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Building Information Modelling brings sea-change to construction industry

The beauty of the technology is that it allows the building to be virtually built, before it’s physically built

‘The use of laser scanning or 3D surveys means there is better information for contractors when they come into site to commence the work’

‘The use of laser scanning or 3D surveys means there is better information for contractors when they come into site to commence the work’


Innovations in technology are changing the way people design, plan, build and manage buildings and in turn this has helped improve health and safety on site, lessen environmental impacts and improve operating efficiencies.

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is undoubtedly one of the biggest innovations from a quantity surveying perspective and generally in the architectural, engineering and construction industry over the past three years. Claire Crowley, Project Controls Manager and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI), says use of BIM has brought about a complete sea-change in the way the construction industry does business.

“We’re moving from 2D traditional design into 3D intelligent models that contain usable information and the whole purpose being, getting better end-product to the client so they can operate buildings better.

“What springs off from reaching that end-product is actually the impact in efficiencies in terms of design. Architects and engineers, mechanical and structural, are designing in a lot more of a comprehensive way, an efficient way and a collaborative way in that they’ll design independent models and they then get brought together. From a QS perspective, that innovation means we have a lot more information readily available to us from the very start of a project.

“Traditionally, a quantity surveyor would come in when design is completed, take information and use it to do their job, which is essentially measurements. We’re now coming in at the start of that process because of technologies like BIM.”

Gary Comerford is a Chartered Quantity Surveyor who works for Linesight. He says BIM is potentially the innovation that will change the way people think about construction. BIM packages allow contractors to use ipods and mobile devices that would have previously been “a rolled-up drawing in their back pockets”, he says.

The beauty of the technology is that it allows the building to be virtually built, before it’s physically built.

“You get to simulate the full construction of a building, so that of course helps with site set-up, being able to look ahead in terms of health and safety and identifying areas that would need more planning. Visualisation is one of the big results of these kinds of technologies and once you can do that, it definitely assists with forward planning for health and safety or environmental impacts.

“The use of laser scanning or 3D surveys means there is better information for contractors when they come into site to commence the work. That is reducing the risks around those elements of the projects. It allows the contractor understand visibility issues and issues from a health and safety point of view around different methods of actually building a building. There’s always an alternative way of doing something and then you can review and analyse alternatives so any risks can be managed out.”

Asset mapping, which sees a scalable database, designed to bring together data from billions of devices and systems into a single, intuitive map, is also a result of the BIM innovation.

Cloud collaboration is widely used within the majority of companies now, for storing and sharing information through online cloud platforms such as Dropbox.

“We’re moving away from those hardwired computer servers and backups and we’re online in a cloud where everybody is able to access and pull information from any location, as well as software like Excel Online where various stakeholders from different companies can interactively work on a document together,” Crowley says.

Video conferencing software is something Crowley uses “10 times a day” and she says this helps stakeholders work across time zones and locations and brings a lot more efficiencies to what they do.

The use of drones and cameras to check sites and monitor, manage and maintain buildings is becoming very popular, Comerford says.

“If you take a windfarm for example, it’s easier to send a drone up to look at a turbine rather than having a crew drive across a field and climb up.” Equally it’s becoming more commonplace to use drones in the examination of structures like bridges and this ties in with better health and safety too.

“Even contractors, when they’re pricing work, can look at topography of a field or road and get far more useful information from a drone than they could have got up until now,” he says.

Virtual Reality (VR) technology, which also relates back to BIM, is a really good way of putting clients in the middle of their building at the design stage, allowing them to conceptualise and visualise the space.

“Sometimes a client just can’t see what a building is going to look like, so architects can place them in the building with the headset on and they can see how it will work, operationally. Therefore, during the design process, a lot of the issues that would usually arise post design can be addressed early on. They can even choose the types of finishes and colours they will use in the building,” he says.

The next iteration of this is wearable technology and smart glasses, although the potentials of this have yet to manifest, he says.

MD of JJ Rhatigan & Company Padraic Rhatigan says BIM is a big part of the future of the industry as it tends to lead to a more efficient delivery for the client. “VR technology, which is a by-product of BIM, allows for the virtual creation of a building and when it’s used properly you can ensure challenges are managed out and that things are planned out better, such as unsafe situations.”

In terms of the environmental impact, he says that anything that leads to less waste, which BIM does, allows for a more positive outcome.