How is the construction industry progressing with BIM?

Rennie Chadwick, IT and Innovation Director for Osborne talks about the industry progressing with BIM.
So, here we are, a few hundred working days on from the start of the UK government mandate for level 2 BIM on all publicly funded capital projects.  What’s different?  This was always going to be a ‘slow burn’ transformation.  Our industry is just too fragmented, complex and disparate, for an overnight wholesale revolution.  I know, from long years of experience, that just because something is a great idea and is technically and financially viable does not guarantee it will succeed.  Having said that, I am certain that we are collectively and individually moving our industry through a digital transformation and that BIM is part of that.

Why am I so certain?  Because, even acknowledging my own positive bias, I can see evidence of the transformation bedding down and getting closer to ‘business as usual’.

At Osborne, we have been building our BIM capability over the last four years.  When we embarked on our first level 2 BIM project in 2012 we were doing everything for the first time; our first BIM execution plan; our first design team appointments with BIM duties; our first use of the federated information to identify and resolve issues and our first attempt to quantify the benefits arising from working in this new way.  Fast forward four years, we have our BIM platform in place, hosting data for over 75 projects, collaborating with 120 companies and over 150 of our people, roughly 25% of our project delivery staff.  We have some way to go before it is completely business as usual but the momentum is gathering and the pace is now being set by project teams.

Using digital technology to improve the way we work is not limited to the new build end of our capital project works.  We have developed experience with all sorts of new ‘tech’.  Drones have been used to capture digital images and point cloud data; virtual reality has been used to evaluate operational methodologies from inserting new bridge bearings to replacing whole bridge decks; and the in-situ strengthening of the Victorian cast iron sub-structure of Portsmouth Harbour station has benefitted from digital modelling and data capture.  All of these techniques have meant that we have exposed our people to less physical risk and the data has been captured more quickly and in a format that enables us to be more productive.

The pace of change has been, at times, breath-taking and the sources of inspiration for innovation diverse. For example, Pokémon Go was released in the UK in the middle of July. Within two weeks of the launch one of our project teams had taken the initiative to adapt the Augmented Reality approach from the game and, in the course of an afternoon, built an augmented reality model of their project, enabling anyone with a smartphone to see how the completed project will look from whatever perspective they choose.

All of this relentless change and adoption of new technology and ways of working can seem overwhelming at times.  So, it is important to keep it in context.  We will only realise value if there is a benefit for our customers.  This evaluation has to be balanced by the fact that it is impossible to prove the value exists if we don’t try something, there is always a risk it won’t work out how we expect.  The key for me is that we keep trying, learn quickly from our experience, mistakes and failures and then share what we learn with each other.

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