How BIM can lead you through the specification maze
With the built environment becoming ever more complex, choosing the right products and materials can seem like an unfathomable maze. Daniel Smith, BIM Manager for Conex Bänninger, discusses the growing importance of Business Information Modelling and how manufacturers can help smooth the MEP design path for specifiers.
Not so long ago the task of putting together an accurate and workable specification for a building project would have been a long and challenging one for architects and designers.
Issues arising from the complexity of the build would only become apparent once work was under way, leading to unexpected costs and over running contracts.
Thanks to digitalisation and the relatively recent introduction of Building Information Modelling (BIM), a lot of those potential problems can be recognised in advance and the consequences avoided.
It has also had a positive impact on project management and construction, helping make these operations more efficient, achieving significant savings over the project term along with lasting benefits.
Using BIM enables those involved in the specification process, from architects to surveyors, building services engineers to MEP contractors, to work to a shared virtual model, one that provides all the parties with a detailed picture of how each plumbing fitting or other unit fits into the overall system or building design, shows how these components interact with each other and if any changes are needed as a result.
The BIM process is widely acknowledged as a more effective way of working than the ‘old-fashioned’ drawing board method, where design teams worked independent of each other on a series of multi-stage drawings.
Accessible technical data
For HVAC professionals, using BIM makes the sourcing of technical data much more accessible, whether this is technical information on individual fittings, pipework runs or where mechanical equipment should be located.
This gives those carrying out installations a better and more detailed overview to work towards, like if the system will be impacted by other services, or if the building’s layout or structure has an impact on the design. Similarly, using BIM also shows if the HVAC installation itself has consequences for other systems and structures within the building.
Should any ‘clashes’ be apparent, it creates the opportunity to seek an appropriate solution at an early stage and avoid having to address a problem on-site which could lead to inevitable delays, unwanted labour and other associated costs.
The development of a large residential apartment block, for example, potentially served by a district heating system, will require extensive runs of copper pipework. BIM modelling enables the specifier to more accurately predict the length of the required piping for the project, along with producing a schedule for the type and number of fittings required to compete the installation.
The system designer is also able to make sure the entry points into each room are in the right place and that there are no conflicting elements.
Another example is rainwater harvesting, which is increasingly popular with new commercial buildings as it helps meet environmental targets. Through BIM it’s easy to see that it is not compromised by the property’s other drainage systems.
Major plumbing and HVAC fittings manufacturers such as Conex Bänninger support specifiers by providing ready access BIM objects, which are ‘digital twins’ of the physical components.
These 3D and 2D representations are data-rich and show the physical and functional properties of each product.
These models are made available on a number of construction data platforms, including BIMobject and bimstore.
By using BIM files it makes the designer’s task so much easier, saving valuable time, but it is critically important they are available as downloadable files in formats that are accessible to all the design team members.
This is vital in fulfilling one of the key objectives of BIM modelling, which is to aid collaboration between the different parties involved on a construction project, helping build better relationships.
Conex Bänninger BIM objects have been created for the company’s suite of plumbing and HVACR fittings and valves, which includes the >B< Press range of press fittings.
All the BIM objects meet the international standard ISO 23386:2020, which means they are machine-readable, versatile and consistent across different software.
They are being released as Revit files and IFC (Industry Foundation Classification) files, and have been created to be BIM Level 2 compliant, which enables a higher level of collaboration between the various parties.
The associated CAD software is capable of being exported to the common file format COBie (Construction Operation Building Information Exchange).
One great time-saving benefit of the BIM system is that when a fitting needs to be changed on the model, it only needs one action to make that amendment, no matter how many of that particular fitting there are in the design.
They will all be changed with that single keystroke – and sometimes you can be talking about a project with 10,000 fittings!
The public sector has been quick to recognise BIM technology for the benefits it brings: improved productivity, efficient project delivery and better value through reduced costs, with big savings in operational expenditure (OPEX).
And it can also help with meeting sustainability objectives, enabling a lower carbon footprint for projects.
The UK government has made BIM a key part of its industrial strategy and any MEP contractor or construction company wishing to work on a public sector project, such as a school or hospital, must be certified to BIM Level 2.
Indeed, so much more cost-efficient is BIM modelling, it is often quoted that for every five schools built using BIM, the fifth one is free, the savings are said to be that much!
Popular for commercial applications
Many larger private developers are also now using BIM, for major projects such as offices, skyscrapers and other multi-storey buildings.
It is one of the benefits of BIM that it not only enables more efficient construction, it also supports efficient operation of the building once occupied, thereby reducing downtime and maintenance costs.
For example, in the past if an air conditioning unit broke down the building owner would have to get the maintenance man to get his ladder out and physically go around the building to find the fault.
It could be in a tricky to access place, such as a ceiling void, and then he would need to identify the fitting and the part number, and he probably wouldn’t have the right tools with him.
Instead, with the BIM model, which would be passed on when the building is handed over, they can simply click-on and it will locate it and identify it for him, helping the maintenance engineer take the right equipment for the job.
So, with so many advantages attached to the BIM process, from overall cost savings, to increased collaboration, to a more co-ordinated construction programme, it can only be a matter of time before even more specifiers are joining the BIM revolution
Daniel Smith is BIM Manager for Conex Banninger