While much attention has been given to the cost and efficiency advantages associated with BIM usage during the design and build stage of a project, according to industry experts the technology’s biggest benefit are accrued during the operation phase – particularly when it comes to more complex infrastructure assets.

Huw Roberts

Huw Roberts

“The industry as a whole has focused on the benefits during design and product delivery, where we can design more consistently and better engineering capability and you have more consistent documentation and an audit trail,” said Huw Roberts, VP, Platform Advantage at Bentley Systems. “The real payoff, however, is in operations.”

Brian Middleton, senior industry solutions director at Bentley, points out that this is particularly the case for large-scale infrastructure projects, given that they involve a far greater degree of complexity than other types of built environments.

“BIM can have a greater impact on complex infrastructure projects, where you have all the things that you have in a built environment in terms of mechanical and electrical, but you have significant increase in other elements that must be addressed, as well as the third party impacts of shared infrastructure,” he said.

“Everybody knows when the trains stop and when a bridge collapses – not so many people are aware of when an air-conditioning in a hospital is broken.”

Brian Middleton

Brian Middleton

This is particularly the case given the protracted lifecycle of costly, large-scale infrastructure undertakings.

“With rail, roads or any infrastructure projects with a longer life cycle, the return will be greater, simply because the cost expenditure over a greater lifetime of operation increases,” said Middleton.

“The take one example, the life cycle of rail infrastructure can be as long as 100 years. Only 10 to 20 per cent of the cost lies in designing and building the asset, the remaining 80 to 90 per cent lies in the upcoming century of operating and maintaining it.”

According to Middleton, it’s for this reason that far greater focus should be placed on the pivotal role that BIM can play during the operation and maintenance phase of infrastructure projects.

Roberts points out that producing an accurate, information-embedded virtual model of an infrastructure asset can in turn generate a wealth of potential applications and usages during the operation and maintenance phase of a project.

“If you have a digital asset that matches up to your physical asset – not just a virtual representation of the thing, but also connected to all the detailed information about its parts, it gives you a place to manage your maintenance and renovations, and even make adjustments to the system for commissioning and re-commissioning as the seasons change,” he said.

“If it’s a rail system, for example you can use BIM to adjust its operation to suit your specific objectives – perhaps ensuring that the right number of trains are at the right number of stations, devising methods for managing maintenance and work on the asset so that its less disruptive, and ensuring that the infrastructure asset employs less energy and generate lower levels of pollution.”

The UK government already has ambitions to reduce costs and spending associated with infrastructure operation by means of BIM, establishing the objective of a 33 per cent reduction in total expenditure (TOTEX) – encompassing both CAPEX and OPEX – for infrastructure projects.