Industries that have adopted the system combat these issues through robust read/write permissions, supplier partnering programs and building trust in the confidentiality of digital systems.

BIM is currently defined into four levels of data from 0-3.

Level 0 BIM: No collaboration. 2D CAD drafting with paper or electronic drawings.

Level 1 BIM: Mix of 3D CAD for concept work and 2D for manufacture drawings. Electronic sharing of data is performed in a common data environment (CDE) that is managed by the contractor or contractor’s consultant. At this level there is still no collaboration as suppliers publish and maintain their own data.

Level 2 BIM: This level has been set as a minimum target by the UK government for all work in the public sector by 2016 and involves collaborative working between supplier models. Suppliers use their own 3D CAD models but are able to extract key interactions from the shared client BIM model. Design information is shared through a common file format which allows any organisation to combine its data with others to enable interrogative checks. Suitable file formats such as Industry Foundation Class (IFC) or Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie) are used.

Level 3 or ‘Open BIM’: Full collaboration between all suppliers through a single shared project model which is held in a central repository. All parties can access and modify the single model.

Most suppliers are currently working somewhere between levels 2 and 3. Beyond the current levels, 4D, 5D and 6D BIM are being considered: 4D attaches time, 5D includes cost models and 6D adds facilities management.

So, what does BIM mean for Balmoral Tanks? As a company we strive to lead the way in sales, design, project management, manufacturing and installation through a programme of continuous improvement and BIM is an extension of this. We will evolve with BIM while moving towards fully automated working practices to ensure Balmoral remains the most innovative and competitive tank manufacturing company in the global market.


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