Despite being relatively advanced with regard to use of Building Information Modelling on building projects, the construction sector in Australia is not yet realising the full benefits of BIM within the infrastructure space, a leading voice on technology within the sector says.
Rob Malkin, director of Architecture, Infrastructure, Engineering and Construction for Asia Pacific at Autodesk said that while Australia is doing well at realising the benefits of BIM on building projects, the sector needs leadership from federal and state governments to drive greater use of the technology on road and other civil infrastructure developments.
“Australia is a relatively mature market in the use of BIM technology in the building discipline; however, we’re immature in some respects in the BIM for Infrastructure space,” Malkin said.
“We have some of the best engineers in the world in Australia and they are all facing a period of great change in project funding models, human resource skilling and technology. They have a desire to deliver BIM on major projects, but they face obstacles in the delivery mechanism back to stakeholders.
“Australia needs clear communications and road maps in delivering BIM from both Federal and State governments. The use of new technology can open up new funding models by the lowering of risk that BIM brings to projects, which also drives efficiencies, thus delivering better value to the community.”
Malkin’s comments come amid ongoing debate about how to deliver major government projects more efficiently and at less cost.
In its final report on public infrastructure last year, the Productivity Commission recommended government clients provide their concept designs for large and complex projects using BIM and require tender designs to also be submitted using the technology. This came along with an acknowledgement that the whole of life cost savings associated with use of BIM are not as great for the construction of flat structures such as road and rail compared with traditional building projects.
Malkin says the benefits of BIM across the lifecycle of building and maintaining highways and roads cannot be understated, and that having information stored in a single model ensures decisions about the project are adequately informed and made in context.
At the start of the project, for example, the ability to get a good handle on the overall project cost can help reduce project risk and assist with procurement models and capital funding models.
During construction, having immediate access to all the models and digital content relevant to each contractor and being able to easily understand where the project sits in terms of timeline relative to the proposed timeline at any given point assists with logistics, scheduling and site efficiency.
Perhaps most significantly, however, having easily accessible data about the project and how it has been built is invaluable when making decisions about the asset long after it is built, with the ability to tie schedules back to the intelligence in the (BIM) model being useful in terms of eliminating inefficiencies in road maintenance and road sign maintenance, for example.
Asked about whether there are any significant differences in terms of considerations regarding BIM from a cost perspective on a road project compared with a conventional building project (say, an office), Malkin said a road is essentially ‘a building placed on its side’ and cautioned against drawing comparisons between the two types of project as the capital investment and logistics are different at either end of the spectrum. He said, however, that both roads and buildings need to be managed for indefinite periods of time after construction and that the critical advantages of BIM from a cost perspective across the life cycle of the project were broadly similar in nature for both types of project.
Asked whether or not BIM should be mandated on government projects, finally - as will be the case with federal building projects in the United Kingdom in 2016 and most likely on UK road and highway projects over the medium term - Malkin says the arguments for doing so are sound.
“As Australia looks to invest $70 billion in its infrastructure over the next seven years, the case for mandating is clear with all of the efficiencies that are associated with BIM,” he said.