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BIM technology helps visualise the future, now

18 October 2022

Fulton Hogan’s National Manager for Digital Engineering and Innovation, Chloe Smith, looks at how building information modelling (BIM) is bringing bigger benefits than many recognise.

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Experiencing the future was once the realm of science fiction. New digital technologies and information modelling approaches, however, are beginning to make it ‘science fact’, with major future benefits for asset owners.

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is helping clients, constructors and designers visualise, ‘build’ and even ‘operate’ projects before they hit the ground. Less well known is BIM’s potential to go a step further, to help understand how decisions at the design and build phase can affect an asset’s long-term economic, environmental and physical performance.

Given that the lifetime operational and maintenance cost of a water treatment plant, for example, is considerably greater than its design and build cost, this is no small thing. When you consider the increasing need to design, now, for a future physical environment that will exert greater pressure on infrastructure, the long-term planning implications of BIM become even more significant.
3D (information model), 4D (model-based construction planning) and 5D (model-based cost management) BIM is already changing the way people think about projects. Greater collaboration around a common data environment (CDE) single-point-of truth is bringing – among other things – greater efficiency, better safety outcomes, enhanced fabrication choices, reduced resource use, shorter project timeframes, more informed financial decision-making and better connections with local communities.

A core strength of BIM is that the design information model, along with the amendments made during the project, is used after the handover to the client for its future management – a digital twin that can serve for decades to come. This means BIM’s existing five dimensions can be relatively easily supplemented with a sixth and a seventh dimension – the project’s likely environmental impact over time, and the facility management costs throughout the asset’s lifecycle, respectively. This takes the value of BIM into a new dimension, too.

Ultimately, this means being able to cast forward and visualise not only the completed project but its performance and likely maintenance cost, decades out. Given the critical importance of sustainability, correlating design and construction decisions with longer-term outcomes could prove to be among BIM’s greatest future benefits. The benefits of BIM, being cumulative and compounding, have particular potential for predicting and minimising carbon use and waste on projects, and for designing and building infrastructure for the greater climatic challenges in future.
O Mahurangi Penlink – the two-lane road and shared walking and cycling path that will reduce travel times between Whangaparaoa and wider Auckland – is the first Waka Kotahi project to fully implement BIM from design into construction.

The full digital model the team will hand over at the end of the project will be invaluable for the life of the asset. As it is maintained and monitored over time, deeper understanding will emerge about the linkages between design and construction decisions, and its actual long term performance. This, in turn, promises flow-on benefits for future infrastructural decision-making more generally, and a wider contribution to best practice.

It’s exciting to think that, in addition to benefits BIM is already bringing in the design and build phases, we may only be just beginning to glimpse the wider opportunities for designing and building for the best possible long-term economic, physical and environmental sustainability of our assets.

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