Parsons Brinckerhoff Pte Ltd

Parsons Brinckerhoff shares their experience in implementing BIM and how they have benefited from it.

1. Q:  What motivated the company to adopt BIM?
A:  In PB Singapore, we view the advent of BIM technology both as a threat as well as an opportunity.  We started looking into BIM technology and implementation in Singapore 6-7 years ago for a commercial building project.  While our global parent has much experience in BIM, the Singapore Office did not have the skills and staff to see through the initiative. There was clearly no impetus for us to take it further as there was no industry demand for it. However, with BCA taking the lead and putting legislation in place, it became apparent to us that if we did not change our way of working, we were going to lose our clients and our market share.  If we were to embrace the technology and workflow as early movers, we may even have a competitive advantage.

We started looking for people to champion the initiative and to pro-actively engage BCA. We sent staff to attend BCA workshops and also worked with BCA to set up our CORENET workflow using BIM. We realised that the trick was to identify a live project and start statutory submissions using BIM, then there was no turning back. We started small by carving out small parts of a larger project and use them for BCA-ST submissions. With these early successes, we familiarised ourselves with the workflow and staff became more confident with their models.

The advantage of BIM models in ensuring “single point of truth” in models and efficiently presenting different viewports and cross-section simultaneously were also critical enablers of better productivity in design production and documentation. These advantages motivated us to continue to move forward in BIM adoption on a larger scale.

2. Q:  How has BIM helped in your projects? Can you share some specific examples or projects?
A:  It will be foolish of us to assume that BIM will help with projects starting from day one.  As with any technology, there is always a learning curve and while we climb this curve, there is much frustration. During this period, BIM does not give us the efficiency and productivity which we expect and which are touted in all the glossy brochures. It takes a lot of persistence, perseverance, heartache and not to mention, loss in efficiency and productivity as we journey to this “promised land”. Even after all these years, we are still discovering ways to do things better and faster with our BIM software and workflow.

Visualisation

When we started off, the mere sight of a 3D model on the computer screen was enough to excite everyone. The panning and walkthroughs were enough to win clients over.  In a way, BIM has helped us, first and foremost, as a visualisation tool. BIM helps our designers and our clients to make design decisions. We are an early adopter of BIM for infrastructure. We built a virtual model of a utilities tunnel using BIM technology. The tunnel is built to house utilities and the very complex routing of the utilities within the tunnel makes it a prime candidate to showcase BIM’s  visualisation capability. In our case, we use this technology to convince the client on the need to reroute water pipes due to site constraints.

Parsons Brinckerhoff Pte Ltd

BIM Modeller Belinda visualising a rather complicated stacked tunnel BIM model on screen –
Visualisation still remains by far one of the major advantages of BIM.

Single Point of Truth

A very powerful feature of BIM models is the so called ‘single point of truth’ concept. The different components of a model are built inside one model. For example, we build all beams, slabs and columns for a building inside the same structural model. The same components are shown up in whichever view or cross-section that we cut from the same model. In traditional 2D drawings, we draw the same building in different sheets. The beams are represented in the beam schedule and the columns are represented in the column schedule etc. They are not linked. When we change something, it is very often that we forgot to change some other thing that could be impacted by the initial change. Our clients always ridicule us for these lapses. BIM has helped us to minimise these problems.

Parsons Brinckerhoff Pte Ltd

BIM Engineer Shuang Yan calling out different views of the same MEP BIM model –
the single point of truth concept minimises discrepancies in documentation.

3. Q: Can you give us one or two examples of challenges your company faced when implementing BIM in your projects and how these were overcome?
A:  There are a lot of misconceptions on what BIM is. To us, it is not just producing a 3D model. We believe BIM is a total workflow that should accompany the life cycle of the building or infrastructure asset. To us, BIM is not just a noun but a verb.

The Great CAD-Engineer Divide

Our greatest challenge is in bringing all our staff, not just CAD staff and BIM modellers, but engineers alike, to the concept of BIM.  Engineers need to understand that BIM is not just a pretty picture for visualisation, but a complete tool that could be used to inform the design.  Engineers need to understand the concept of interoperability, that information created in the BIM model could be used for design and analysis in their analysis software. Similarly, engineers need to be aware how design data created in their analysis software could be passed back to modellers to update the 3D representations. It is in this integrated environment that true efficiency and productivity could be realised in the design environment.

There is a lot of buy-in to BIM by our modellers, who look at the models day-in-day-out. It is a lot more fun playing with 3D models rather than 2D drawings. However, engineers use a different set of software for analysis and may not be plugged into the same model and BIM processes. We are currently looking into redesigning the workflow so that the workflow of modellers and engineers could be integrated and data could be re-used. The major setback is interoperability of the myriad of software and platforms. Technology is getting there but not quite there yet.

For a recent project, we had created a viaduct model and extracted 2D drawings from the model for documentation. When there were changes initiated by the client, engineering only instructed CAD to update the 2D drawings but not the model. This speaks volumes on where we are when it comes to BIM adoption and process integration. We still have a long way to go.

So what is in a model?

To a certain extent, being able to produce BIM models has become an entry level requirement for design firms over the last few years. Nowadays, many CAD operators have been trained in BIM modelling, or more specifically, exposed to some BIM authoring software. This does not translate to an abundance of competent BIM users. Very often, we have created models that are good enough for visualisation, in other words, a pretty picture, and nothing more. The models could not be used for downstream analysis by engineers, QS or asset managers. The reason is that they are not created to align with the way a structure is to be built in the real world. Our current challenge is to educate our modellers on the correct modelling habits. We also need to educate our engineers to be able to check and instruct our modellers on how they should model and the extent and level of details necessary. Poor modelling habits and over modelling will very often cost the job.

