BSRIA and our approach to BIM

As part of an upcoming BIM blog series following on from the Open BIM REC webinar series BSRIA answered the following questions.

What has been the key to your success with BIM?

The key to a successful BIM project, based on our current experience, has been using a procurement method which promoted truly collaborative working.  It can be difficult when each party is employed against their own particular scope to ensure everyone works together.  One party may have to decide to do either what is best for the project or what they have been specifically employed to do – these are not always compatible.

How many BIM projects have you been involved in?

We have been involved in one project which has reached site which is trying to adopt BIM Level 2 throughout the project duration.  The project is currently on site and is due to complete in July 2017.

Where was your greatest BIM challenge to start with and what shortcuts are available now (if any) that were not available when you started on your BIM journey?

The greatest challenge was to convert the BIM Level 2 documents into working project processes.  There is a huge gap between the BS/PAS 1192 documents etc. and working project practices and procedures and the amount of effort involved to achieve this shouldn’t be underestimated.

The instances of useful and practical information and tools to enable BIM Level 2 requirements to be incorporated into real projects have not materialised. Some of the tools provided by the Government do not work in practice.  As a result, a more flexible approach to BIM Level 2 is being put in place.

How can industry ensure that clients receive the full benefits of BIM?

The best way for the industry to ensure that clients receive the full benefits of BIM is to listen to the client.  The industry is focussed on telling the client what they will get based on their own skills (often modelling skills rather than true BIM Level 2 capabilities), and too often they don’t look at how the client will use the information generated through the project in the operation of the asset once handed over.

What else can be done to help improve collaboration within the construction industry?

The best way to improve collaboration within the construction industry is to use a form of procurement which truly promotes collaborative working. We’ve been reviewing Integrated Project Insurance as one method and can see some real benefits.

To find out more about BSRIA’s BIM services and advice please visit our website. We also have a collection of BIM blogs by our BSRIA experts. 

Construction quality could be catching up with other industries

This blog was written by Lynne Ceeney, Technical Director at BSRIA

If you order steak and chips at a restaurant, but the waiter delivers hake in strips, you would be rightly annoyed. Instinctively you blame the waiter, but it could have been a problem with the ordering software, a misreading in the kitchen or just the wrong dish being picked up.  Whatever, you would send it back – it is not what you ordered.   In new buildings, this happens all the time.  Poor communication during the briefing, design and construction process, and poor handover and operation leads to a building that doesn’t deliver the performance the client thought they had ordered in the first place.  Unlike a dinner, it’s not practical to send a building back and wait for the one you asked for to be delivered.  Instead extensive snagging lists, expensive defect resolution and defensive “best we can do” fixes by the facilities team are often used to try and get the building closer to its intended performance – and “closer” is usually the best that can be achieved. The owner and occupier end up with a disappointing building, and the designers and construction company are left with a disappointed client.  The blame chain spreads, and it’s hard to pin down the fault.

The impacts run way beyond disappointment.  Occupier discomfort impacts staff retention, and the increased societal focus on wellbeing indicates that employees will expect higher standards from their place of work.  Poor commissioning or confusing controls mean building systems that don’t work properly and need constant attention or premature replacement, as the uncomfortable working conditions impact on worker productivity.  Inefficient buildings use more energy requiring more cash and causing more carbon emissions.  In fact buildings contribute 37% of UK green house gas emissions from gas heating, and consume 67% of the electricity used in the country.  It’s no wonder that larger investors are taking much more of an interest in the sustainability and performance of buildings rather than just the upfront capital cost.  Good buildings are an asset, poor buildings become an expensive liability in terms of operating costs and void periods. Competitive property markets compound this situation.

With a typical building having a life expectancy of at least 60 years, we are building in problems for this generation and the next.  We’re not great at mass retrofitting, (and the high demand for additional building stock means a capital, skills and material shortage) so we need to get it right first time.  Effective management tools with this aim abound in other sectors, for example DRIFT, (Doing it Right First Time), Six Sigma, LEAN and Zero Defects.  We see the approach being used in food manufacture, car making, pilot training, and patient healthcare, to name but a few sectors.  So what about construction?

