How Constructible BIM enables building smart cities

Paul Wallett, Regional Director, Middle East and India, Trimble Solutions, on the wonders of BIM

Paul Wallett, Trimble Solutions, Construction technology, Smart City 2.0 mission, FDI inflow, Dubai’s Roads & Transport Authority, BIM, Building Information Modeling

In 2015, the Central Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs launched India’s Smart Cities mission. It primarily focused on building sustainable cities with world-class and citizen-friendly core infrastructure facilities. This mission was launched keeping in mind the ever growing demand for quality urban infrastructure, in the wake of rapid urbanisation in India.

Five years later, the year 2020 witnesses the launch of Smart City 2.0. In its second leg, the mission is expected to expand further to include other ambitious goals; such as housing for all. Another goal is to build better infrastructure and develop open, public spaces. The government has clearly outlined how it envisions building India’s sustainable infrastructure in the future. Further, the government’s emphasis on using cutting-edge technologies for building better infrastructure became clearly visible in both the Smart City 2.0 mission as well as the declaration of 2019-2020 as the year of construction technology.

Before we move ahead into the second phase of the mission though, we need to pause and analyse the progress our construction sector has made since the first mission was announced; and also figure out the ways in which we can equip the industry for the Smart City 2.0 mission. Even though construction and infrastructure sector has the second largest share of FDI inflow and is among the biggest contributors to GDP as well as employment, it lags behind other industries when it comes to harnessing the power of technology.

In fact, the construction industry remains paper-driven to a large extent and cutting-edge technologies are yet to be fully adopted across the industry’s vast ecosystem. Manual documentation of the processes results in frequent miscommunications and workflow disruptions, which inevitably lead to project delays and cost overruns. In fact, these delays and budgetary overruns are the norm rather than exception in India; as of June 2019, 360 infrastructure projects showed a cost overrun for nearly 20% of its original cost.

Understanding the potential of Constructible BIM
One of the most fundamental technologies that can transform construction is Building Information Modeling (BIM), which embeds detailed and accurate information in the 3D model of a planned building and helps contractors and engineers execute their work with minimal requests for information. In fact, adopting BIM can single handedly alleviate a large number of issues plaguing our projects.

There are enough examples from around the world that demonstrate how BIM adoption has benefited large scale projects. Recently, Dubai’s Roads & Transport Authority mandated use of BIM for its projects, and saw an eventual improvement of 20% in productivity. Similarly in India, BIM is being used for 3D mapping of existing drainage systems in Srinagar and also for Chenab Bridge which is the world’s highest and longest spanning railway bridge.

Even though the Indian construction industry is generally aware of the benefits of embracing BIM, it has somehow shied away from its mass adoption across all construction projects and throughout the construction workflow. It also believes that BIM is useful just for pre-construction; that is during planning, designing and engineering stages. This is far from the truth, as the full value of BIM is actually realized during the construction and post-construction phases, which explains pre-fixing Constructible ahead of BIM. 

Using BIM for construction in smart cities
A well-designed BIM model can be used by engineers, fabricators, project managers and even project owners. It can provide them with the necessary information and insights regarding estimations, material requirements, asset management and scheduling. Such visibility is crucial for achieving the smart cities mission, as it is the most efficient way to integrate and streamline the construction workflow and processes. Since a BIM model manages large amounts of information, the vital details in these models add a significant value to the project from its conception to its completion.

As building smart cities requires construction of complex projects; involving multiple team members; over a long period of time, BIM can play a crucial role in ensuring smooth communication and accuracy of information. A number of roadblocks frequently encountered during the construction process can be overcome by BIM software, as it automates the way we use the information and also share it.

BIM makes handling large amounts of information easier, which enhances information mobility across different stakeholders. Also, it enables the creation of virtual prototypes of the structures; which provides an accurate view and understanding of the project to all stakeholders. Further, various alternatives can be examined in terms of cost and various project parameters, which is important for making the right choice.

BIM is also a great tool for easy exchange of standardised information. This can significantly reduce on-site delays and cost overruns as any errors or loopholes can be identified and rectified well before actual construction begins.

It must be emphasised here that building smart cities is not a one-time activity. The work doesn’t end after just creating smart buildings and infrastructure, it also includes efficient maintenance of the built structures. Here again, BIM is useful as the model can be updated to as-built specification upon the completion of a project. The final model will thus store all necessary data that would be required for the regular maintenance of a building - say a hospital, airport or a shopping mall. This can save a lot of time and cost which is incurred while repairing, remodelling or improving structures; in turn contributing to the goal of buildings that are truly sustainable.

It will not be an overstatement to say that BIM is one of the smartest tech-enabled solutions that can help build smart cities within allocated time and budget. It is a one-stop solution that takes care of all the aspects of building smart cities: from using fewer resources and money to building sustainable structures. Now that the Smart Cities 2.0 mission is expected to provide a strong push to the construction of new urban infrastructure, perhaps this is the best time for the construction industry to understand and embrace BIM.

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