In a way reminiscent of a computer game, users enter data into a system and rapidly move components back and forth using the mouse. As if from nowhere, a 3D model of a new building appears on the screen. Every detail is recognisable and selectable. If users don’t like the material, or the component does not match the rest of the digital structure, it can be replaced in a matter of seconds. Although this way of working on building plans seems almost a little playful, it is the future of construction planning.
Up to now, various technical disciplines were usually involved in constructing a major project. Even the most minor deviations from plans can have a significant impact. For Deutsche Bahn AG, one of the largest construction project owners in Europe with numerous construction projects, many of these minor changes can soon accumulate into vast costs. Just imagine that a drain pipe needs to be moved a few metres to the right. The construction manager on site would simply move the guide hole to a different position in the wall. But would this affect the statics? Would the remaining connections still fit? Any changes to plans must be accepted by all participants, which is very time consuming.
Planning in real time
This is not the case with building information modelling or BIM for short. Digital construction not only simplifies project planning considerably, it enables real-time visualisation of construction progress as well as the subsequent changes and long term operation of the finished structure over its lifetime. The 3D model allows changes to be spatially visualised immediately, and relevant costs and deadlines can be calculated precisely thanks to integration with the project management system iTWO. The entire construction process can hereby be simulated, reviewed and controlled on the computer.
To make this possible, the system accesses a database containing a list of countless components and other construction-relevant items. If a wall is planned, for example, the architect can select not only the different materials from the database, but also freely select fillings and strengths. All items have a current price, determined from empirical values and previous construction projects. This allows the scope of costs to be determined, even before the invitation to tender. Of course, prices are always subject to change, but this too is compensated for by the database system. As soon as the offer for a project is accepted, the actual amounts are updated to the system.
The new standard
More and more construction companies are now using this system, which in turn, is making the database more and more standardised. “The database is already excellent for building construction,” says Stephan Wrede, Portfolio Manager for BIM at DB Systel. “There is still much to be done for civil engineering, however, because it is more difficult to define uniform data.” But despite this challenge, experiences with BIM have been largely positive following the first pilot projects at Deutsche Bahn. As part of this, DB Systel is working on digital construction together with the project-leading Group companies DB Station&Service, DB Netz and DB Engineering & Consulting.
Things have started well, especially with a view to the tasks ahead that will be implemented based on BIM. A comprehensive knowledge base is already being developed as a result of BIM pilot projects such as the large-scale project Stuttgart–Ulm and Karlsruhe Basel, the refurbishment of Munich central station and many other planning processes. Although introducing this complex process presents major challenges, all technical disciplines and in particular the project owner have a vital interest in creating a system that works.
The reason being not only cost and time savings: BIM offers more transparency in planning and enables better public involvement. The approval procedure is also accelerated due to the fact that technical details are visualised and much easier to understand. Finally, BIM is not software but a process that simply uses digital infrastructure as a platform.
Building in a new dimension
To enable BIM to use the incredibly diverse data in real time, a massive IT platform is required. With DB Systel, a service provider is available that deals with such tasks and can meet individual needs with custom solutions. In addition to high-performance CAD work stations and complete scalable IT infrastructure, DB Systel relies on WorldInsight, supported by RIB’s project management system iTWO 5D. This enables the smooth interaction of construction planning, cost representation and deadline monitoring.
The progress made so far in digital construction planning not only demonstrates impressively how cost-effective construction can be realised while optimising digital planning. The excellent results also make it easier to further develop standards. This is because the more construction projects of this type that are realised, the more the interest for standardised databases, which also allows components, for example, to be validated more specifically.
Although building information modelling is only just beginning, Wrede already knows what could be part of the next stages of the system. “You just need to imagine the influence of virtual and augmented reality,” enthuses the engineer. Instead of viewing the 3D model just on one monitor, all planners can be equipped with corresponding glasses that essentially allow them to walk around in the generated model and interact with the project. Science fiction? Not really – the first steps for this have already been completed: The future of construction has already begun with BIM.