Soft Landings is the equivalent tool for the construction sector.  This tried and tested process was developed to help to produce better performing buildings – not necessarily exceptional in performance, but buildings that deliver in operation what they were designed to do in the first place.  Getting a building right requires a shared focus on operational performance of the building right from the start, and throughout the design, construction and commissioning process.  The use of Soft Landings delivers this shared focus, improving communication and collaboration between all parties in the building delivery chain.  It helps everyone to avoid the pitfalls that diminish operational building performance. It fits with RIBA stages, integrates into existing construction processes, and does not require a specific building procurement model.  You can download Soft Landings guidance from the BSRIA website .

However it is always helpful to find out about real world experiences, and to talk to others who are using Soft Landings to help them to produce better buildings.  With this in mind, BSRIA have organised the 2017 Soft Landings Conference (June 16th 2017 at RIBA, Portland Place, London W1B 1AD). You will hear from a range of speakers from different parts of the construction process – including clients – who will explain how they have used Soft Landings in their projects, and the value that it has delivered for their buildings.  You will also hear their hints and tips, and there will be plenty of time to ask questions and take part in discussion both in conference and over lunch.

It’s time for the construction industry to catch up with other industries in terms of quality, to produce buildings that perform as expected, through a delivery process that gets it right first time.  Soft Landings is a process that helps the delivery chain to do this.  For more information on the conference please contact our Events Manager, Tracey Tilbry.

 

BSRIA’s Model Format for Building Services Specifications and UniClass 2015

bg-56-2016-model-format-specificationTo reflect the importance of specifications in the construction process, in 2015 BSRIA published its guide BG 56 Model Format for Building Services Specifications.  The guide stressed the need to present specifications in an effective and consistent format, and working groups representing designers and installers co-operated to produce a model format for specification content.

The format developed consisted of the following five parts:

  • A Preliminaries
  • B Project specific requirements
  • C Project specific materials and equipment
  • D Common workmanship and materials requirements
  • E Tender deliverables

Within the project specific parts, the content indexes have been arranged to present the correct level of information in the order it will be required by the specification user.

Classification has been used in construction for many years as a way of grouping similar information together, and identifying content about a particular topic.  This has been particularly effective within the building services sector with the use of CAWS (Common Arrangement of Work Sections), resulting in recognisable codes such as T31(low temperature hot water heating) being used as a form of shorthand to describe particular engineering systems in specifications, design reports and on drawings.

BG 56 has now been updated to include references to the recently resolved classification system for use in BIM Level 2 applications – UniClass 2015.  For most specification instances, the two main UniClass 2015 tables to be used will be Systems (Ss) and Products (Pr).

Additional appendices have been included to provide examples of how UniClass 2015 may be used in specifications to identify particular engineering systems or equipment.  Appendix F shows UniClass 2015 codes for a selection of typical equipment items found in workmanship and materials sections of engineering specifications.  Appendix G contains an example of a complete specification index using the model format, with UniClass 2015 codes included where appropriate.

Contractors can’t build well without clients that lead

Did anyone see the recent news story on the Edinburgh PFI schools with structural failures? In 2016 we shouldn’t be constructing buildings with feeble brickwork. We have Victorian and Edwardian schools that have been standing for over 100 years without these problems. More ironically we have 1960s CLASP schools – built on a budget with the flimsiest of constructions – still standing and performing their role well after their sell-by date. OK, they’re usually freezing in winter and boiling in summer, with asbestos in places a power drill shouldn’t reach, but at least they’re still standing.

The reasons for these high profile failures are easy to park at the door of the PFI process. One can blame cost-cutting, absence of site inspections, and lack of quality control. Some even say that the ceding of Building Control checks to the design and build contractor is a root cause: site labour can’t be trusted to mark their own exam paper when their primary interest is to finish on time and under budget.

Some commentators blame the design process, and bemoan the loss of days of the Building Schools for the Future programme when design quality was overseen by the Commission for Architecture in the Built Environment (CABE). The erstwhile CABE may have tried to be a force for good, but project lead times become ridiculously long and expensive. And would it have prevented structural failures? Hardly likely.

The one cause of these failures that doesn’t get enough press coverage is the important client leadership and quality championing. It can be argued that clients get what clients are willing to pay for, and there’s no industry like the construction industry for delivering something on the cheap. The cost-cutting, the emphasis on time and cost at the expense of quality control – all this can be pinned on a client base that does not lead, demand, oversee, and articulate what it wants well enough to prevent the desired product being delivered at the wrong level of quality at the wrong price.

