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This article by Kelly Widger is also featured in the spring issue of CFM&D

Improving transparency in the building lifecycle through BIM

As many facility managers know to their cost, the average building lifecycle is fragmented and opaque. A lack of communication and transparency force the stakeholders responsible for different project phases to work in isolation. Under these circumstances, decisions made during design and construction cause common, sometimes catastrophic, issues during the operational phase, leaving FM to pick up the pieces.

Building information modeling, or BIM for short, has the potential to transform the way we design, construct, and manage the built environment by joining up that lifecycle. For this change to happen, however, the FM industry must dispel some of its enduring misconceptions about BIM. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not 3D modeling software. A more accurate description is that BIM is a workflow that uses 3D modeling and other technology to create digital representations of a building’s physical and functional components. The comprehensive data from these models can help facility managers and other parties to monitor and share information across the building lifecycle, enabling more strategic decision-making.

By integrating BIM with IWMS (integrated workplace management software), FM users can see the asset’s location, including access or permit requirements, and access information about the asset itself, such as service history, manuals, warranty details, minimum/maximum temperatures, types of materials, and more. This capability guarantees more efficient information-sharing between the numerous stakeholders that collaborate to build and operate facilities. It also reduces the number of errors, thus enabling design innovation, ensuring construction quality, and reducing construction, maintenance, and energy costs.

BIM and Digital

Taking the technology to the next level, once a BIM model gains access to continuous operational data, for example through the use of sensors, these digital representations can become ‘digital twins’, a virtual version of the building. These digital copies are then used to model out scenarios, to gain insights about how to improve operations before applying changes in the real-world environment, to improve efficiencies and mitigate risk.

Digital twins contain four layers of information: the physical layer (the ‘as built’ data; the building system layer (a BMS to deliver real-time data from systems and components); the people layer (delivering behavioral data); and the enterprise layer (IWMS software relating to processes across facility and property management).

A game-changer for FM

The FM industry has many horror stories of ill-judged design ideas that unraveled once they met the harsh realities of operations. There’s the recent tale of 432 Park Avenue, a super slender high-rise in Manhattan, New York, and briefly the tallest residential building in the world. Since opening, the tower has been plagued by residents’ complaints and news stories about water damage from plumbing and mechanical issues, elevator malfunctions, and creaky walls – all of which seem to stem from its 1,400-ft height, a feature once the unique selling point for buyers.

Then there’s Strata SE1, a 43-floor residential building in London, England, which features three distinct wind turbines on its roof capable of providing 8 percent of the high-rise’s energy needs. Built in 2010, the tower was the first in the world to have wind turbines integral to its structure rather than installed in a retrofit. But there’s only one problem: in the 12 years since opening, they’ve hardly ever moved. Some reports suggest that the wind turbines are simply too costly to maintain and that residents find them too noisy.

These tales highlight something important. By involving FM professionals and FM technology earlier in the building lifecycle, projects can minimize the risk of costly repairs and refurbishments further down the line while delivering against other core objectives, such as meeting green commitments and keeping occupiers happy.

P3 potential

Another common misconception is that BIM only works with new builds. Nothing could be further from the truth. While BIM is extremely effective when it’s implemented during the planning and construction phase, it can also be used to retrofit buildings, a particularly useful capability at a time when organizations are looking improve the energy efficiency of their buildings as part of broader zero targets.

FM teams can quickly and cost-effectively laser scan existing environments and  use this data to create BIM models to aid decision-making long into a building’s operational life. This means that BIM can deliver significant benefits for long-term projects, such as public-private partnerships (P3) where there is a need to demonstrate transparency and performance over periods of up to 25 years. The P3 sector is in a strong position in Canada. There are 38 infrastructure projects currently using the model in Ontario alone right now. Nonetheless, the pressure is still on P3 projects to keep public sector spending low and the value for public sector users high.

By integrating BIM with IWMS and payment mechanism (paymech) software, stakeholders can ensure better transparency across the whole P3 contract lifecycle. Paymech technology gives confidence to all parties that the project can operate according to the terms agreed, providing reports and trend analysis of service failures, deductions and rolling threshold values. Aligning BIM with the contractual terms also gives users clearer data to help deliver on time and within budget, adhere to compliance, and minimize those deductions. For FM service providers, integrating BIM with an IWMS enables more effective maintenance regimes as well as maintaining a comprehensive, fully up-to-date BIM model once the contract comes to an end and the building is handed back to the public sector client.

Global lessons

There are plenty of lessons globally for how BIM can deliver significant value to public sector projects. Though it doesn’t operate under a public-private partnership model, a local administration in the City of Gothenburg, Sweden, recently commissioned international IWMS and BIM software provider, Service Works Global (SWG) to develop a 3D BIM model of an 8,000 sq ft school with the aim of using the data to help renovate and build an extension to the site. Prior to the construction, the local government department noted that the existing 2D building drawings were inaccurate. Changes and renovations made by the school over the years hadn’t been updated consistently, so the decision to 3D scan and create an accurate 3D model of the building and its outdoor environment was an easy one to make.

The use of BIM has ensured that the architects and designers involved in the project have a complete digital model and do not need to take additional measurements on site to produce new data. Additionally, they have all the correct information to hand over to the  construction workers and FM teams once the project enters subsequent phases.

There can be no doubt of the potential for BIM to revolutionize FM, by bringing the discipline closer to design and construction and allowing it to exert greater influence over every phase of the building. Better collaboration with other stakeholders means better buildings and more efficient operations. BIM also has significant long-term potential. Lifecycle data from sophisticated digital twins could help inform future projects, serving as a continuous improvement tool that allows designers and architects to learn from FM’s operational expertise.

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