20.01.2020 : John Fallow

BIM in the energy sector – the future looks bright

If you work with building assets in any capacity, you’ll probably have heard of Building Information Modelling, or BIM. In short, BIM is the process of designing, building, maintaining and operating built assets using digital information that multiple stakeholders contribute to and have access to. 

The benefits of using BIM are many and varied. Quality BIM gives us the information we need to save significant time and cost on built assets by improving collaboration and communication, and identifying and reducing risks. By assessing preconstruction project visualisations in 3D, designers, contractors and the client can have input into the design before any physical work takes place. This means safer, more efficient outcomes for clients, projects and the people involved.

BIM is fast becoming a minimum requirement to win contracts, and will continue to transform industries, including the energy sector, in exciting ways.  

The future looks bright

“Rapid changes in technology, climate change policy, climate change itself and changing customer expectations are coming. We understand the direction of change, but not the specifics, which means we need to be ready for a variety of possible futures.”

In some industries, BIM is now a BAU activity, and specialists are starting to identify new and innovative ways to utilise the data to future proof business activities for clients. The energy sector has been slower to adopt BIM to support the planning, delivery and management of assets, but that’s changing. Several power utilities in both Australia and New Zealand are now starting to utilise various aspects of 3D modelling, BIM or digital engineering technologies. While each is at different stage of BIM maturity, it’s clear that they are realising benefits and there is no turning back.

One such example is New Zealand company, Transpower. Together with Beca as its BIM consultant, Transpower is embracing BIM and exploring how integrated asset, design and project information through BIM can improve cost effectiveness, safety and reliability of the New Zealand national grid.

We worked collaboratively with Transpower to develop the initial BIM strategy and roadmap that helped kick off the use of BIM on projects. By taking a staged approach, we’re testing the use of BIM in pilot cases, and then using the learnings to create models for broader activity, creating a cycle of BIM learning bespoke to their business that seeks to:

1.      Identify and pilot use cases that will deliver immediate and tangible business benefits

2.      Use these pilot cases to explore other BIM use-cases such as reuse of models for future designs and for different assets

3.      Apply the outcomes to inform next steps, creating a virtuous cycle of BIM learning and enabling

Getting real

By using pilot cases to apply BIM to smaller projects, we’re able to realise significant benefits, helping clients to understand BIM processes and make informed decisions about where and how to invest in BIM across a wide portfolio of assets. Some of our success stories to date include:

·       Testing the feasibility of using BIM and robotic total stations hardware to support site set out and asset registration

·       Understanding the cost of digitising brownfield site models

·       Creating a parametric standard design to deliver quicker designs, material savings and reduced construction costs

Transpower’s Kinleith substation redevelopment is a great example of where a pilot has brought immediate and tangible business benefits. By bringing together robotic total station hardware, used for surveying during construction, and BIM data, we’ve been able to provide contractors with improved construction documentation that’s resulted in better understanding of design intent and reduced site queries.

Additionally, the technology has enabled contractors to easily and accurately capture as-built information, enabling Transpower to manage the operation and maintenance of their Kinleith substation far more effectively. These pilots are also invaluable for ironing out new technology “wrinkles” that while minor, can become an obstacle to delivering the desired benefits. The additional insight and knowledge the information provides is a game-changer.

“The upshot? Greater construction accuracy, reduced rework, improved construction efficiency, improved as-built record keeping and improved supply chain collaboration.” 

Bringing it all together

Having a stable foundation of BIM processes is vital for a consistent BIM approach. In the ever-changing energy industry, we’ve already begun exploring what this looks like. We’re working with clients to explore modelling standards, digital object requirements, point cloud modelling standards, level of development specifications, asset data standards, BIM execution planning procedures and other BIM documentation. By doing this in collaboration with clients, we create a platform for long-term BIM solutions that will support businesses well into the future.

Where to next?

Our BIM pilot projects confirm the real benefits that can come from a staged BIM implementation. Working with BIM tools and approaches involves a change in the way utilities and their supply chain works, and this does take some time. However, by utilising these tools and embracing a BIM way of delivering work, we can see tangible benefit. As new technology arrives, we can continue to test assumptions, prove stated advantages are real, and then subsequently rollout improved processes and tools to continue delivering benefits to the communities we all serve. The power industry’s BIM future looks bright!

About the Author

John Fallow

Senior Principal - Power

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