Which means that clients have to a) get wiser on what can go wrong, b) get smarter with their project management, and c) articulate what they want in terms of performance outcomes. Truly professional designers recognise this, and are prepared to guide their clients through the shark-infested waters of writing their employers requirements. But once that is done the client’s job is not over. They can’t simply hand the job over to the main contractor and turn their back until the job is complete. They need to be closely involved every step of the way – and keep key parties involved beyond practical completion and into the all-importance aftercare phase.

Soft Landings provides a chassis on which focus on performance outcomes can be built. The chassis provides the client with a driving seat to ensure that standards are maintained, along with a shared construction team responsibility to make sure the building is fit for purpose.  The forthcoming BSRIA conference Soft Landings in London on 23 June is a good opportunity to learn how this can be done. It will focus on workshops where problems can be aired and solutions worked through. It will be led by experts in the field who can suggest practical solutions for real-world projects. Why not book a place for you and a client? For more information visit the BSRIA website. 

The practicalities of classification in a BIM Level 2 environment

I first raised the issue of classification in the BSRIA blog back in March 2014 – my, how time flies.  As you would expect (or at least hope) things have moved on and there are some issues within the general world of classification which are worth raising, particularly in the context of BIM Level 2 with the UK Government’s mandate almost with us.

Current classification systems commonly used in construction typically work at ‘system’ level.  The highest level of classification is for a group of system types eg in CAWS (Common Arrangement of Work Sections).  This level is represented by a single letter: ‘S’ represents Piped Services, a category including systems such as Cold Water, Natural Gas, etc.

However, most classification systems available have an inherent flaw – they are not capable of classifying at a multi-services level, something that is common in the world of MEP.  In CAWS language, there needs to be a way of combining mechanical systems and electrical systems under a single heading, as the various mechanical systems are combined under the Piped Services ‘S’.

The success of information management depends heavily on the ability to retrieve a piece of information once generated.  BS 1192:2007+A1:2015 details a method for naming information files, and consists of a number of mandatory and optional fields.  The following extract from BS 1192 shows all the fields, together with their obligation – ‘Required’ or ‘Optional’.

John Sands Jan blog

Using this process would result in a file name (a similar process can be used for drawing numbers) as follows.  I have ignored the last two fields – Suitability and Revision – for the moment, and I’ll explain why later:

PROJ1-BSRIA-00-ZZ-RP-H-T31-00001

In this example, the CAWS classification system has been used, giving T31 for Low temperature hot water heating system.  And this is my point (finally, I hear you say) – the classification field is the only part of the file string which tells the recipient what the subject of the file is.  In future, when searching for information about a particular aspect of a project in the information repository, this classification code is the best way to identify relevant content.  Therefore, I feel it is vital that the classification field is used for all file names in order to make the information available for future use.  This reuse of information is where efficiency increases are realised and errors reduced by not having to reproduce information over and again.

Now, suppose that the report in the above example was the building services scheme design report, covering all mechanical, electrical and public health systems.  Which classification could be applied for that topic?  This takes us back to the point I made at the start of this article – for any classification system to work effectively it needs to be able to represent multi-services applications.

The classification system chosen for use in the UK Government Level 2 BIM requirements is Uniclass 2015, a development of Uniclass 2 which was produced by CPIC (Construction Projects Information Committee).  Uniclass 2015 has been prepared by NBS as part of an Innovate UK research competition won by their parent company RIBA Enterprises, and consists of a number of individual classification tables.   Although this is the classification system chosen to take us into Level 2 and beyond, it does not appear to be capable of meeting at least one fundamental requirement – the ability to deal with multi-services applications.

Don’t get me wrong.  This issue is not new and is certainly not confined to Unicalss 2015.  CAWS couldn’t handle multi-services classification either, but it was hoped that a new system, developed specifically for BIM, would provide the answer.  BSRIA has been raising this issue, both in its own name and as part of CIBSE initiatives, since Uniclass 2 was released.  Throughout the development of Uniclass 2015 we have raised a number of queries about the arrangement and capability of the format, but on this particular point we are still waiting for a meaningful response.

Whilst I’m at it, here’s another thing to think about.