4. Q:  Can you share with us some of the lessons learnt in your company’s BIM implementation and what are the things that other companies should look out for in their BIM implementation?
A:

Leap and Gravity will take over

It is always thought that it is best to implement BIM on an ‘experimental’ basis, for example trial it on a past project or run it in parallel with an ongoing project that will use 2D CAD files as a back-up. In so doing, there is less pressure on the BIM team to deliver, thereby allowing them time to learn the ropes. Sadly, this does not seem to work. A little pressure and a little crisis appear to be what spur us humans along.

Over the years, we have learnt that in order to adopt new technology and to change mind sets, the only way is to “risk it all”. Just like in bungy jumping – take that leap and gravity will take over. We have come to realise that once we start applying BIM in a live project, we will be forced to make it work. Once we make that decision, momentum will set in and the focus will be on how to sustain this momentum. There will be plenty of impetus to help us sustain – pressure from the client as well as our reputation being on the line, are some of these driving forces.

Build Virtually, Think Realistically

Having said that, we still have to be pragmatic and realistic in what we can expect from BIM. The models and workflow may not turn out exactly the way they sell it in the brochures. We have to accept that while there is technology available, there is a limit to what our staff can learn over a short period of time. Staff will need time to pick up the technology and accumulate experience. Even with BIM, the end product is not just a few clicks away. There are protocols and workflows to establish. Even the format of documentation, such as the extracted 2D views, will require time for customisation and approvals.

There are times when we are all excited over new technology and software. However, we find that being too fixated on the software does not necessarily bring out the best in BIM. There is BIM software that is very building centric but they may not be necessarily appropriate for civil models. In one instance, we have built entire models and workflows for a building project using a particular piece of software only to find that they could not be readily adopted for another project, in which the focus is on civil infrastructures.

It is therefore important that we build protocols and workflow around the BIM process rather than around the BIM software. This ensures that we remain flexible to adopt new technology and move more nimbly with new technology trends. Face it, a very popular piece of software today may be replaced by a competitor tomorrow.

Champion the Cause

It is necessary for management to understand that BIM is not just a change of software for the CAD team. BIM workflows will affect the whole production and engineering value chain. There must be early buy-in from management, CAD/BIM staff and engineers. We have come to realise that adopting BIM requires us to make adjustments to many of our production and engineering processes and until now, we are still trying to make these major adjustments. We were very wrong when we thought that by buying a few software licenses and sending a few of our CAD drafters for BIM training would render us BIM capable. From our experience, it is necessary from the very start to identify a champion for BIM. This individual must work to influence management and ground staff on the direction of BIM adoption. He or she has to believe that BIM is the way to the future. He or she must have a keen mind to learn and to look out for current and future trends. Surprisingly, the champion need not be the existing CAD Manager taking up a new role.

5. Q: What are the company’s plans for BIM in the next three to five years?
A:  We have come to realise that building a BIM model is currently an entry level capability. Every consultant that matters is BIM capable, if the criterion is just having the expertise to build BIM models. Software houses are pushing their BIM software further and better. There is a growing trend towards better interoperability and integrated BIM environments. It is necessary to us to invest resources and efforts to make sure that we make better use of our current BIM investments.

Hardware

We expect to continue to invest heavily in our hardware. BIM models are not small and could be very clunky to manipulate. As projects become more complex, so do the BIM models. Dated CAD stations will not be able to handle these files easily. In addition, investment in collaboration environments is also critical as large amounts of data have to be transmitted or shared among different disciplines more frequently and efficiently. It is a great let down when we have a fabulous BIM model that will require one whole day to be uploaded and downloaded to other stakeholders.

Interoperability

The theme of inter-operability has been mentioned several times. The data that we built into BIM models must be readily re-used in different platforms for downstream analysis and production. This is where we can really derive savings from efficiency and productivity. There is much promise from software house in this aspect. However, we will need to invest very heavily on staff training and research to see how we can push our staff and software further. Basically, we have to find ways to work smarter and get our software to deliver better. If we continue to use our BIM software the way we are, then it is as good as using a rifle as a club. We’d be better to surrender to our competition and go do something else.

Civil BIM, BrIM, VDC?

Many new uses of BIM have gained momentum over the past few years. Nowadays, we do not limit our BIM models to Building models. BIM models include bridges, roads, utilities, digital terrain etc., so called Civil BIM. There is also a growing trend towards virtual design and construction or VDC. We expect to invest more in these capabilities.

Industrial Engagement

We also expect to engage more with industry players to learn from the experts on how we can push our BIM capability and offerings further and better. We will continue to participate in BIM activities outside the organisation, such as seminars and workshops. We currently also give feedback to our software vendors and will continue to do so.

6. Q:  What else do you think BCA can help to help the industry move beyond just 3D modelling and project collaboration in BIM?
A:  With a combination of legislation and incentives, BCA has facilitated the current transformation in the construction industry. If being able to build BIM models is the objective, then we are basically there. However, new technologies are emerging that makes better use of BIM, such as point clouds, digital imagery and augmented reality, to name a few. BCA could perhaps continue to look into new technologies that will work with and enhance the overall BIM experience.

An example is in the use of survey data. Whenever there is a new project, the survey team is deployed out field to collect topographical information, which is a tedious process. However, technology such as laser scanning, remote scanning and point clouds are already available. Recently, the use of remote controlled unmanned aerial devices to scan terrain and buildings are also becoming a reality. Information and data collected by these means could perhaps be made available in a national database for use with BIM models.

The same could also be looked into for soil borelogs. Software is currently available to store borelog information and present them in 3D models. Again, a national database could perhaps be looked into that could be made available for use with BIM models.

The above are just examples that BCA could perhaps spearhead and drive the use and re-use of data that will enhance BIM.