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EEJ Digital Engineering

Seven dimension modelling

At some point in the not-too-distant future, all digital engineering models used for the planning, design and construction of buildings and infrastructure will also be used for their operation. For example, building facilities managers will be able to reorder a damaged carpet tile simply by going to a virtual version of the room it is in and clicking on the floor finish.

They will also be able to trace a faulty electrical relay through all building management systems and then interrogate information on the relay. It will be possible to undertake reactive, planned and lifecycle replacement works with a full understanding of the spaces affected and measures that need to be put in place to minimise disruption. Investigations on reactive calls will be done centrally, with engineers and operatives being provided with information rather than having to find it themselves on the ground.

Such ‘digital asset management’ will be driven by a new type of helpdesk that is technically adept at identifying and solving problems as well communicating information between facilities managers and maintenance engineers. The philosophy will be one of using predictive maintenance techniques and appropriate technologies, reducing the requirement for on-the-ground investigation and intrusive maintenance.

Clearly the value of a digital engineering model being used for operation cannot be underestimated. At present Building Information Modelling (BIM) is an invaluable tool for the design and construct phases of a project, but these phases typically last for just two to five years. The possibility of using BIM for 10, 20 or over 50 years during a building’s operation should provide a significant incentive for any organisation setting out on this journey.

But while the benefits are potentially enormous, so are the technological challenges. Laing O’Rourke’s digital engineering team is very close to overcoming them.

The new physical fitness complex at Holsworthy Barracks in Sydney, Australia

Digital advances in Australia Next year Laing O’Rourke will deliver the largest single Australian defence capital works project since the Second World War – and potentially one of the first globally to have a fully developed asset information management model.

The AUD$870 million Moorebank Units Relocation project in southwest Sydney involves building new facilities for 17 military units at Holsworthy Barracks, some 3km from Moorebank. Digital engineering is being used through the design and delivery phases of the project. In 2013 Laing O’Rourke took this a step further by trialling the development of an asset model of the combined mess, gym and pool building at Holsworthy.

The first stage was to ‘uplift’ the existing digital engineering model so that systems were connected and information such as furniture, fixtures and equipment were included. This was then brought into the EcoDomus software, which has already successfully linked a number of building information models with facilities management systems in the USA. The final stage was to connect live building management system feeds and scheduled maintenance to the model using the defined data structure.

Laing O’Rourke developed the EcoDomus model at its own expense and without a brief from the client as it wanted to gain a better understanding of the status of the software and technology available in the marketplace. The initiative was supported by Laing O’Rourke’s Australia Hub Managing Director, Cathal O’Rourke.

The Department of Defence is now sponsoring further stages of the trial. It has asked Arup to collaborate with Laing O’Rourke to investigate what data should be captured in future digital engineering models to maximise their asset management potential.

The first part of the investigation will be to understand how its requirements map against expected detail captured in the model, with interviews and discussions with Department of Defence staff to understand what information they believe will give the most benefit as an asset model.

The second part will be to take the modelling gleaned in the first part of the exercise and apply
it to the mess, gym and pool part of the project – potentially leading to uplifting all facilities on
the base to what some described as seven-dimensional BIM (three physical dimensions plus time, cost, energy and asset management).

Blurring of boundaries
Based on its pioneering work in Australia, Laing O’Rourke now sees asset management as an integral part of its unique business offering to clients. In the UK this is also being driven by the government’s requirement for ‘soft landings’ on all public-sector projects by 2016, with graduated handovers from contractors – including the building information model.

In essence soft landings means Laing O’Rourke and other contractors will need to stay involved with projects beyond practical completion to ensure that what has been designed and constructed will perform in reality. This will entail working closer with clients to understand what they want and how this can be translated into the built environment. It also requires early engagement and with a wider group of stakeholders, from the briefing stage to the post-occupancy evaluation and lessons learnt stages.

In every sense soft landings will create ‘win-win’ situations. The design and construction teams
will develop a much better knowledge of how the asset should operate. A smoother commissioning and handover process will occur because of the involvement of the asset management team, end-users and operators. And clients will get assets that achieve performance outcomes specified at the outset and address all operational and efficiency needs.

In addition clients will learn how design influences operational costs and the procurement and delivery of services. But to achieve all this they must have their operators and users involved throughout the design and construction process. A new building is a huge opportunity to change the way an organisation works – and Laing O’Rourke is ready to help facilitate that change.

Current practice and challenges
Laing O’Rourke is currently working on a number of projects where clients are seeking to ensure that their digital engineering project models will move beyond serving as a three-dimensional
filing system for operations manuals.

The Francis Crick Institute in London is a complex new 86,000m2 medical research facility and a key part of the government’s new biomedical strategy. Laing O’Rourke’s digital engineering team is delivering a model at handover in 2015 that will contain all major assets tagged with their respective asset code for use in a computer-aided asset management system.

Starting with a coordinated master file in Autodesk Navisworks and the original authoring models in Autodesk Revit, Laing O’Rourke has incorporated all subsequent design and construction changes and added more building information models as subcontractors have made them available.

Each asset in the model is linked to its respective specification sheet within the online operation and maintenance manual provided by Edocuments. This minimises the need to update the model as changes to asset information – be it servicing, warranty, spares or even changing the asset entirely – can be done without having to re-author and re-export the model. The model handed to the client will be in Navisworks format and the building separated floor by floor. By linking the model to the operation and maintenance, the client and facilities manager can readily inspect assets that are in hard-to-reach or inaccessible areas.

To overcome the overwhelming amount of data associated with combining hundreds of models from six different Building Information Modelling authoring platforms, the digital engineering team commissioned a bespoke add-in to Navisworks that unifies the display of data, ensuring clarity and consistency for users. When selecting an asset that is part of a system, the user can highlight that system and trace it to all areas of the building.

The key to Laing O’Rourke’s successful delivery of the Francis Crick Institute is making sure we understand how the client will use the information. This has involved a much wider stakeholder engagement exercise and will result in a set of information that has an operational context far beyond a useful wayfinding tool.

A similar strategy is being adopted by Manchester City Council for its newly refurbished Town Hall Complex, which Laing O’Rourke has now handed over.

Our digital engineering team is collaborating with Manchester City Council’s facilities management team to enable them to continue to use the digital model as an intelligent tool for surveying and commissioning post-handover. This will offer an unparalleled level of operation and maintenance data compared to paper-based methods, and will vastly improve ongoing facilities management and energy performance monitoring.

Lessons learnt so far

Clearly the move from project information models to asset information models presents a steep learning curve for everyone involved in the construction process. However, it can and will be achieved because everyone stands to benefit. Laing O’Rourke aims to remain at the forefront of this transition through collaboration with enlightened clients around the world as well as with the support of its sophisticated supply chain and in-house manufacturing facilities.

The process will require us to work even more closely with clients, to determine their exact operational requirements and understand their existing facilities management systems and processes. Clients in turn need to make decisions on which facilities management platform they wish to use. They also need time to trial the platform as well as asset management software such as Concept Evolution and building management system data. Consultants will need to ensure that the building and its services are correctly and appropriately modelled in every aspect. The way plant elements are modelled in a system or the inclusion of metadata during design will save time in the long run.

Laing O’Rourke also needs to agree with consultants when metadata will be included. In an evolving design there may be no benefit to metadata in the model at day one and it may slow down the design process. The supply chain will need to be involved too, to provide as-built models of their work packages which are data rich. On the client side, the facilities management and estates teams will have to learn new skills in order to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by digital engineering, potentially including the ability to model changes to the building. Finally, Laing O’Rourke will need to make sure the client’s requirements, consultant’s deliverables and subcontractor’s deliverables all match to ensure that there are no gaps. Our in-depth knowledge of how assets are designed and constructed means we have a responsibility to provide this knowledge to clients in a way that helps them.

It is a big challenge, but one Laing O’Rourke is more than capable of delivering.

Peter Young  Tom Waters


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