BIM - Elbe Philharmonic Hall © HOCHTIEF ViCon

Big data on construction sites

The future of construction is digital. Say those who should know: architects, engineers, facility managers, and the German Minister of Transport. The magic word in this connection is BIM, which stands for Building Information Modeling.

The basic principle of the BIM method is to actively link all parties involved in the construction process by means of a 3D computer model. This model—comparable to an X-ray picture of a house or tunnel—makes pipes, walls and staircases visible on the computer. It only takes a mouse click then to calculate, for example, how many cubic meters of concrete or screed are needed. And if someone comes up with the idea to move a wall that has not been built yet and to change the design accordingly, all the resulting consequences for other trades are calculated in just a few seconds. The model can be fed with additional information on time, costs and utilization. Studies say that BIM helps to cut construction costs by about 20 percent and carbon emissions by around 50 percent.

A cultural change turning upside down the familiar
BIM first and foremost is a cooperation model that both enables and requires close cooperation and intensive communication. Transparency is one of the most important promises of digitalization—and can even convince skeptics of the advantages of a digital building model: All changes are visible to everyone at any time, and everyone has access and can identify errors quickly. Today, many trades are performed in parallel, and defects often become apparent too late.

Eliminating problems before they arise
Take the Elbe Philharmonic Hall, for example: Digital construction also already played a key role during the building phase of this cathedral of music in Hamburg. Using a 3D model of all building trades still was something new then. Building digitally first and in reality afterwards uncovers clashes in the construction process well before the building site has been installed. In this way, the BIM experts identified and eliminated thousands of problems long before these would have had the chance to turn into actual obstacles on site. Especially with the confined space conditions for the complex building services, this was an invaluable advantage. "Without BIM, it would never have been possible to build the Elbe Philharmonic Hall", says HOCHTIEF ViCon Managing Director Dirk Schaper with conviction. So if the sound at this Hamburg location will be a true feast for the ears in future, this will not least be thanks to BIM—after all, the "white skin" on the walls and ceilings of the Grand Hall in the Elbe Philharmonic Hall was also developed with digital support. The virtual building model "grows" during the construction phase due to the various contractors involved in the project, and the tablet computer becomes a routine work tool on the construction site.

A pioneer of digitalization
Germany's Minister of Transport, Alexander Dobrindt, demands that designing, constructing and operating building structures with the help of a digital model be made a nation-wide standard. To this end, he presented a phased plan in 2015. The initial goal: to regularly use BIM for projects within his ministry's area of responsibility from the end of 2020 onwards.

HOCHTIEF recognized the potential of BIM at an early stage and, in 2003, initiated "Virtual Construction" as a key area of innovation—inspired by U.S. Group company Turner which has delivered more than 1,000 projects with BIM since 2002, including the world-famous Yankee Stadium in New York. This American-German transfer of know-how made HOCHTIEF a pioneer of digitalization in the field of construction. HOCHTIEF ViCon, the Group's BIM competence center, has been operating worldwide ever since. ViCon is currently also involved in Australia's biggest infrastructure project, Sydney Metro, where it has implemented BIM and is driving digitalized construction processes further ahead. Meanwhile, Australian Group company CIMIC also has a BIM Excellence Group.

Taking in the entire life cycle to reap BIM's full benefits
When starting out on a project with BIM, it's mostly architects and building contractors who first have to see to that the data are entered into the system. Later on, others also profit from this input: owners, investors and—above all—property and facility managers. Management of the property is generally made easier for them by applying this approach. The potential of BIM fully unfolds when those aspects which are important from the operator's perspective are fed into the BIM model as early as during the planning phase. HOCHTIEF's facility management company, synexs, also exploits this advantage. On the basis of BIM, the company pools all data that are important for the efficient operation of properties and facilities. This enables "real-time" control of properties, and "just-in-time" management of all issues. Clients can access relevant information at any time, and operation is documented seamlessly and transparently. Thus the BIM data are up-to-date in every phase of the property's life cycle. And this, in turn, is of benefit both for architects and building contractors in their planning of new projects.

Learn more about Building information modeling (BIM)

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