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The Utilities Industry and BIM

10th August 2015

 

The past half a decade has seen an explosion in the use of BIM across the construction industry.

At Capita, we’re already using BIM technology and processes on everything from new clinics for hospitals to sections of HS2. We’re also exploring how we can use it to inform every stage of the building lifecycle, using data that can be transitioned between a model for design and a dynamic database for facilities management.

"This huge growth in the use of BIM is mainly down to the Government's BIM Level 2 mandate which has incentivised adoption through the withdrawal of funding for centrally procured projects not using BIM Level 2 by 2016."


This has spurred the construction industry forward, putting British skills at the cutting edge of design and engineering technology. It has already built a level of home-grown expertise that will pay dividends over the next decade as the country begins to export that specialism and the rest of the world pushes to catch up following the UK’s lead.

However, the utilities industry has been slower to adopt elements of BIM. The potential benefits of BIM for the sector are huge – from complex asset management and hazard minimisation to ensuring that intricate industrial build programmes are kept on track.  As a result, you might expect a similar level of enthusiasm for the approach – but this hasn’t materialised to date. Many of the larger utilities firms haven’t meaningfully engaged with the technology or process, and many of the ones that have done are doing so cautiously.

Most of this caution can be put down to the lack of an incentive to do so. No doubt the construction industry would have been more cautious had it lacked the decree from the Cabinet Office. However, another element of this is potentially down to the structure of the utilities industry – the larger utilities companies are not used to looking to much smaller agencies and consultants to drive innovation in the sector, preferring to develop new best practice internally. The construction industry, by contrast, is awash with consultancies constantly innovating and developing new techniques and ways of working.

However, things are beginning to change. A number of companies are beginning to understand what is possible – and how transformative BIM could be for the industry. This has been undoubtedly helped along by the Network Innovation Allowance, innovation funding from the regulators of the various utilities industries that can only be drawn on through novel research into improving the UK’s infrastructure.

In practice, this has meant a number of exploratory and cutting edge projects across the industry. Capita has been working on several of these, including the front end engineering design and detailed design for the proposed Humber Estuary gas pipeline replacement project for National Grid. Capita has worked with the National Grid to develop a BIM Level 2 solution for the proposed pipeline, incorporating data from geological surveys, geotechnical design, stress analysis and a number of other disciplines.

Other projects also include the laser-scanning of key facilities for a number of gas, nuclear and power clients, building up detailed models of assets that improve management, reduce cost and allow design work for alterations and repairs to be done to incredible accuracy with confidence in a desk-based environment.

The outputs from these pieces of work have completely transformed the amount of data available to our clients on their existing assets – which can then in turn transform development and estate management strategies. The government has recently begun to explore BIM Level 3, and the industry is beginning to explore what this will mean. The government aims for a development cycle where every element – from construction to facilities management to ongoing operational use – is linked together through digital tools.

Capita is already working on its take on this new agenda. In particular, we’re excited about our recent acquisition AMT-Sybex – their hand-held asset management devices and software will be integrated into BIM models, producing a live, updateable model of a whole energy or water network, sharing information between the workforce on the ground and central control hubs. This wealth of data from an array of sources can then be used to inform future design and maintenance decisions providing a more efficient and effective facility.

 

Mike Turpin is head of BIM for Capita’s property and infrastructure business.

This article first appeared in Infrastructure Intelligence magazine

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