In her first Policy Address, delivered in October, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that the Government was proactively promoting the adoption of technology in the construction industry to improve productivity and address the challenges of high costs and labour shortages.
Furthermore, the Chief Executive gave details on what this means in practice. “We will [also] adopt Building Information Modelling technology in the design and construction of major government capital works projects that are scheduled to start in 2018, and promote the use of this technology in private construction projects,” she said.
Building Information Modelling (BIM) is clearly going to become increasingly important for Hong Kong’s construction industry, so it is worth understanding more about this technology and its benefits.
What is BIM?
BIM is defined as “an intelligent 3D model-based process that gives architecture, engineering, and construction professionals the insight and tools to more efficiently plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure.”
Designing a building involves taking an idea and translating this into a workable and aesthetic concept. From concept to detailed design requires architects, design engineers and specialist consultants to put in items like the groundworks, structural integrity, services, functionality and sustainability before the contractors can use the plans to build the actual building.
This is a process that has worked for centuries and one that has progressed from physical drawing boards to computers. The value of BIM is not just providing an e-platform to capture all this information, but as a means of improving workflow and information management.
Advantages of using BIM
Once the common 3D BIM platform has been developed, BIM software runs a check on clash detection, for example, pipework that runs where a window should be or door heights that are too low for passageways. BIM managers, whose job is to manage 2D and 3D documentation, now have all the necessary information to hand over to the contractors. Not only does the BIM manager have full view of the information but the entire design team can benefit from the transparency of project details, avoiding costly on-site rectifications later.
With the information properly documented, the task for the contractor becomes much easier. Project delays are minimised and communication is clear as the team members are all seeing the same master plans and any amendments as the project progresses.
On completion, the information is handed over to the asset operators in the ‘as-built’ form with information like materials, equipment performance specifications, installation dates and manufacturers’ data in the transferred documentation.
Apart from 3D modelling, BIM also allows what is called 4D (time) and 5D (cost) aspects to serve as a valuable project management tool. By incorporating the project schedule, the BIM manager and the project team can track actual progress of construction versus planned.
This is particularly useful not just for site activities but also for delivery of materials like concrete, steel and prefabricated structures. Using 5D modelling, project costing can be optimised by quantity surveyors and procurement specialists, especially if precise quantities of building materials are determined.
With an ever-expanding library of building standards, BIM opens up the choice for alternative materials provided the standards requirements are satisfied. This will become more important in the future as the cost of materials goes up with scarcity and the industry looks at the use of recycled construction materials.
Sustainability and BIM
From a sustainability perspective, the carbon and environmental footprint of the project is lowered due to work efficiency and more accurate estimation of materials. Green design in accordance with LEED and HK BEAM requirements can be incorporated in the early stages of the design. BIM building data can be uploaded into energy modelling software so that energy performance in lighting and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) can be predicted.
Similarly, ventilation can be modelled to encourage more passive strategies like cross ventilation flows to ease the burden on air conditioning. Building occupants or neighbourhood communities can also have a say on the design.
Furthermore, asset operators can manage the facilities according to what they were designed for to cover the lifetime of the building. Looking beyond 5D, sustainability and facilities management are regarded as 6D and 7D of the BIM offering, respectively.
BIM has its detractors, however. These are largely around the cost of software, the need for training and the complexity of the different types of software being used by different members of the project team which can lead to problems of compatibility. To address these concerns, it is likely that dedicated BIM services providers will be established where costs of software and skilled labour will be offset by economies of scale and lower overhead costs.
Construction companies will either develop in-house BIM teams or find external BIM service providers with whom they can outsource or form strategic partnerships.
Future of BIM in Hong Kong
In the future, with the latest advancement in digitisation, analogue data from existing buildings can be converted into digital format using laser scanning. This provides asset operators with ‘as-built’ data that they can interrogate to get the best out of the performance of their existing building portfolio. Virtual reality and augmented reality (VR/AR) will allow the building management team to visualise any changes in 3D and share this information with building owners, tenants, users and, crucially, investors.
In the long term, the convergence of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) with BIM will allow a geospatial perspective of a building or a cluster of buildings and digital planning of neighbourhoods, townships and even cities to take place incorporating utilities, transportation systems and natural resource features.
Although some organizations like the MTR, Airport Authority, the Housing Department and others have adopted BIM within their projects, the uptake in the construction industry is still low. The Construction Industry Council will be coming up with BIM standards later this year for the industry.
This is not just an important shift for the sector but also as a golden opportunity to take full advantage of the opportunities to transform Hong Kong’s built environment.