As I mentioned earlier, the success of an information management system – for that’s what BIM is – is the ability to retrieve information once created.  The file naming convention described in BS 1192:2007+A1:2015 described above goes a long way in enabling this but there are some points of concern with its approach.

A document or file may be superseded a number of times in its life, and BS 1192 describes the process for moving that superseded file into the ‘Archive’ area of the information store.  This ensures that the complete history of the project is retained for future reference.  However, the way the successive versions are named is causing a little concern in practice as more people start to use these methods on live projects.  This is where those last two fields I conveniently ignored above come into play.

Historically, we have managed revised and superseded documents by using revision codes – in most cases a single letter after the final number (PROJ1-BSRIA-00-ZZ-RP-H-T31-00001A using the previous example).  This additional letter distinguishes each version of the same base document, and also has the added benefit of changing the file name to allow it to be saved whilst remaining recognisable.   The two remaining fields in the BS 1192 extract above appear to provide this facility within the BS 1192 approach.

However, the guide to BS 1192 (Building Information Management – A Standard Framework and Guide to BS 1192) states that:

Recommendation: status and revision should not be included as part of the file name as this will produce a new file each time those elements are updated, and an audit trail will not be maintained.

This doesn’t appear to be a very sensible approach to me.  You cannot save multiple versions of a file with the same name, so the addition of the revision letter to the file name is a simple and workable solution.  This might seem like a small or trivial issue in the big world of BIM, but it’s the sort of thing that could stop the widespread uptake of an otherwise very worthwhile file naming approach.

BSRIA has posted several blogs on the topic of BIM that can be read here.

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.

The Building Services/Engineering ‘BIM Readiness’ Survey

BECA_strapSRIA is delighted to be supporting a sector-wide BIM survey which has been launched by the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA), alongside the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) and Building, the UK’s leading magazine for construction professionals.

The new study will explore the readiness of the building services sector to engage with BIM within the next six to 12 months. The survey is also supported by other leading players in the sector, including the British Electrotechnical and Allied Manufacturers’ Association (BEAMA).

The investigation is expected to reveal crucial information about how prepared the sector is to adopt ‘BIM Level 2’ practice, noting the government requirement for BIM Level 2 engagement with centrally procured contracts during 2016.

BSRIA’s Principal Consultant and BIM specialist, John Sands, commented:

“With the implementation of the UK Government’s Level 2 BIM mandate just a few months away, the building services industry should be in a position to make the most of the opportunities it will present. This survey will help us all to identify where we are in the BIM journey, and to enable us to plan the way forward to BIM maturity.”

ECA Director of Business Services, Paul Reeve, said:

“This sector-wide survey will provide much needed and very timely information on how ready the building services sector is to engage with BIM as we approach the 2016 government deadline.

We urge all building services companies to take part in the new survey, and we will be sharing the data with the industry, the Government and other stakeholders when the results are in during September 2015.”

CIBSE Technical Director, Hywel Davies, added:

“Government is committed to using BIM to improve its management and operation of buildings and infrastructure. Mechanical, electrical and plumbing services are all critical to the effective operation of buildings. Our sector is involved in the operational life and performance of built assets, not just the design and delivery. This survey is important for our sector to understand how well prepared we are for BIM.”

The BIM study will run until September 15. 

Notes to readers:

More information about BIM (Building Information Modelling)

• ‘Level 2 BIM’ is the process of working with digital building information, including data-rich objects, which can be effectively shared between those who are building and/or maintaining the building and its services. This is ‘collaborative 3D BIM’ and it involves using tools such as COBie, BS/PAS 1192, ‘Soft Landings’ and various BIM Protocols.

• The Government aims to require collaborative 3D BIM on its centrally procured projects by spring 2016 (BIM Level 2), in order to unlock innovation and benefits throughout the building project life-cycle, including cost savings.

About the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA):

The Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) is the UK’s largest trade association representing electrical, electrotechnical and other engineering contractors, at regional, national and European level. ECA member-companies are rigorously assessed before membership is approved.

Nearly there – delivering the Level 2 BIM tools. Will they be what we were expecting?

