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BIM advances sustainability Richard Shennan

Using building information modelling (BIM) data generated during design and build over the whole project lifecycle enables faster, safer, less wasteful construction and more cost-effective, sustainable operation, maintenance and eventual decommissioning.

Co-ordinated BIM input provided by all project partners aids sustainability in many ways:

  • Pooling technical, operational, construction and manufacturing knowledge enables design to be value engineered and optimised for every stage of delivery and operation
  • Design changes made while the project definition is still flexible can be accommodated without cost and time penalties
  • Whenever one party makes a change, all other disciplines are aware and can adapt their input or find an alternative solution
  • BIM enables automatic clash detection, eliminating the need for ad-hoc solutions and saving materials, time and cost
  • Co-ordination of design, cost planning, production and construction contributes to accurate ordering of materials and equipment, eliminating waste and rework

Refining design, streamlining delivery

Mott MacDonald has worked closely with UK water company Anglian Water to develop a sustainable approach to asset creation and management. This is founded on a simple decision-making hierarchy:

  • Refurbish or change the management and operation of existing assets to hone performance and meet new demand without building anything
  • If new assets are essential, pursue options involving the least construction whenever possible – again, by making existing assets work more efficiently – and use low carbon construction materials and Lean construction principles

BIM supports this process by enabling:

  • Measurement and comparison of embodied and operational carbon associated with different options

  • Offsite fabrication of common components, which eliminates over-ordering, reduces waste and allows offcut materials to be reused or recycled

  • Certainty that components will fit together on site as they have been fabricated using a co-ordinated model

BIM is closely allied to design for manufacture and assembly (DfMA). By reducing traditional construction, DfMA enables:

  • Improved quality of workmanship and worker safety
  • Better quality and greater durability
  • Fewer deliveries to and less waste removal from site, reducing transportation and associated fuel consumption, carbon emissions, road congestion and noise pollution

Visualisation, quantity take-off and construction sequencing functions within BIM can also improve on-site activities. On the Port Mann-Highway 1 upgrade in Vancouver, volumes of earth excavated for cuttings have been balanced with those needed for embankments, eliminating offsite disposal of spoil.

Better communication, streamlined delivery

Early development of a 3D asset model makes it possible to generate visualisations that all stakeholders can interact with. This makes the designer’s intentions absolutely clear, enabling stakeholders to propose design modifications that improve project outcome and prevent the need for modifications after the asset has entered service.

Digital design and visualisation also make it easier to compare alternative options, allowing environmental and visual impacts to be assessed and providing opportunities to discuss the concerns of the public and special interest groups and identify the best solution.

Honing performance

Providing as-built information in unwieldy formats makes it difficult for owners, operators or maintainers to use. Owners then find it difficult to keep this information up-to-date as alterations or improvements are made. As a result, maintenance, repair and replacement involve repeated surveys and costly investigation, assessment, new design and specification, impacting on technical performance, service quality, resource use and profitability.

BIM allows full, detailed component information to be embedded in the asset model. This can then be used to plan maintenance activities for assets with different design lives so that major repair and replacement programmes can be synchronised, minimising cost and disruption. It can also be used to record risks and set trigger levels for action.

Monitoring and recording asset performance during commissioning and operation, and incorporating that data into the model, gives operators and facilities managers an opportunity to pursue greater efficiency. In buildings and on water/wastewater infrastructure where continuous measurement and control is practiced, substantial energy and carbon reductions have been achieved.

Using data to drive improvement

The built environment sector has historically suffered from a common challenge: recording and learning from experience to avoid repeating mistakes. BIM can make this happen by allowing all those involved to feed experience back into the design process, enabling improvement in the operation of new assets and in the way subsequent assets are designed, delivered and managed.

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