Mobility from BIM


Graeme Forbes, Managing Director of Clearbox highlights the benefits of real mobility in BIM solutions when recognised with the Clearbox BIMXtra mobile app OnSite…

Mobile solutions to everyday tasks, even solutions to issues we didn’t even know we had, dominate everyday life in apps for smartphones and tablets. The early dominance of mobility by the iPAD has been met with new ever more powerful devices which now extend to a variety of operating systems including Windows 8 and Android. In construction where the need to access information in the field or collect information is immense the opportunity for mobile tools will expand rapidly with users saving over a day a week.

At first sight the opportunity is to surface the information we have in the office, out in the field. However it is soon clear to battle hardened users that:

  • The power of the devices;
  • The size of the screen;
  • The users interface on a tablet;
  • The environment that the operator works in and even;
  • The issues of security that can arise with such extensive access in the palm of your hand;

That what is required is likely to be a more tailored view of the project surfaced in the format to suit the task at hand.

Mobile solutions from BIM in delivery need to cover 3 important aspects:

  • Provide information in the field – the right information, in the right format to suit the task in hand;
  • Collect the right information from the field – to support the digital handover;
  • Ensure the process of each is recorded-as part of the digital diary of delivery to evidence the work undertaken.

In operation the same requirements exist around a fixed built model, but now the opportunity for BIM in operation is significantly focussed around the management of data changes to the information attached to the components in the model.

Nevertheless many mobile BIM tools work from forms (in the shape of pdfs) that are attached to drawings, essentially an electronic version of the manual process. There are benefits in being able to collect the information electronically, being able to read it and store it, but the benefits are limited to the collection and storage of file based information.

The Clearbox BIMXtra mobile app OnSite also responds to the needs to provide mobility but by focussing on the data that is collected rather than the form it is presented in BIMXtra is able to bring improved cost, and performance and outcome benefits that are essential to ensuring a high ROI.

The site information management process has historically been quite inefficient and results in much double handling of data and information in the completion of the task. Re-examination of the cycle of information display and data capture highlights the point:

  • Finding the information from the myriad of documents and a drawings. Apps have been written to allow the user to make sure that they can check they are only looking at the most up to date information when would it not be better to only surface the current approved information;
  • Presenting the right information in the right format – the user generally only needs access to context sensitive information (especially on tablets where performance /storage can be an issue) and when the information is surfaced the view should be customised to suit the task in hand, an issue that can only really be overcome with data driven tools;
  • Performing the task – pre-population of information based on the associated object, or enabling another task like a non-conformance to be activated from a snag to ensure both sets of data remain linked together not only helps the commercial team track the events but also helps the user in their task;
  • Collecting the updated information – when we collect the information we should collect data arranged in a structured format that is automatically assigned to the right  place in the overall data structure so it can be written directly to the digital handover, of course any data should be collected in a way that ensures the process workflow of the data capture provides configurable signoffs to electronically mimic the real life process;
  • Assign the collated information to the objects or classify the information and simply store it in a folder structure – once the data and information is collected does it land in the model or the document manager as a pdf which needs to be named as a file, attached to a drawing and stored in a folder structure or should the data be aligned against the object it was assigned against and linked with photographs and other information that was captured at the time?; And then when you collect attachments like photographs are they simply part of the digital pdf or do they form a locational based record of everything that is happening on site.

One of the best examples of real mobility in solutions was recognised with the BIMXtra OnSite tool in action on the Chelsea River Bridge refurbishment, a 1900’s rail bridge that needed extensive refurbishment. On the surface this was not a “BIM” project; the bridge existed, defined on old pdfs and simply needed refurbishment. However if your concept of BIM is about visual digital management then this project meets the criteria for being a BIM project. In hindsight it was clear that some of the project team struggled with the issue of whether this really was a BIM project and the consequence was that the decision to use the Clearbox mobile platform was delayed and only came into effect on the 3rd of 5 spans. The upside of this however, was that it allowed us the ability to compare a traditional approach with a digital approach which linked location, data and documentation to create a better outcome faster than could be done with traditional tools and of course with the most comprehensive records of the work undertaken.

So the process was:

  • Replicate the bridge in a model to provide the visual/locational reference – 5 similar spans with multiple replication made this task very simple;
  • Configure the Clearbox OnSite refurbishment application to replicate the workflows required by the Clients process. A five step process was configured that involved all members of the project team. Wet signature sign off was included to provide early confidence, and signed documents were scanned and uploaded to record the approvals in line with the relevant part of the workflow;
  • Train and set the team to work;
  • Monitor the outcome.

The Outcome:

  • The overall cycle time from survey to signoff of the completed work was halved;
  • This lead to an impressive return on investment that represented many multiples of the cost of the implementation as opposed to more traditional incremental improvement;
  • Much improved records provide integrated evidence of the physical outcome as well as the dramatic improvement in the efficiency of the delivery and the transparency in the process of getting there.

It is clear that the use of onsite mobile tools will increase rapidly over the next few years. Even the most basic of tools support consistency, availability and efficiency. However most of these tools simply make a manual process electronic and the real step changing opportunity is when the process is managed at a data level in the app with the relevant associated information surfaced to suit the task at hand.

Graeme Forbes is the Managing Director of Clearbox a specialist digital information solution provider that is focussed on bringing game changing solutions to the construction industry and other asset intensive industries based around BIM based processes.

Access to the Clearbox website can be found at

Graeme Forbes

Managing Director


Tel: +44 (0)800 085 9872


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