We are just a few weeks away now from the first deliverables from the Innovate UK’s competition to deliver the last two key components of UK BIM Level 2 – a digital plan of work (dPoW) and an industry-wide classification system.  The ‘soft’ launch is scheduled for the 8th April 2015 at the BIM Show Live event in Manchester, with the ‘hard’ launch planned for some time in June.

With the very short time frame for the work, the opportunities for consultation with the industry have been limited and what will be delivered will largely represent the views of NBS and the other project partners.  There has been some dialogue with a group representing a number of the institutions and institutes, but it is not clear at this point how much influence they have had.  Also, there have been a number of presentations and webinars over the last few months showing progress to date.

As you would expect, there has been a significant amount of feedback from the institutions’ body, including a CIBSE team from its BIM Group.  The CIBSE team has tried to look at how these new tools will work throughout the life of the asset, and has looked wider than just the 3D modelling aspects of the output.

Three key issues have come to light with the classification structure being prepared.  Firstly, it must be capable of classifying multi-services systems or elements.  A good example would be a multi-services co-ordination drawing.  Historically, classification systems such as Uniclass have only classified up to ‘types of systems’ – ventilation and air conditioning services and electrical power and lighting services are two such examples.  Combining services in an application is common and the new classification system needs to be able to accommodate this.

Secondly, it is important to be able to classify things other than those associated with a 3D modelling environment.  A wide variety of documents will be generated throughout the life of an asset and these all need to be classified in order to be stored and subsequently made available for reuse.   Obvious examples are reports, correspondence, drawings and specifications but could equally include EIRs.

The third aspect is the continuity of classification.  It is suggested that the Elements table would be used at the early stages of a project to describe needs – Heating would be an example.  As the project progresses and more detail develops, this might become Low Temperature Hot Water Heating Systems from the Systems table.  Although this looks sensible in theory, there must be a connection between these two tables as a cornerstone of BIM is to build on information and not throw it away and start again.  Therefore, the first part of the Elements table should match the corresponding Systems table entries to achieve this.  The alternative is that the Systems table is used throughout with subsequent pairs of characters being added to reflect the increasing level of information as the project progresses.

We have discussed these issues with NBS recently and it will be interesting to see how the new classification structure accommodates them.  Realistically, it is probably too late to see them reflected in the April or June releases, but more are planned for later in the year.  If these issues are addressed I believe that it will be a significant step towards providing a classification system that works for all those involved.

A key factor in the success of the Innovate UK project will be the way in which the outputs are disseminated.  They could be the best dPoW and classification system in the world but unless they are adequately explained they might not be adopted into common use.  The phrase ‘winning hearts and minds’ seems appropriate in this case and its importance should not be underestimated.

Using Robotic Total Stations to drive down the cost of construction

Since the days of the Latham report in 1994 there has been a desire to cut the cost of construction, mainly by finding more efficient ways of doing things. Of course, there will always be people who stick rigidly to the principle that ‘the old ways are the best’, but there are many more who are more open-minded – not least in terms of making use of new technologies.

Having said that, there is one particular technology that has not yet been embraced in the UK, despite the significant financial and time benefits that have been shown time and again in the USA and other countries.

I am referring to the use of Robotic Total Stations (RTSs) for laying out building services – as an alternative to the traditional ‘tape measure, spirit level and theodolite’ approach.

This blog considers the limitations of traditional methods and explains how RTS technology can help to overcome them. It also explores some of the reasons that this technology has not yet been widely adopted in the UK.

Are the old ways the best?

Traditionally, the layout of building services on site has involved a team working from the building drawings, using a tape measure, spirit level and theodolite to identify attachment points for pipework, cable trays etc.

Unfortunately, this system doesn’t work particularly well with complex buildings, buildings with curved walls, buildings with prefabricated materials, BIM or non-orthogonal spaces. In fact there is a huge margin for error, resulting from the following challenges:

  • Ensuring the reference point is right
  • Making sure the tape measure doesn’t move
  • Making sure the string doesn’t move on arcs
  • Ensuring the theodolite is level
  • Making sure the degree in which you are measuring is exact

Every small mistake can lead to potentially serious consequences. For example, being a few degrees out on an angle can mean that pre-fabricated systems don’t fit when the time comes to install them.

Similarly, incorrect layout can result in clashes with other building elements or services, thereby disrupting the construction schedule, generating remedial works and wasting materials, time and money.

