Keith Beverley, key account manager at Wavin UK explores the use of BIM in modular construction, how digitisation has the power to bring cost savings to the industry and how the construction sector could learn from car manufacturers
Digitisation has the opportunity to bring unprecedented cost savings. In the electricity sector alone, it’s estimated that a more digital approach could unlock around $1.3trn in value over 20 years. Likewise, the UK government cited a £1.7bn saving in 2015 through the digital transformation of its services.
Whether it’s robotics, machine learning or artificial intelligence (AI), it’s clear that technology is reshaping our industries on a global scale, further industrialising ways of working and bringing economic savings as a result. It’s also interesting to consider how technology is challenging our thinking, too.
If the building industry made cars…
In 2018, BMW’s global head of real estate, Dr Jochen Wagner, made a thought-provoking comparison, describing what he thought the automotive industry (a sector often praised for its efficiency) would be like if cars were constructed like buildings. Costly, late, incorrect and with snags: these were some of the words used. Not exactly high praise.
He continued by saying that the construction industry could learn from car manufacturers in a number of ways:
- By not thinking all buildings have to be prototypes
- Offering customers a range of existing solutions, not an endless choice
- Thinking digitally in terms of skills and process
- Always striving for zero defects
When we think about it in this way, it’s clear that digital tools and technology have a part to play in increasing efficiency in our industry, as does a change in mindset.
What is fortunate from Wagner’s remarks is that many of the improvements he’d make to construction are approaches being adopted in offsite and modular construction.
Yet with modular construction and BIM, still relatively new approaches within the notably traditional construction industry, there’s still a way to go in fully embracing digitisation and realising all the benefits of BIM in particular.
The benefits of BIM in modular construction
To understand the opportunities BIM can bring to modular construction, it pays to go back to the original philosophy behind it. By definition, BIM is “a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility…a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle”.
When considered in that way, it’s easy to see the many benefits it could bring and how it seamlessly links with a modular approach.
- Quality and accuracy: In the automotive industry, every inch of detail is designed up front, leaving nothing to chance and often taking years in the making. BIM software allows modular manufacturers to adopt a similar approach by virtually building and testing before creating in the real world. By inputting BIM objects that comprise product detail directly from manufacturers, users get a highly accurate picture of building components and can identify and minimise errors up front.
- Productivity and cost: The ultimate aim of BIM is to improve productivity through easier automation and collaboration. Key to this is a central 3D model that all parties can refer to and adapt in the planning stage, rather than on site, or, in the case of modular, when in production. A great example of how this increased productivity impacts on cost is the Ministry of Justice’s use of BIM in the Cookham Wood project. The prison comprised cells constructed offsite and BIM was used throughout the scheme. Using off-site manufacturing techniques achieved a £26k saving and overall BIM led to a 20% cost saving on the project (HMYOI, 2013).
- Supply chain and logistics: The beauty of modular construction is that there are fewer moving parts. Unlike traditional construction where weather and trade availability affect speed, there’s far less disruption in a factory setting. BIM helps modular take this a step further by exploring interdependencies more accurately and sooner, helping further with logistics and planning. Bringing this to life, in a study by Lu and Korman (2010) where a BIM model was used for a modular high school project in Norh Carolina, 258 conflicts were identified and eliminated during the design phase.
How can suppliers help with modular construction?
As these benefits show, BIM has the power to enhance many of the fundamental benefits of modular construction, by increasing accuracy, efficiency and productivity.
To support this process, Wavin, one of the world’s leading plastic pipe manufacturers, has created Autodesk Revit content packages with integrated intelligent assistance, which allow users to model as-built pipe systems quickly and economically.
By developing these objects as Revit families, it means users can get a 100% accurate representation of Wavin’s plumbing and drainage products, plus added benefits of auto-routing, clash detection and an auto-generated bill of materials.
Additionally, all of Wavin’s BIM Revit content has been created in-house so if there are any issues or bugs, these can be reported and fixed almost straight away. These benefits have also led to Wavin being the first in the heating and plumbing sector to achieve the new BSI Kitemark™.
Beyond this product information, users can head over to the BIM Centre, where they can download the Revit files for free and view Tips & Tricks videos. Users also have access to a wealth of training resources to help make BIM an integrated part of their modular construction process, with training available via face-to-face meetings or virtual sessions on Skype of Microsoft Teams, for example.
As part of the training, Wavin holds workshops where specialist tech teams run through ways of working and go into detail about how users can get the most out of the content. Customers also have the opportunity to explain any current issues that they are experiencing so that they be resolved with the team.
Key account manager