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BIM's Worldwide Status - Service Works Global

Hazel Bedson, spoke to Government Transformation Magazine to explore how innovative technologies like Building Information Modelling and digital twins are transforming the refurbishment and maintenance of public sector buildings, ensuring safety and efficiency.

A House of Commons Committee report into the condition of school buildings from late last year estimated that more than a third of England’s 64,000 school buildings are structurally unsafe. It also noted that the Department for Education’s School Rebuilding Programme, aimed at rebuilding schools in the worst condition, has awarded far fewer contracts than initially forecast due to inflationary pressures in the construction industry.

Meanwhile, the RAAC crisis has been well documented, with buildings including schools, hospitals, prisons and courts known to have been impacted. Though the headline-grabbing news has died down, this is still a huge challenge across the public sector.

Key Government buildings are also struggling with renovation and repair works; notably, the Palace of Westminster. The Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster published a report as far back as 2016 setting out options restoration and renewal, yet the work has been hampered by delays and soaring costs. Recent estimates suggest the programme could cost as much as £13bn, with essential maintenance costing £3m every week.

Though the Palace of Westminster is an extreme example, the challenges – costs, delays, lack of estate and asset insight – are the same across all public sector buildings.

Arguably one of the biggest solutions to all these challenges is space management software, such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) and digital twins.

Building Information Modelling

Building Information Modelling, commonly referred to as BIM, is the process of creating and digitally managing information for a built asset throughout its lifecycle, from initial design and construction through to ongoing operation. Buildings may be designed using BIM, or a BIM model can be retrospectively created for an existing building via laser scanning to create accurate, 3D models.

BIM models help facilities managers (FMs) to gain access to a wealth of information that wouldn’t be as accessible otherwise. This extends beyond the floorplans of a building and can include data about building fabric, assets and components. Users can see measurements, asset locations, access points and information tags such as acceptable temperature range, room usage data and more. This data can be used to create a comprehensive asset database within Computer-Aided Facilities Management (CAFM) software.

Once the BIM model has been integrated with CAFM software, they can be viewed in 2D or 3D within the CAFM system to give FMs and operatives 24/7 access to high quality data.

This supports maintenance work by allowing engineers to view assets via an intuitive 3D viewing tool, “peeling back” layers such as walls or suspended ceilings to see equipment that may be hidden in real life. This dramatically improves the knowledge needed to diagnose problems and resolve issues, reducing rectification times and minimising disruption to occupants.

Digitising With 3D Laser Scanning

Many public sector buildings will not have been built with BIM software, so 3D laser scanning is the best option to create a highly accurate digital version of a space.

Laser scans are built into a point cloud at high speed with high precision and can be supplemented with photography to produce almost perfect 3D images of external and internal surfaces and rooms. This includes not only room dimensions, but intricate details of designs and furnishings.

The 3D model can be shared with building managers, architects, historians – anyone who might require access. This is especially useful for maintenance and repair projects, as all stakeholders can work with the confidence that a digital model delivers.

In addition to vastly improving the refurbishment and maintenance processes, this has another benefit for buildings of cultural importance. In worst case scenarios, such as the fire at Notre Dame, digital models provide a blueprint for restorations. The cathedral did not have a digital model and so restoration work is being carried out using a range of sources, none of which are as accurate as a BIM model.

Digital Twins

A digital twin is the next level of BIM in providing data and enabling improved service. It replicates all aspects of the building and its performance and utilises live data to form a virtual replica of the building’s state in real time.

Instead of viewing data from various sources on multiple reports, the digital twin can be used to view performance, identify trends and detect building errors – in the same place. Twins can also be used to test different scenarios – like the impact on air quality of a new asset, or how cooling systems would cope with more people in the building. This reduces the impact of disruption or dips in performance of the ‘live’ building environment.

We recently developed the basis for a digital twin of Sweden’s Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum) building. This consisted of a complete 3D model with accurate interior and exterior measurements, in addition to relationship documents for remodelling and repairs. It ensures that this prestigious building, with its towers and pinnacles, sculptures and reliefs, spiers and high gables is documented digitally and can be preserved.

Leif Hed, director of properties for the Nordiska Museet, explained the benefits, “It was a eureka moment for us when it became clear how much benefit we’d get from the point clouds. Now, for example, we can “go into” the technology rooms, read texts on installations and share the information with operating technicians and contractors. We can also get a good overview of the facade and make notes directly in the point cloud, which is of great benefit to suppliers when damage needs to be restored. It also means that daily operations have become simpler, safer and more economically efficient.”

A Quick ROI

These solutions of course come with a cost and public finances are stretched. However, the BIM process can be staggered over time and in many cases has a very quick ROI so FMs can make a strong business case. This is especially true in larger estates or those in need or urgent repairs – the enhanced efficiency and ability to make strategic decisions cannot be understated.

My advice is to start speaking with vendors to get an idea of costs and project scope. Even if it’s not something that you’ll be able to action immediately, it doesn’t hurt to start doing your homework for when the time comes.