Even when everything goes smoothly, the traditional approach is laborious and time-consuming and any delays can affect the work of other teams.

Plus, when changes need to be made, methods of recording reasons (obstruction etc.) and evidence (photographs etc.) are recorded additionally to any drawings they are working from.

These reasons are sometimes reported to the design team (if there is one) to amend the drawings or model; at other times, these records are filed separately for the purposes of finger-pointing at a later date.

Either way, it takes a long time for this information to be reflected in the designs, if at all, which means other contractors or labour forces won’t see the changes until they’re updated.  Working from paper also has the potential for loss or damage.

Furthermore, these issues are going to become more serious with the wider use of Building Information Modelling.

An alternative approach

Robotic Total Stations (RTS) allow layout to be completed by only one person, rather than the classic layout team.

To begin construction layout, a tablet with software controls the RTS and is loaded with a 2D drawing or 3D building model. Site survey points from the job site are identified in the model and are used to locate the RTS on the project site and in the model.

Once the RTS is located, the person operating the RTS can view the model on the tablet computer and select the points to be marked.  Once selected, the RTS will tell the operator their precise distance from the point (if using a stake) and then guide the user to the point with directions indicating forward/backward or left/right movement.  The operator then stakes the mark and moves to the next one.

A more advanced RTS feature is Visual Layout  which marks the layout point with a laser (removing the need for the stake); the operator then only has to follow the laser to each point and mark the location.

Basically, the RTS does all the work while the operator follows its laser, marking each point to within a distance of millimetres from the 2D/3D model point.

This can be used for the accurate positioning of multiple trades at the same time, ensuring no delays on site.

So what are the benefits?

Improved efficiency.

RTSs use the same 2D drawings or 3D building models as other trades involved in the project, so collaboration is simpler and quicker.

Enhanced accuracy.

Layout coordinates can be accessed directly from the building model and changes to layout positions can be recorded at the time of layout and documented with reasons and photographs.

Fewer mistakes.

The RTS works directly from the building model. There are no manual measuring processes involved. Points to be marked are extremely accurate and their purpose is referenced to the operator via their tablet device.

Reduced paperwork.

Using the RTS on a job is a paperless process, meaning there is no risk of losing documents or spilling coffee on them.

Reduced labour costs.

The RTS only needs one person to operate it and that one person is also capable of increasing layout productivity by up to five times.

Improved quality control.

RTSs can be used as a sophisticated tool in a QA/QC process, both pre- and post-installation.

BIM-to-Field

As we move to more sophisticated BIM processes – such as 4D & 5D BIM that includes building production models and which consider the constraints of a construction site (equipment capacity, working methods etc.), model based estimating and more – a live link to the field is needed.

This link, in part, can be provided with the use of an RTS, allowing responsible parties to track works as they are completed and referenced against the original model, applying changes where necessary and allowing the tracking of works ready for access by the next stage in the construction process.

So why aren’t we using them?

Companies across the US have used RTSs on construction sites for many years now. They’ve been highly popular with MEP contractors and revolutionised layout processes and BIM progression; so why don’t we use them?

A lot of it simply comes down to misconceptions about the technology and its uses.

Return on investment.

Implementing RTS technology requires capital investment and many companies feel that because they don’t have dedicated layout teams they won’t see a good return on their investment.

However, the relative simplicity of RTS technology means that any member of the MEP team can carry out accurate layouts, so the contractor can make better use of the workforce.

Also, RTS eliminates manual errors so that the most highly skilled and best trained individuals can be allocated to the more complex tasks, while lower skilled operatives do the laying out.

In addition there are considerable time savings that could ultimately reduce the number of operatives required on the project, thus reducing labour costs.

You can calculate your own ROI here

The savings cited for RTS do not have any real impact on the bottom line.

This is simply not true. Savings from the use of an RTS can be seen in:

  • Reduced remedial works due to increase in QC/QA documentation and recording – an immediate reduction in cost.
  • Improved efficiency whilst on site – reduction in labour cost.
  • Fewer errors in MEP element locations (another remedial work saving) – an immediate reduction in cost.
  • Reduced resource required to complete works – an immediate reduction in cost.

MEP designs evolve during installation so that the drawings do not represent the actual situation.

