From how we manufacture cars and aircraft, to the way we provide healthcare and optimize our energy, digital twin technology is rapidly transforming industries around the world – driving efficiency and quality, lowering costs and unlocking value.
In the realm of buildings, facilities and projects, the digital twin is already firmly established as Building Information Modelling (BIM) – the processes that enable engineers and project managers to digitally model and optimize design, construction and operation. But the real potential of BIM lies beyond the four walls of construction and Facilities Management (FM).
There’s little doubt that the effective use of BIM can change the way we think about creating and managing our built environment, in order to deliver significant return on investment over the lifetime of projects – measured in both economic and human terms.
In this article, we explain the applications and benefits of BIM, and explore how organizations are harnessing the approach to achieve improved outcomes in real world infrastructure projects.
At its simplest, Building Information Modelling (BIM) relates to the creation of a digital representation of an asset, using data from a range of sources. This digital model can then be used across the lifecycle of the asset from planning and design to construction and operations.
With the increasing complexity of most modern-day buildings, BIM has become an accepted practice (and indeed practical necessity) across construction, facilities management, and engineering, procurement and construction (EPC). Now, it is also being increasingly adopted within the urban public transport (UPT) sector
Whereas traditional approaches would require a variety of interfaces between different project work streams, BIM connects all information and processes into a ‘single view’. It means that project teams are empowered to make smarter decisions, armed with the accurate information they need. This eliminates inefficiencies, inaccuracies, delays and, crucially, delivers significant costs savings. Meanwhile, increasing regulatory pressures around topics such as energy consumption, emissions, environmental performance, and health and safety mean that BIM is more or less cemented as the ‘standard’ approach within the construction and projects industry.
People are thinking bigger and wider. Right now, the principles of BIM are being increasingly adopted as the foundation for many different, large-scale, complex and integrated projects – including energy, telecoms and transportation. It’s no longer purely about the fabric of buildings. BIM can be harnessed to optimize essential utilities, supply chain, usage, environmental impact and even the evolution of infrastructure as it adapts to meet different needs in the future.
What’s changing now is that people are beginning to see the potential in applying the principles and techniques of BIM to the wider built environment – thinking holistically about entire systems and networks to improve not just the design and build process, but also to transform overall efficiency – enabling things to run better for longer and at a lower overall cost.
Sustainability is a major factor in this emerging trend. It inevitably brings added levels of complexity that must be orchestrated in harmony with already highly complex and multi-dimensional projects. Fundamentally, sustainability is the big issue driving much of today’s infrastructure development. In a world without BIM, achieving our environmental goals would be considerably more challenging, if not impossible.
The impact of BIM on these ‘bigger’ projects breaks down into three different, but related elements. Firstly, in creating the digital twin of the structure or development – in effect a sophisticated 3D model showing every detail of the built fabric, technology and services. Secondly, in delivering the project itself with all of the data, processes and digital tools required to manage everything from concept to completion, including schedules, resources and costs to deliver. And thirdly, in optimizing the ongoing operation and maintenance of the building or infrastructure - anticipating and adapting to changing requirements, integrating with related networks and maximizing utility.
In each of these areas and overall, BIM has the potential to bring significant and measurable benefits, including:
The advantages of this BIM approach are already being realized as part of major integrated projects across Europe, particularly in mass transportation networks, and in electrical supply. For example, many infrastructure providers are developing a digital twin of their networks including all of the related utilities, services and infrastructure. In each case, access to multiple layers of data make it possible to continually optimize services in response to constantly changing operations.
The business case for BIM
In cases such as the rail operators, and in similarly costly and complicated projects such as building nuclear power stations, the business case for BIM is usually clear-cut. However, by its nature, every BIM project is unique and inherently complex. So there’s no escaping the fact that significant investment is required. This can be a barrier to many organizations, especially when the processes involved and the potential ROI are not fully understood.
However, almost every modern built asset and infrastructure project is both highly sophisticated in itself and also conceived as part of a wider system, necessitating integration with many different services and operations. So in reality, the right application of BIM will almost certainly deliver the required ROI.
In fact, BIM can have an immediate, positive impact. Improved efficiency and faster project roll out brings savings from the outset. Issues that might remain unforeseen until the execution and handover stages can be anticipated and addressed much more cost-effectively during the planning phase (the x10 rule applies: a change in planning costs 1, in preparation 1x10, in execution 1x10x10, and so on).
To achieve these kind of successful outcomes, most clients will need help in specifying the right approach, methodology and data, as well as the technology for their unique BIM project. Thereafter, they will need ongoing support with implementation, working alongside an expert partner to break down the challenges, identify the priorities, and help them find and leverage the benefits.
Creating the future with BIM
There’s no doubt that BIM is increasingly integral to the efficient planning, development, and operation of modern infrastructure. The benefits it brings are quantifiable, highly significant and manifest in terms of overall efficiency, cost saving and sustainability. And underpinning everything is the understanding that BIM is a fundamental element of our smarter, cleaner future.
The advantages are clear. But equally, the required investment is significant and all companies need support to get full return – from designing the correct approaches and methodology, to choosing the best technology, identifying the priorities, implementing and managing the system, and leveraging the benefits. However, it’s about how you can make BIM work in the real world that counts.