Goodbye BIM… Hello digital

This blog was written by Ben Roberts, Associate and BIM Delivery Leader at Hoare Lea

This blog was written by Ben Roberts, Associate and BIM Delivery Leader at Hoare Lea

When BIM first reached the masses in about 2010 it was exciting: finally the construction industry wakes up to the 21st century and embraces the ability of computers to take on our more mundane tasks and improve communication! A data-centric approach to managing projects meant that appointments would be clearer, design computation could yield instant feedback, models would feed directly into fabrication robots and building operators could simply and efficiently access all the information about their assets at the click of a button.

However in 2015 there seems to be a wide spread consensus that BIM is just an expensive, less flexible way of delivering projects, and sadly the acronym is often a sure fire way of clearing a room.

So beyond the UK government’s level 2 BIM deadline in April 2016 there is no “level 3 BIM”; instead it is “digital built Britain”. And the industry is following suit; let’s remove this acronym with too much baggage and stigma and get down to what it really means: sensible data management, better quality communication of design intent, easier and more effective collaboration, and many opportunities to do things more quickly and accurately.

When thinking about “digital” rather than “BIM”, we find ourselves asking a more straight forward question: what can computers and data do for us?

Firstly, computers are capable of recording vast amounts of data and processing it very quickly, but to date they’re not so good at the more creative stuff; that’s what people are for. So it follows that we can “outsource” a lot of our thinking time to a processor by offloading the more mundane, repetitive tasks, leaving our creative minds to focus on the more interesting things. Good technology should allow people to spend less time alone staring at a computer!

As an example, BREEAM is a way of addressing a very important aspect of our building design (environmental impact) but is often seen as a time-consuming form filling exercise. This is a terribly boring thing for a human to do, but provides essential information in a usable common structure. This is exactly what computers are good at, so let’s automate this important but boring compliance process so that humans can get on with doing the interesting important tasks.

Ben Roberts blogWe are now also capable of doing things that were previously impossible or impractical. Virtual reality and augmented reality are now becoming cheaper and easier; anyone with a smartphone has a choice of free apps to upload your 3D models, and if oculus rift is outside your budget, try google cardboard for just £6! The MX3D Amsterdam bridge project is proving that 3D printing is not just for small objects; perhaps entire pipework systems could be printed on site too? Many other emerging technologies are presenting completely new options: reality capture, the internet of things, cloud computing, wearable technology and visual scripting are just a few examples.

Secondly, data can be very informative if you know what to do with it. Buildings can potentially generate enormous amounts of data, and in the right hands that can quickly be used to assess energy performance, make comparisons of different technologies, or identify faults in building systems, for example.  Raw data is daunting, but visualisation of that data is easy and provides a more immediate form of interpretation. As 2 examples, graphs and infographics are clear methods of showing key statistics and are easily generated in Excel, and 3D models give an intuitive interface to accessing associated data at various stages in a project lifecycle.

Finally, you don’t have to be a computer scientist to use a computer these days – my grandad is 95 years old and controls his heating remotely using his iPad. Much of the software available for design, construction and operation of buildings is going this way too. Virtual reality is a good starting point for the technologically averse, but there are plenty of other technologies that offer simple solutions for anyone.

So I encourage you all, upon hearing the acronym “BIM”, not to run for the hills but to simply consider what computers and data can do to help you.

Ben is a chartered mechanical engineer and holds the position of BIM Delivery Leader for Hoare Lea, a role which involves pushing the boundaries of software tools and enabling teams to deliver BIM projects as efficiently and effectively as possible around the practice in the UK and Middle East. He specialises in using BIM models for design calculations. Ben is an active member of the CIBSE BIM steering group, the BSRIA BIM Network, and is involved in developing many industry standards for MEP BIM delivery. He has written articles for a variety of construction industry journals on the subject of BIM, and regularly presents and lectures on the subject around the world.

BSRIA Diamond Group Forum – A glimpse of the future?

How buildings can improve productivity and wellbeing will continue to be one of the most researched questions over the next decade. This touches all aspects of building design, construction, use, and maintenance. It also relates to the relationship of buildings with their immediate environment as well as their connection to the wider world. There is a lot changing in this industry and the players need to be aware of this and decide how they will respond. They need to evolve, move up the value chain, embrace new technologies, develop the necessary processes, and build the necessary skills.

60th anniversary finalsmallResponding to this, BSRIA held a 60th anniversary “Diamond Group Forum” with senior executives at the AHR Expo in Chicago in January to discuss and debate the changing landscape around the design and use of buildings, their evolution, and to uncover how the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and building controls industry should be shaped in future in order to best respond to client needs and prepare for the positive and profitable development of the businesses that support it.

The event brought together approximately 30 senior executives from major players representing a mix of manufacturers, specifiers and end users in the industry. The forum, which was opened by BSRIA CEO, Julia Evans facilitated active debate and networking.

Following three summary presentations on HVAC and smart control technology by experts from BSRIA World Market Intelligence, the participants broke out into several workshop groups to address the following key questions:

  1. What do you think are the biggest, most relevant changes in buildings now and over the next 10 years?
  2. What will be the impact on our industry?
  3. What products and services will be required in the future?

The majority of participants were from North American organisations, with a small number from Europe and Asia. So it may be assumed that the many insightful conclusions had a North American focus, even though many relate to issues of international relevance. Amongst the many topics discussed, some of the main conclusions are summarised below.

Participants concluded that the march of green construction and sustainability will continue, aided by regulation and integrated building design. Increasingly, buildings will need to adapt to people – up to now it has been the other way around! The Internet of Things is already seen as a reality and combined with analytics and big data, has the potential to deliver radically improved value for building owners and occupants, whilst spawning a host of new value streams for suppliers.

The team still see some barriers, such as how best to finance projects and there is continued concern around grid stability and energy prices.

New challenges will undoubtedly appear, not least the need to understand how new building designs work and to understand the challenge of more complex building systems. There is often a disconnect between building use and how control systems are applied and this needs to be addressed. At the same time there is a need for smarter, integrated construction practices.

One of the most important challenges facing the industry is the shortage of people educated to understand the new types of technology. This needs to be tackled and new ways need to be found for engaging the younger generation with our industry.

New competitors will enter the market, not least from the IT and software fields and industry needs to develop new partnerships, for example to bridge the gap between the HVAC and the IT world.

Smart technology, in the form of smart, self-learning and self-diagnosing products is emerging as well as building data capture, software based analytics and an increasing proportion of applications going to the “cloud”.

There is a growing need for devices to be interconnected and converged on to common platforms and networks, with increased adoption of standards for open connectivity. Cybersecurity for building systems is currently a major weakness and consequently has moved rapidly up the agenda.  It represents a threat to development of the building controls industry but can be turned into a new business opportunity.

Suppliers need to sell solutions and focus more on life cycle costing. A migration of controls onto the HVAC equipment, delivered as a single package, with a simple man machine interface, is expected to become more prolific. In the next stage, these packaged solutions will be connected to the cloud and the service business model may have to change in the future.

Above all, the products of the future should be designed with the small and medium building retrofit market in mind. These represent the vast majority of buildings and floor space.

A second Diamond Group Forum will be held at the ISH exhibition in Frankfurt on Tuesday 10th March for senior executives of top BSRIA clients. For more information contact Jeremy.towler@bsria.co.uk

%d bloggers like this: