Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, came up with three rules to describe our relationship with technology. Number three says: Everything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.
Adams was quoted by WSP PB’s Andy Powell to open the Rail BIM Summit. It sums up how many in the industry feel when considering BIM.
Andy’s next quotation, this time from former Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) president Peter Hansford, was a little more comforting, ‘The term BIM doesn’t matter at all. What we are talking about is the use of digital technology in design, construction and whole life asset management.’
Andy also spoke of Moore’s Law, which states that the power of computers will double approximately every two years. We are facing truly disruptive change imminently. What will be the implications of this for people and professions?
Discussion ranged far and wide. Paul Trethaway spoke of the need to put in place, early in any project, a communication plan, linked closely with the common data environment (CDE) that’s required for BIM to succeed. Key benefits include greater safety and improved welfare. Obvious examples include the removal of people from hazardous environments through technologies that eliminate the need for human access, and ensuring that once captured, information is stored centrally and accessible to all who have legitimate uses for it.
David Philp spoke of delivering things differently. He too said that it was ‘time to disrupt digitally’, creating data-driven, hyper-connected railways.
Several speakers pointed out young people are comfortable with digital technologies and media. The rail industry must make the most of this natural knowledge.
According to David, BIM is just a component of a wider scene, so in rail we are in mass transit, we move people or freight. BIM is not just about new projects, but also about operations and maintenance; information from Capex projects must be fed back into operations and maintenance.
The first two speakers of the main morning session spoke about connecting BIM to existing infrastructure. Carl Siddons represented Network Rail and James Young, Digital Engineering Consultants. Network Rail is focussing on BIM, but emphasising that it’s not all ‘building’. Nor is it a product that can be bought and installed like a new operating system or app. It’s more complex and better than that.
James described infrastructure systems modelling that is being done by Network Rail and its suppliers, building up a managed component library linked to a system model. The implications for people, whether designers, installers or maintainers are huge. People will need training and development to allow them to deal successfully with such change.
The next speaker, John Kerbey of HS2 Ltd, spoke of what BIM means to HS2 and described the company’s BIM strategy. Notably he said that the three key issues of that strategy were leadership, up-skilling and future-proofing, and two of these three involve people.
Skanska provided the next presentation via Ben Felton, giving the contractor’s perspective of ‘How will BIM advance the railways?’ The first thing Ben mentioned was Skanska’s BIM4Rail initiative which he described as ‘connecting BIM with our people’.
Ben quoted Mike Putnam, chief executive of Skanska, ‘The digital age is revolutionising how construction does things… We need to stay ahead of the game.’
It should be said that this is as true of individuals as of companies and organisations. Ben said that people are the constant in the construction process. Skanska believes in investing in people, making them aware of the changes technology is bringing.
For example, site staff have rapidly taken to it after discovering how easily their site diaries can now be completed electronically by the software.
Bernard Fanning from Network Rail reiterated the safety benefits of BIM but from a client’s perspective. He outlined the role of the client, describing what the client must do and what they are accountable for under the CDM Regulations 2007.
Benefits of BIM are that all information is held securely in one place and accessible readily to all who need it. Information is controlled, standardised and managed.
It can be used to model changes before they are made in reality, or to model after an event to assist in investigation and understanding. A digital model is invaluable for consultation and stakeholder management, as well as in enhancing safety.
Malcolm Taylor of Crossrail spoke about how BIM has been embraced by the project. ‘Without BIM it would have been a whole lot harder’ he said. Crossrail has been an enabler of BIM and will see benefits as a result.
Bridgeway’s Simon Hatch spoke of how existing assets can be modelled, referring to ‘using BIM to supplement the rail industry’ by integrating information previously held in separate ‘silos’ to better inform operations and maintenance.
Bentley Systems was represented by Andrew Smith, whose theme was how BIM can positively influence rail operations and maintenance.
‘It doesn’t matter how much information we have if people aren’t aware of it and therefore are unable to use it.’ Andrew’s words again emphasised the importance of people.
Olly Thomas of BIM Technologies reiterated that BIM is not a product that can be bought off the shelf, it’s a process. It’s not a fad, it’s a permanent step change. BIM won’t wait for you, and it’s not an added extra.
‘What skills do employees need to be BIM ready?’ asked GeoEnable’s Steve Eglinton. ‘It depends’ was his answer. What does your organisation do, what are your goals, where are you in the supply chain and what are your time frames? Steve went on to explain and expand these questions.
He was clear that it’s not all about technology but that we still need people. The technology is about making people cleverer and extending their capabilities. Steve referred to the people centric challenges such as business continuity, resilience, risk mitigation and more.
Steve spoke of the need to up-skill people, to get existing information managers involved in BIM, to determine which skills are required – whether currently available or newly emerging – and said we are likely to need more leaders and fewer managers.
The final presentation was made by Andrew Longyear from Cisco Systems. He too related to the importance of people, saying that BIM Level 2 needs to embrace a complex set of people and things to drive innovation.
People are important also to the security of the emerging connected world, and this is as true of BIM as anywhere else. BIM data is at risk as is any data, and needs to be secured against those who might compromise it in some way to the detriment of its owners and users.
Andrew echoed other speakers in referring to the explosive changes that the technology is bringing, with connectivity expanding rapidly.
Images courtesy of High Viz Media