Perhaps this is true today, but if you are working this way now, you won’t be for long. For medium and large projects MEP data and detailed design will be as essential as structural design as the industry assimilates the BIM process.

UK BIM deadlines are looming now and businesses looking to grow, or large businesses looking to remain profitable, will need to ensure they can work in these parameters – and soon.

Clashes between services do not occur when the same contractor is doing all of the MEP work.

On small projects it is often possible to ‘work around’ any clashes between services. However, on larger projects it is not enough to ask for one element to be placed over/below/around another, as this may then run into a second clash with a third element.

This second work around would involve a wider rectification, which may infringe on another element, and so on until a solution cannot be made.  Eventually, it may occur that an MEP element then interferes with the installation of another contractor’s or team’s work.

Also, when ‘working around’ an issue, we create problems when considering building maintenance post-construction, as MEP elements will deviate from their logical course.

UK construction techniques do not lend themselves to using an RTS.

While it’s true there are some differences between UK and US construction methods, there are many more areas where RTS can deliver the same benefits to UK contractors as it is already doing for US contractors.

Conclusion

While any investment in new technology clearly requires careful consideration, I hope it is now clear for the reasons stated above that RTS is certainly worthy of that consideration. The potential benefits to MEP contractors are enormous, so surely it’s worth taking the time to keep an open mind and take a closer look.

Follow this link to see a demonstration video or, if you’d like to see this technology in action, book onto a Trimble road show event to compare this with a traditional approach.

Author Profile
This blog was written by Chris Slinn, MEP Business Development at  Amtech, a Trimble company, a manufacturer of specialist software for the building services industry.

Why the industry needs to be uncomfortable with current ways of working

This blog was written by Richard Ogden, Chairman of Buildoffsite

This blog was written by Richard Ogden, Chairman of BuildOffsite

I am delighted to have this opportunity to contribute a blog – particularly at a time when a hugely influential industry like BSRIA is exploring the need for the industry to change its processes.

I have worked in the construction industry for more than 40 years – as client, contractor and property manager. In all that time there has been an almost constant call from voices drawn from right across the industry, from Government and from the media for the industry at large to change its processes and ways of working. To do things differently – to work collaboratively – to partner – to adopt innovative processes – to invest in and adopt new technologies and project management practices and so on. The reason for this clamour is always the same – the need to improve performance and productivity, the need to be less wasteful and more sustainable, to improve the image of the industry, to deliver better value assets, and to make the industry a better and safer place in which to work.

All good and well intentioned stuff but it does seem to be a peculiar feature of the construction industry. I don’t for example hear anything similar coming out of the automotive or consumer products sectors. Industries where investing in change/innovation is constantly being driven by the unforgiving hard edge of competition. OK- I hear (but do not accept) the mantra that construction is in some way different from other industries and frankly I recognise that there is still a whole lot of life left in this view of the industry. I am certainly not going to beat myself up in challenging this position when there is so much more constructive work to be done.

The case for change within construction often comes wrapped up within the covers of a report from an industry or Government appointed committee together with recommendations for action plus of course a set of targets. Inevitably before long yet another report will come delivered by yet another committee having chewed over an almost identical bone which will have come up with broadly similar proposals and another set of targets. All seamless and without any sense of continuity of message or indeed continuity of action.

Don’t get me wrong I am not against this approach as a mechanism to stimulate discussion and debate and indeed I was a member of the Movement for Innovation. However, it’s just that I don’t see much in the way of connection between broad based calls for change and the practical decision taking that goes on day in day out within individual construction businesses looking to win work and improve profitability and competitiveness. Close coupled to this is the reality that the status quo is for many a very comfortable place in which to operate. Unless there is a pressing need for a company to do things differently the chances are that sticking to the knitting will be an attractive option. Why break step if your competitors are operating in much the same way and if business is good.

In my experience it is only when individuals decide that they are uncomfortable with or no longer willing to simply go along with the way things are that meaningful change is likely to happen. If enough individual businesses decide to do things differently then there is the prospect that a sizeable part of the industry will change how it works – not because a report has made recommendations but because they are convinced of the need. Encouraging more decision takers within the industry to be uncomfortable and then encouraging the uncomfortable to take decisive action is how substantive change can happen.

