The practical application of field BIM
DR DOMINIK HOLZER from AEC Connect queries the perception of BIM for facilities management and shares the benefits field BIM holds.
When considering the relevance of building information modelling (BIM) for facilities management, one has to put its usefulness into perspective first. Consultants and contractors are increasingly confronted with clients who want strong ties between the planning/construction side (facilitated with the help of BIM) and the multifaceted operations and maintenance (O&M) side of their projects. Delivering ‘facilities management ready BIM’ (FM-ready BIM) appears to become a requirement included in project briefs for consultants and the contractor alike.
As much as this inclusion has a well-intentioned goal, it is problematic for various reasons. Not only do parties involved in the planning and construction phases traditionally know very little about processes related to facilities management, there exists a lack of guidance around what FM-ready BIM means in the first place.
During a recent meeting, I informed policy leaders at the Facility Management Association of Australia (FMA) about FM-ready BIM requests in project briefs and contracts. The FMA seemed somewhat bemused and concerned about this at the same time.
With the absence of clearly defined facilities management standards in Australia, it is practically impossible to agree on BIM deliverables that support facilities management. Everyone is likely to have a different response to such a request. The FMA also warned that inflated expectations by consultants and contractors were related to the enthusiasm of facilities management professionals about BIM.
Whereas BIM is increasingly applied on newly built construction projects, 90 to 95 percent of the facilities managed by facilities management professionals relate to existing stock, where BIM is only an incidental topic. This lack of relevance will change over time, but there is another reason for scepticism among facilities management professionals – the disconnection between front-end deliverables during O&M and the back-end output of current BIM tools that mostly cater for design and construction. In that sense, BIM remains at times too abstract, with little hands-on benefits for facilities managers and operators on site.
THE CONCEPT OF FIELD BIM
There are now increasing initiatives in the construction industry to ‘virtualise’ the access to BIM data, to move it away from a static office environment and to enable it to become relevant on-site. GPS and Wi-Fi enabled handheld Toughbooks and iPads are seen by some as the ideal interface to facilitate ‘field BIM’ and communicate building information bi-directionally between individual operators in the field and a central server. They allow crews on site (both during and after construction) to interrogate the physical building, referencing it to a virtual information model (or vice versa) that contains information about construction or O&M aspects.
Toughbooks and iPads are not a perfect solution. A level of scepticism prevails among some, as hands-on work on site can be hostile to delicate technical gadgets. Still, the key aspect of BIM on site is to be able to quickly access the kind of information that is needed locally and to provide instant feedback from a site-specific context. This information needs to be at one’s fingertips for basic QA (quality assurance) tasks or simply for checking/confirming a building’s condition during walkthroughs.
The industry is responding to increased demand for field BIM in terms of software, hardware, access and data. The new Royal Adelaide Hospital will significantly benefit from the adoption of BIM on various levels. The $1.85 billion public private partnership project, which is being constructed by Hansen Yuncken and Leighton Contractors Joint Venture (HYLC JV), has embraced BIM to enhance coordination and engagement through the project supply chain.
The HYLC JV is among the first to implement a field BIM initiative in Australia that increases the amount of data and accuracy of construction. With the use of motion tablet PCs to input data into a BIM data management system, HYLC JV is able to track construction progress thematically and visually from the model. New data can be added using a simple overall site model for locating where the information is relevant on site. Data pertaining to QA, O&M, test and commissioning, and handover is captured from the originator, removing duplication and double handling.
The ability to attach data to the model through the construction phase adds another powerful element to BIM and enforces a coordinated and structured approach to recording data with a single point of truth. The HYLC JV will be generating more information about the project than ever achieved before, providing the facilities manager (Spotless) with opportunities to improve the operational efficiency of the facility.
As field BIM end-user hardware becomes more commonly available and affordable, we will witness an increase in software applications that facilitate the links between server and site. The industry overall is only starting to realise the potential of this technology and work method.
Dr Dominik Holzer is the acting chair of the joint Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) Steering Group of the Australian Institute of Architects and Consult Australia. He advises building owners, contractors and consultants on strategic and implementation issues related to BIM and design technology via his firm AEC Connect. He would like to acknowledge the contribution of Ben Winkley from the HYLC JV to the generation of this article.