The Future of BIM

If anyone had any doubts about the importance of Building Information Modelling to the future of the construction industry, then the Government’s recent policy paper has surely allayed any misgivings.

Construction 2025, published in July, states that the Government will mandate BIM for all centrally procured Government contracts from 2016. The strategy also states that in order to meet the local and global opportunities presented by green construction, smart construction and digital design, the industry must invest in people and technology.


Since the recession, thousands of jobs have been lost and along with them the skills which will be needed to support a sustainable economic recovery. Worryingly, many companies are seeking an offshore solution to the skills crisis by outsourcing large amounts of work to overseas countries. At Waldeck, however we’re creating an onshore British solution by launching our own BIM Academy to train school leavers and graduates in digital design.


Speaking from our own personal experience, our efforts to invest in people and technology has certainly paid dividends as our knowledge and experience of BIM has been instrumental in many of the company’s recent contract wins. Furthermore, one of the projects we’re currently working on – the redevelopment of London Bridge Station – has recently been named BIM Initiative of the Year at the Building Awards 2013.


Working alongside Charcon Specialist Products and main contractor Costain we produced a detailed, as-built 3D model of the station which was a complex job as the platforms had to incorporate all of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing services. Using Tekla we were able to input all of this information and also integrate our 3D model with the designer’s 3D model of the existing building and the new structure.


The new station consists of 15 station platforms varying from 250 to 400 metres in length and each one has hundreds of units which all had to be individually designed and detailed. This was made more challenging because the precast concrete units which make up the platforms are supported on an in situ concrete slab that is constructed on top of the brick arches of the original London Bridge Station and an existing three-span steel bridge structure.


Waldeck’s BIM and ‘off-site’ know-how has simplified the production of the manufacturing information, as drawings and casting schedules could be updated and produced automatically as the model progressed. They were also able to start off with a standard template unit and then modify each one accordingly, identifying any potential problems or discrepancies well in advance of the construction phase, thereby saving time and money but also creating certainty.


As an added complication, one end of the London Bridge Station platform also has to interface with The Shard, but BIM has enabled us to ensure that the two projects are fully aligned and resolve any clashes or conflicts to the mutual satisfaction of all interested parties.


So while Waldeck has been on the BIM journey for several years already and have seen the industry benefits at first hand, we understand that with software developers fighting to corner the marketplace and each wishing to become the industry standard, many engineering and design consultants are not sure where to turn.


Clients are more frequently requesting that projects be delivered in a specific file format, and short of spending tens of thousands of pounds investing in all the major software players out there, consultants are faced with sticking to the one which best suits their needs and converting their output.


Having experience of collaborating between all four of these software developers, our BIM designers and technicians have found it can take hours of phone calls, emails and sending extremely large files between themselves and other members of the design team to find a workable model.


This should not be a problem, as salesmen effortlessly reel off lists of all the formats that their software is compatible with, so no matter what your clients want, you can meet their needs they tell them. Yet underneath the sea of format acronyms, there is cause for concern. IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) is part of ISO 16739:2013, and although many developers supposedly support it, results can vary.


Although the majority of objects within models display, certain forms are simply not supported and either do not appear or are inaccurate and unusable wireframes. This can mean switching to other formats such as IGS, STEP or DXF and purchasing proprietary software to convert incoming files to usable formats at the consultant’s expense, as well as even more hours wasted trying to find the best output.


Some developers offer plug-ins or extensions with ‘direct links’ to one another, which can offer better results but not unfortunately always the seamless transfer which all the brochures profess will revolutionise your productivity and profit margins. Sometimes the simplest and quickest solution is to work with what you have, filling in the gaps with 2D drawings, which is not always ideal.


Developers need to make sure they truly are interoperable or risk customers moving to their rivals to suit the requirements of their clients. There is a steep learning experience for all involved but it is very positive to see that things are improving as we see the industry invest and move forward in the world of BIM.


By Paul Waldeck

BEng (Hons), CEng , MICE, MIStructE


Paul has over 25 years experience in the construction and development industries and worked for some of the UK’s largest contractors. He founded multi-disciplinary consulting engineering firm Waldeck, which now has 13 offices across the UK, in 1995.


Over the past 18 years Waldeck has been involved in many major projects including the restoration of Blackfriars Railway Bridge in London and the development of the £960m EDF Energy Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) power station at West Burton. Waldeck was also a supplier of structural design services (Olympic Village) to the London 2012 Games.