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How BIM is affecting facility management worldwide

The following article was featured in Facility Perspectives magazine.
By Samantha Fuller, General Manager, Service Works Global

The use of building information modelling (BIM) is a worldwide growing trend. Once largely viewed as a tool purely for construction and design, BIM is being increasingly recognized by FM as a valuable opportunity to improve the efficiency of the built environment.

The establishment of an Australian BIM Strategic Framework marked a clear milestone in establishing a basis for a nationwide, consistent approach to BIM in construction and infrastructure projects across Australia.

Yet, whilst awareness and adoption of BIM continues to grow, there is still a noticeable gap between the two. Some organizations may be yet to embrace BIM due to knowledge gaps or time constraints – however for these businesses, there is a significant risk of being left behind as others in the market reap the advantages of BIM technology to increase their competitive advantage.

For facilities managers, BIM offers the opportunity to revolutionize the entire building lifecycle by providing an uninterrupted flow of knowledge from construction to operation. From the outset, FM’s are provided with an accurate, complete record of every building component. Details such as materials, asset models, components, warranty data, serial numbers and assemblies are accessible from 2D and 3D BIM models.

Historically, these BIM models, created in computer aided design (CAD) software required a specialist knowledge, outside that of most FM professionals, in order to interpret the complex data structures. Integrated workplace management software (IWMS) is now unlocking this information for facilities managers, by bridging the gap between the raw BIM data and day-to-day maintenance operations.

Two-way integration between BIM and IWMS software allows updates to building attributes or assets to be made within the IWMS and updated in the BIM model, or vice versa, maintaining an accurate, real-time virtual representation of the facility on an ongoing basis.

For the facilities team, having this level of information in a digital format dramatically increases operational efficiency.  By being able to access, at the click of a button, the exact location and specification of a building’s assets, maintenance regimes can be efficiently scheduled and equipment downtime reduced. The availability of accurate BIM data eliminates hours of unnecessary investigation or guesswork which may otherwise be required to keep a building operating efficiently.

Retrofitting BIM to existing buildings

Much discussion around BIM has to date been focused around new-build projects, often because these have been the focus of government-mandated BIM initiatives around the world. However, it is important to note that BIM is not solely a solution for new buildings – where there is no BIM model available for an existing facility, there are now a range of methods for creating one, quickly and cost effectively.

Whilst a 3D BIM model can be created from existing drawings, a far quicker and more precise solution is to use a laser scan to capture accurate measurements, colours and images, in order to build the model. The resultant BIM data is accurate to within a few millimetres. Laser scanning is not limited to interior spaces; indeed, drones are increasingly being used to scan and build BIM models of large outdoor areas, in order to digitize an entire site or estate.

Digital twins

As awareness of BIM grows, so too is the concept of digital twins becoming more widely understood. Using the BIM model as a foundation, a digital twin provides an exact precise digital replica of a building, accurately mapped using sensor data.

Leveraging Internet of Things (IoT) technology, the digital twin collects data from IoT solutions within a facility, such as building management systems (BMS), intelligent lighting, footfall sensors and environmental software which may be used to manage noise or CO2 levels. These inputs are used to build a “twin” which replicates the exact state of the building or site in real time.

Effectively a virtual prototype, a digital twin allows scenarios to be modelled and ideas trialled in a BIM environment. New FM strategies can be tested in a risk-free environment before being made to the building and its physical components.

This provides a significant opportunity for facilities managers, allowing them to understand at greater depth the interaction between the building and assets, environment and inhabitant behaviour. This convergence of BIM and IoT technology is starting to see increased traction in the evolution of “smart buildings” and “smart cities”, as exemplified by the collaboration between the New South Wales government and the digital arm of Australia’s national science agency in building a virtual 4D model of the Western Sydney built and natural environment.

Delivering long-term value

Whilst the benefits offered by BIM are clearly evident, its delivery, whether for a new construction project or a retrofit is undoubtedly a process which requires consideration and planning.  In order to derive maximum advantage, organizations will need to have internal discussions about the long-term use of the BIM model, how it is maintained and who is responsible for making any updates to the model during the operational phase.

As outlined earlier, integration between CMMS software and BIM supports this, extracting the relevant information from the BIM model, and presenting it to the FM in a format that is both familiar and actionable. Any changes made to building fabric or assets are reflected in the BIM model, maintaining an accurate digital representation of the facility for its lifetime. This is of vital importance for facilities teams contracted under public-private partnership (PPP) agreements, an increasing number of which are stipulating that the BIM model must be maintained and returned accurately at the end of the contract term (typically 15-25 years).

The launch of the ISO 19650 standard for managing information over the whole life cycle of a built asset using BIM has also helped to unify practices across the world. With global standards come global best practices, making it easier for organisations to improve how they use BIM and secure greater value from the process.

As Peter Barker of the BIM Academy commented, when reflecting upon the project to deliver a BIM to FM specification for the Sydney Opera House, “the greatest value is often realized when an informed client has a strategic understanding of the capability of BIM tools and processes, understands the specific information requirements as relevant to their organization, how the technology can deliver these, and how they can articulate these needs clearly to their supply chain.”

There can be no doubt, that with the right processes and tools in place, BIM and digital twins can offer a whole life-focused approach to facilities management, with benefits including:

  • Reduced costs: Processes can be managed far more seamlessly, resulting in less waste of time and resources.
  • Smooth handover from construction to operation: The BIM model delivers an accurate picture of building components and assets, upon which effective maintenance regimes can be established from the outset.
  • Client satisfaction: The client receives a building which meets their expectations and needs, and, by leveraging data from digital twins, can continue to grow with its inhabitants.
  • Reduced risk: BIM allows FMs to mitigate risk and ensure compliance in many ways, from analysis of crowd behaviour through to emergency incident modelling capability to ensure safety for building users.
  • Improved sustainability: Leveraging asset and IoT data helps FMs to understand more about equipment performance to support sustainability and reduce operational costs.
  • A greater role for FM: And, finally, BIM allows the professional FM to have a significant impact on the long-term outcome of a building, which raises the profile of the FM function whilst delivering efficient facilities for the generations ahead.
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