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Interview by Gerhard Hope
24 March 2012
Can you explain a bit about Ramboll’s design philosophy as a consultant?
Our design philosophy is to treat each and every client and project as an individual. We follow our core engineering values throughout the group, and use our in-house global experts to provide advice where it cannot be sourced locally, such as the development and strengthening of our Middle East BIM team.
Is BIM a standard feature, or is it considered more of an add-on? In other words, is it offered as par for the course, or do clients have to specifically request a BIM design?
For us, it is not yet a standard feature across all disciplines. However, it has been driven more by the architects with the clients appreciating the end result, which will drive it more to a client-requested deliverable. From an engineering, structures and MEP perspective, we aim to offer BIM on every project, regardless of architectural drawing format, by the end of 2013. This itself is ambitious, as the MEP BIM software is not yet as advanced as the structural packages. However, we firmly believe that the software manufacturers will have to have a user-friendly software product in place two to three years in advance of the UK government’s directive to produce all projects to Level 2 BIM by 2016.
What specific software programs are used, and what training and development has been implemented?
In Ramboll, BIM has been used for many years in our oil and gas division, utilising Tekla. In the buildings division, we have been using Revit BIM software in structural design and documentation for the last six years, alongside Bentley’s Microstation, and previous to that CSC’s 3D+. McNeil’s Rhino is also widely used for advanced form finding and surface modelling. Our MEP sections have also been using BIM for the last three years. However, 2011/2012 has seen a massive step change for the functionality of Revit use on MEP projects. We feel that we, in the Middle East, are on a par with our UK colleagues.You cannot just buy the software and plug it into a standard PC; likewise the staff need to be trained properly, which pushes them away from drafting and closer to being technicians, which can only benefit the industry.We have invested heavily in both hardware and staff training – specifically for staff training, we took the decision to ensure that we in the Middle East adopted our European office BIM standards to ensure that skill sharing can be utilised in future. To enable this, we have seconded our top three Revit users from the UK offices to train our Middle East BIM team, which has produced fantastic results. Without this early investment, we would not be where we are today with regard to BIM integration.
What are some of the major benefits of BIM for both clients and consultants?
At the moment, the major benefit of BIM for both clients and consultants is that ‘C’ word, coordination. From the consultant’s point of view, internal coordination between mechanical and electrical has been a great benefit, ensuring that services can fit in risers, voids and corridors at a far earlier stage and being able to cut sections at will. Moving on from there, a structure’s coordination and realisation of early identification in builder’s work is a massive move forward, not to mention accessibility and upstand versus downstand for the MEP teams. From the client’s point of view, coordination leads to fewer TQs from site and an installation that can be carried forward from the drawings, benefiting the project greatly. Although BIM does require us to alter the approach to deliverables from the traditional delivery, as well as consume a little more time, due to the level of detail required, we are edging towards the industry goal of ‘getting it right first time’.
Do you think clients are fully aware of the benefits offered by BIM? Do you as consultants find you have to educate clients in this regard?
At the moment, some clients want the outputs to be at full BIM capability. However, when pressed to define what is actually required, what was described as a BIM solution is in fact a BM solution, the difference being the ‘I’ or information par. Even if the client is educated and truly requires BIM, the technology is still in its infancy; although when it comes to the fore, we will have accurate costing, programme and FM outputs, which will be a massive benefit to the construction industry. However, with the additional inputs comes additional time and skills, which may have an interesting impact on fee levels.
There is a perception that BIM adds to overall consultancy costs?
This will certainly be true when consultants start adding the information to the model, to elaborate construction program, costing and FM information. At the moment the additional costs are training, hardware and software costs. You cannot just buy the software and plug it into a standard PC; likewise the staff need to be trained properly.
What is the regulatory situation regarding BIM design in the Middle East?
There is no regulatory requirement for BIM at the moment in the Middle East. As I indicated earlier, the UK government is requiring all projects to be designed to Level 2 BIM by 2016, and with the user compatibility, particularly of the MEP system, this is not possible at the moment. Our current BIM projects, while fully detailed in 3D, are all delivered in traditional 2D drawings and sections cut from the model.
There is a lot of hype surrounding BIM as a ‘magic bullet’ solution – your thoughts?
BIM is a great tool. However, there needs to be a much better understanding of what BIM requires. You do not produce BIM by simply installing and using a software package; rather, a change in workflow is required. Excellent communication between all members of a design team is essential to enable the processes required to enable BIM delivery.
How does the Middle East rank as a region compared to areas like Europe where BIM is more advanced?
The Middle East is definitely behind in the uptake of BIM; this is evident by the number of other consultants we work with who are unable to collaborate in a common digital environment. This results in us delivering in what has been described as a ‘lonely BIM’ situation, where only a limited number of the benefits BIM can produce may be realised.
What are some of the latest trends and developments in BIM?
Looking forward, cloud computing will help increase the adoption of BIM. This will remove the requirement for high-end (and consequently expensive) workstations for every model author. Instead, resources may be pooled and drawn upon as required from a central location. We have also been pioneering the use of laser scanning to produce geometric models of existing structures for a number of years now, a process we call Laser Aided Modeling (LAM). We are continuing to discover more applications for this technology, and are pleased to see tools to incorporate point cloud data, generated by laser scanning, into mainstream modelling packages such as Revit.
Can you give us some examples of projects you were involved with that used BIM?
We are currently delivering a 250 000m2 mall building in Qatar, with Ramboll delivering all mechanical, electrical and structural elements in a BIM environment.