Sometimes change becomes necessary if a business is to survive and prosper. When I worked for a client the cost of construction delivered traditionally became more and more expensive until the point was reached where the business could no longer afford to invest in new construction projects because the cost was not justified by the revenue that the investment would deliver. Think about that for a minute we were a serial client wanting to invest in new construction to help grow our business and to create jobs but the harsh reality was that we had been priced out of the UK market. I suspect that it will not be long before this phenomenon reappears in some sectors of the UK market.

Our decision was quick in coming – if the traditional industry was not able or willing to provide us with the built assets at a price we could afford and to deliver within the timescale in which we needed the assets then we would change our construction model and our supply chains and take on board the challenge of stripping out a significant amount of the waste that we knew to exist within the traditional industry in order to deliver the projects at a price that worked for us and within a timeframe that was acceptable to us. Working in close collaboration with our project partners we demonstrated that it was possible to simplify processes, strip out waste, adopt standardisation as much as possible and most importantly take that essential step of maximising the use of factory made offsite solutions to minimise the need for construction work to be carried out on site. Constructing on site from a set of commodity materials and products is inevitably going to be uncertain and potentially challenging involving low levels of site based productivity, indifferent quality and uncertainty of build programme.

The results we achieved were powerfully impressive in terms of the cash savings made, the additional value we gained and the much faster build times that we achieved. All this – including protecting the margins of our suppliers – was achieved by minimising all forms of waste. That was just fine as far as I was concerned because as a client given the choice I would not want to pay for waste and inefficient processes. I would want to pay for right first time quality, build programmes that are realistic and cost in use that is meaningful.

The learning acquired as a result of this forced change stood my company in good stead and became our standard construction practice. Our approach was also taken up by many other leading clients.

We were not talking about rocket science. The steps we followed involved a relatively simple approach including: giving clear leadership; being sure about what we wanted to achieve; listening to our suppliers and encouraging their advice; being collectively prepared to rethink every aspect of construction – absolutely no sacred cows; not being prepared to accept the message that this or that couldn’t be done – it usually can; be open minded; recognising that there will always be scope to do things even better next time around.

This approach and in particular a recognition that other than for site specific elements it is almost always better to assemble building and civil engineering structures on site is fundamental to the work programme that Buildoffsite has been advocating for more than 10 years. Together with our Membership we will continue to make the case for the increased use of offsite solutions based on sharing information on the innovative projects that our Members have delivered, working together to develop new innovative solutions, promoting new technologies and encouraging the take up of information modelling and the application of lean principles to identify opportunities for introducing more efficient processes.

I am delighted that our Membership continues to grow bringing together leading clients, suppliers, investors, skills and research organisations and so on. The common denominator is that our Membership and those organisations we work with to partner knowledge transfer are all committed to do things better – at a practical level to make change happen and to support continuous improvement.

Front cover imageThe case for offsite solutions will be proven to the satisfaction of clients and suppliers by the tangible project benefits delivered by projects that incorporate offsite methods. This applies just as much to the delivery of building services as it does to all other construction elements. However, there will be no free lunch. An approach based on the use of offsite solutions will need to deserve to be commercially successful. If offsite solutions fail to be competitive with traditional methods on whatever basis the customer deems appropriate then they will not be adopted.  That is precisely how markets should operate. However, I hope that in comparing the performance of offsite solutions with traditional solutions the assessment will include all relevant factors that impact on value including time, cost, quality and cost in use. For example it can still be the case that the precise cost of a potential offsite solution will be compared with the theoretical and highly uncertain predicted cost of traditional construction. As construction inflation increases this simplistic method of assessing project value is likely to become increasingly unreliable. We are working closely with the industry’s professional institutions to improve the understanding of offsite construction and to support the development of new skills.

I have no doubt that the case for offsite solutions will continue to grow and the market will expand rapidly across all sectors. I also have no doubt that we have only just started to scratch the surface in terms of our understanding of what can be achieved in reducing cost, improving client value and improving the performance of the industry. Remaining open minded and being committed to challenge the status quo will continue to drive innovation and to effect the changes that we are called on to support.

If I can pass on one final suggestion it would be to encourage everyone in the industry to be uncomfortable with current ways of working. If we could achieve this we would be well positioned to move on to effecting change.

If anyone wants to learn more about Buildoffsite check out our web site www.buildoffsite.com

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