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EEJ Digital Engineering

Model Patient at Bristol Royal Infirmary

Laing O'Rourke is nearing the end of a three-year, £103 million hospital redevelopment contract in Bristol, England, which has Digital Engineering at it's core

The middle floor (L5) of the ward block including the upper street level entranceThis was handed over first whilst we continued building above and below

The strong level of detail in the digital model, allowed most of the construction drawings to be generated from it and gave us the confidence to use it not only for visualisation of the sequences and many phases but also to help us build more safely.

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The three-dimensional digital engineering model developed for the Bristol Royal Infirmary from inception by the project team has been used to great benefit, from planning visualisations and service coordination to construction management and logistics. It was also one of the first projects in the UK to transfer digitally engineered component models directly for off-site manufacture.

However, arguably one the model’s most novel applications is the three-dimensional recording and analysis of hazards and near misses reported by site employees. This gives the management team a much clearer, real-time picture of where risks are arising, enabling them to take proactive steps to mitigate them.

Combined with reduced on-site fabrication, less working at height and fully visualised construction sequences, the project offers tangible proof that digital engineering has the potential to make the construction workplace much safer.

3D structure model Showing concrete components manufactured off site at Explore Industrial Park

Modelling a new ward block

Bristol Royal Infirmary is a large teaching hospital in the centre of Bristol run by the University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust. In 2011, the Trust approved a major redevelopment of the hospital. Laing O’Rourke was appointed as delivery partner for the project and is scheduled to complete the work in December 2014.

Centrepiece of the infirmary redevelopment is a new nine-storey ward block designed by CODA Architects using the ‘Passivehaus’ standard, considered the world’s leading ‘fabric-first’ approach for the delivery of low-energy buildings. The resulting exceptionally high thermal performance and airtightness will enable a BREEAM ‘excellent’ environmental rating on completion.

The building’s sustainability credentials have been further enhanced by the application – from the outset – of digital engineering, with the design of the structural, architectural and services elements fully coordinated in three dimensions. This model has also been used to drive off-site production solutions – reducing material waste, shortening production times, improving finish quality and enhancing site safety.

With the Trust’s backing, Laing O’Rourke proposed the use of digital engineering early in the design development stage. However, according to Laing O’Rourke Senior Digital Engineer, Katie Trout, "CODA, structural engineer AECOM and mechanical and electrical consultant Hoare Lea were all relatively new to Digital Engineering so we worked closely with them on model development.

"We provided modelling protocols from the start, setting a standard for how the digital engineering aspects of the work were to be delivered. These not only focused on good practice for the Autodesk Revit 2011 model set-up but also on the requirements for exporting model elements to software for offsite manufacture."

Of particular note, Laing O’Rourke collaborated with the design team to pioneer the production of complete three-dimensional models of precast concrete cladding, twin-wall and lattice floor components for transfer to its Explore Manufacturing business.

None of the project team had previously modelled a building facade, so a protocol had to be developed to cover the composite modelling requirements with live testing of the project model. In the process, software limitation issues were identified. While this meant the model had to be simplified to match the scope of the available technology, it also offered valuable lessons which will inform similar activities in future.

As a result of the work at Bristol, Laing O’Rourke now has the capability to import component models directly into the Allplan manufacturing system, thus avoiding duplication of effort. This reduces the production of general arrangement drawings at Explore Manufacturing by up to 20 per cent as well as significantly mitigating the risk of modelling errors arising through the misinterpretation of two-dimensional outputs.

Design team members at Bristol have also used the digital engineering model for everything from production of drawings and schedules to creating visualisations for lighting design and planning submissions, embedding automated calculations into virtual equipment, and creating circuiting and automated panel schedules. It was also used for coordination and clash detection, sequencing, client presentation and for discussing design intentions.


Extract from a workforce briefing on the Glulam Beam installation sequence Using visualisations to prepare the workforce for the task ahead provides an opportunity to discuss potential risks in a safe environment, with the potential to reduce site-based accidents

Improving site safety

The model was also used to capture (in three dimensions) the location and details of any safety risks – an innovative new application for digital engineering.

The business actively encourages everyone on its sites to report risks (or potential risks). This is usually done using leaflets – which workers complete and pass to the management team for review and remedial action. The reports are then entered into a central database, called IMPACT.

IMPACT was recently made available from electronic tablet devices, allowing employees to enter details directly into the system from the site workface. At Bristol this was taken a step further by manually linking IMPACT with a simplified, user-friendly Autodesk Navisworks version of the digital engineering model.

Within Navisworks there is an option to add a tag once a user has navigated to the location of the incident. Adding a tag automatically generates a saved view and in turn prompts the user to add a comment. The details of the incident are then recorded within the comment box, which for consistency, includes the IMPACT reference before a brief description of the incident. The saved view is renamed with a unique reference and automatically filed by month for review by the safety leadership team.

The cumulative benefit of this approach is that it enables project teams to identify where trends are arising in a particular location. For example, at Bristol, the atrium in the new ward block was identified as a higher-risk area. As a result, access to it (and two lightwells) was restricted by a ‘permit to work’. Clusters were identified around the main gates too, where greater controls have also been introduced.

Other site safety aspects of the digital engineering model include its integration with Synchro programming software, which was used in Laing O’Rourke’s prestart consultations with the Health and Safety Executive to demonstrate the construction sequence. A more detailed Synchro model was then produced for safe installation of the atrium roof beams and main multi-storey vertical service risers, with outputs recorded onto task sheets and method statements.

Digital engineering and substantial logistics planning allowed us to build safely amongst the most constrained environment – blue light ambulances on two perimeters and tall existing hospital buildings treating immune deficient patients on all sides.

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Overview of the site showing the new ward block, access roads and complex logistics arrangements

Navisworks was also widely used on the project for logistics planning and to help visualise and communicate with stakeholders details such as delivery vehicle movements, again helping to ensure the safety of site workers, hospital staff and the public.

In addition, the digital model enabled virtual walk-throughs of the plantroom with the hospital estates team, ensuring there would be clear and safe access for maintenance.

With detailed building service modelling from the beginning providing early determination of above-ceiling service penetrations and in-wall services, it was possible to use the Laing O’Rourke preserviced SmartWall partition walling system extensively on the project, maximising offsite manufacture and minimising onsite working at height.


The Bristol Royal Infirmary project is a testament to the range of benefits that can be derived through the creative application of digital engineering. In particular, three-dimensional risk reporting has given the team a much clearer picture of where hazards may arise.

While linking IMPACT with a Navisworks version of the digital engineering model proved practical, on future projects this integration is more likely to be built in to a Revit model from the start. Apart from being more efficient, this would also allow for better visualisation of results – with colour-coded categories of severity

In addition, the extensive use of offsite manufacture – supported by digital engineering – resulted in less working at height and consequently a much lower risk of major injury. The ability to visualise and communicate specific construction sequences as well as vehicle and plant movements within and around the site has also contributed to a much safer environment for site workers, hospital staff and the public.

Bruce Preston  Katie Trout


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