Industrialising BIM workflows could allow project delivery firms to reuse digital components and support greater standardisation and automation to ultimately deliver better value.
Building Information Modelling (BIM) has been a subject of debate since its inception. Its impact and potential value are still not clearly defined. This lack of definition is partially due to an unclear consensus about what BIM processes are, or what their value could be. To find value or benefit against a backdrop of stagnant productivity and failing capital projects (delivered late and over budget), firms have used BIM methodology in some form to bridge technological, cultural and process gaps. The benefits of BIM processes have, to date, been limited to individual disciplines or specific phases of the infrastructure lifecycle. As firms find cumulative value in going digital, a new strategy for BIM workflows is emerging on an industrial scale. Firms are redefining the purpose and potential of BIM workflows to make every project perform like their best project through automation, consistency and repeatability. This strategy is the industrialisation of BIM.
For many project delivery firms, going digital is an imperative and at a critical juncture. Challenging market conditions, disruptive technologies, squeezed margins and the perennial “race to the bottom” continue to plague firms, as well as the consultants and contractors that contribute to project delivery. Despite increasing momentum to embrace digital technologies, many firms are still constrained to individual BIM deliverables rather than a holistic, integrated approach. These BIM deliverables have intrinsic value that can span multiple phases of an asset. For example, data residing in a 3D BIM model have significant value in operations and maintenance phases because they can semantically and intelligently describe critical information for performance improvements. The problem, however, is that project delivery firms are not yet incentivised for the perpetual value of data – yet.
With “Industry 4.0” firmly upon manufacturing and process industries, the current automation trend has seemingly limitless potential. In manufacturing, for example, automation can help with self-configuration, self-optimisation and self-diagnosis for highly flexible mass production.
In infrastructure, BIM industrialisation has similar potential for project delivery firms. Through digital workflows – the availability of information in digital formats from previous project phases – BIM information can be similarly interrogated.
By leveraging the industrial-strength potential of cloud services, firms can further harness the “machine learning” opportunity. This achievement will place a much higher value on digital engineering models because the fidelity, scalability and flexibility will ultimately establish a new norm for infrastructure project delivery firms. This value may also become monetised, as firms evolve from selling man-hours to monetising value creation.
The new norm will be established through the use and reuse of digital components, which will further industrialise BIM processes. Project engineers could deliver repeatable, consistent designs and augment workflows to automate processes. Digital component libraries could embed project and organisational standards, and work could be aligned across disciplines and provide critical project information required for documentation and deliverables, including 3D models, plans and schematic views.
By industrialising BIM workflows, firms can reuse digital components across design modelling, analytical modelling and construction modelling. They could also reuse them in asset registries – from catalogued component, to engineered component, to installed component, to operated component.
Digital components help firms implement BIM standards, automate workflows and gain project insights. Perhaps project delivery firms will find new commercial models that will make their business more profitable, and the work they deliver to clients will be intrinsically more valuable.