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Massive Civil Engineering Projects Worldwide: BIM Comes of Age

Building Information Modelling, or BIM, is changing the way the construction industry views the construction process and being used in some of the world's most complex and huge construction projects.

What is BIM? A BIM model comprises a data-rich, virtual building, capturing the physical and engineering properties of the complete project. It can be used by designers, cost consultants, project planners, contractors and ultimately the client/occupier.

BIM was born out of a desire to drive waste out of the design and construction process, with a subsequent reduction in procurement costs, and to leave clients with an asset management tool superior to the traditional O&M manual.

Major projects are being constructed over an increasingly wider number of sectors from water to transport.

The West Kowloon Terminus

West Kowloon station design

The world's largest rail network connecting Hong Kong and Beijing is being built: the Guangzhou–Shenzhen– Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL). In Hong Kong,The West Kowloon Terminus, which will span 430,000 m², 15 tracks and cover commercial spaces plus customs and immigration control, is being constructed using BIM.

Commencing in October 2011 and scheduled for completion in 2015, the project forms part of China's strategic High-Speed Railway Network, will provide a world-class rail terminus and serve as an international gateway to China. Facilities include nine long-haul and six shuttle platforms, customs and immigration facilities, departure lounges, duty free and other retail outlets.

West Kowloon station design

The MTR Corporation awarded the HK$8.9 billion final Express Rail Link civil contract to construct the West Kowloon Terminus Station North to Leighton-Gammon Joint Venture, who gave a company called Gammon the contract to create the BIM model. They constructed a 3-D visualisation and used it to explore many issues such as how maintenance will be conducted within the building.

London Victoria Underground station

London Victoria Underground station redesign

In London, a rebuild of Victoria Underground station is doubling the size of the ticket hall and involves the creation of new tunnels up to 9m in diameter. The extremely demanding engineering project, which involves working in densely occupied subterranean urban setting and the creation of 2500 jet grout columns for support, is being made much easier with the use of BIM techniques.

It incorporates 3-D design, simulation and analysis, quantity surveying and many other tools as well as providing a platform for collaboration.

Mott MacDonald, the consultants, were told by London Underground to use this approach because "without a spatially accurate, fully coordinated 3-D model it would be near impossible to visualise and coordinate the project".

London Victoria Underground station redesign

Tunnel excavation began in the summer of 2012 and the North ticket hall is scheduled for completion at the end of 2016 with the whole project finished in 2018. Since the project began in 2006 when BIM was in its infancy, the project has been constantly pushing at the envelope of innovation.

As a result the project team has been invited to assist in other major projects such as Crossrail, the new 118-kilometre (73-mile) railway line being built across north London which will include 42 km (26 miles) of new tunnels.

The Panama Canal

Panama Canal new locks design using BIM

A third example of the use of BIM is on the other side of the world: the Panama Canal, where two new sets of locks, one on the Pacific side and one on the Atlantic side are being constructed.

This will significantly expand the capacity of the canal and allow larger vessel to travel through it. The canal handles about 5% of all global trade.

Panama Canal new locks design using BIM

Here, the consultant, MWH Global has been designing state-of-the-art lock walls and lock gates that will be secure against the huge pressures of water involved, earthquakes and contain integrated controls and operations.

MWH have used a suite of software to visualise the design much like a computer game. They have said that this method was "instrumental for keeping design and documentation co-ordinated, saving both time and money". It improved cross discipline coordination and resolved numerous design conflicts prior to construction.

Panama Canal new locks design using BIM

There are advantages to using BIM after the project has been handed over as well. In this case the owners will be given a robust operations and maintenance tool for their long-term needs. This will drive efficiencies throughout the lifetime of the project.

UK and European policy on BIM

By 2016 all public projects in the UK will have to implement BIM. The UK government is in the middle of a four year program with industry, led by a Task Group, to develop understanding of BIM. Last month the group, in conjunction with Norway's Statsbygg team, hosted an event in Brussels to explore the potential for working with BIM across the European public sector community.

This included representatives from 13 European countries plus Singapore, whose public client wanted to understand the maturity of BIM in Europe of BIM and level of adoption. There was a striking level agreement across countries with many similar challenges and needs, which led to a proposed agreement to exchange ideas and collaborate on best practice.

The Institution of Civil Engineers has described BIM as "the latest buzzword in civil engineering". Collaboration is key to its success and a joined up approach should be adopted by all parties at the inception of any project, from the client through to architects, engineers and contractors. The customer has to understand its benefits and consultants have to be able to educate their clients.

BIM is a technology reaching maturity. It will demand the widespread adoption in the industry of a whole new set of skills and a collaborative approach. It will become indispensable for all future major projects, and even medium-sized ones where the financing permits and the client is perspicacious enough to see the long-term benefits, particularly in reducing operational energy and management costs.