Cranes rotate, cement mixers churn, and welding beams sizzle as they split the early morning haze. Large building sites may look like perfectly choreographed workplaces. But the results often tell another story. Technicians screw sprinkler systems into ceilings without considering that underlying ventilation ducts have yet to be installed. Power cables are inserted in walls without leaving openings for outlets. And flooring is poured without leaving sufficient clearance for doors to swing. While the list goes on and on, the results are always the same: delays, added costs, reduced quality, and irritated customers. What’s the underlying problem? An instant replay would reveal it all: lack of a comprehensive model that promotes coordination between key players.
From Big Data to Smart Data
Born in the Digital World
Buildings often cost more and take longer to build than expected. The reason: contractors fail to coordinate their assignments and errors are recognized at a late stage. But a solution is now available. It’s called Building Information Modeling – a technology that optimizes planning and construction through transparent data flows. Siemens Building Technologies’ new headquarters in Zug, Switzerland is a case in point.
Born in a BIM
Old-fashioned buildings are born in two-dimensional blueprints that are static and tend to trigger misunderstandings. Such models are incapable of depicting processes over time. In an effort to remedy this problem, the construction industry is turning to the virtual world, and more specifically to Building Information Modeling (BIM), a digital method for the planning, construction, and operation of buildings. The heart of BIM is a virtual model that contains all of a project’s data, in other words a digital twin of a planned building.
A case in point is Siemens Building Technologies’ (BT) new planned headquarters in Zug, Switzerland, which will be built over the next two years. “Three-D building models are not new,” explains BIM expert Petra Michaely from Siemens Real Estate (SRE). “The premiere class of BIM, however, involves linking a building’s 3D model to data such as costs, deadlines, and technical specifications – data that is normally scattered among the many parties involved in a project. And that is precisely what we are doing in Zug.” With this approach, BIM means much more than a 3D representation of a building – it can encompass new dimensions, including schedules, costs, and lifecycle information.
BIM means not just allowing a structure to be represented in the virtual world with all its myriad details, but ensuring that all phases of its life are linked to the necessary information. “All the data for the planning, construction, and operation of such a building comes from a single source: the BIM model and the data stored in it,” says Michaely. In the BIM concept for Zug, for example, the 3D model can be linked to databases that contain different building components. The program determines how much material is required for the structure, and what associated costs can be expected.
A Blueprint for Avoiding Errors
“Until now, the individual segments in the lifecycle of a building have been viewed separately,” says Arnim Marx, a manager at STRABAG, the company handling the construction of Siemens’ Building Technologies headquarters in Zug. "In other words, the planning, construction, operation, and renovation or dismantling,” he says. “But BIM enables us to achieve data consistency because all the parties involved in a project can access the same model to retrieve up-to-date and identical data.”
In Zug, a so-called “big room” has been built in a separate building to ensure transparent and collaborative cooperation. There the digital twin of the building complex can be viewed on floor-to-ceiling touch screens. Even during the planning phase, specialists from all fields congregate in this room to feed data into the model or to work together on changes. “Here, everyone involved runs through all the stages of construction long before the foundation is actually laid in October,” explains Christoph Leitgeb, the overall project manager at SRE. “This ensures that overall planning is coordinated from the very beginning, thus avoiding expensive planning errors.”
Decades of Value
In recent years, BIM has slowly been finding its way into the construction industry. But a planning room as sophisticated as the one in Zug is by no means a given. In Zug, Siemens is taking things one step further than is normal with BIM projects today. For instance, its BIM encompass the entire lifetime of the building. This makes it possible to determine how the building will behave later on during operation – and makes it possible, for example, to optimize its future energy demand during the planning stage.
This approach greatly facilitates future building management activities, because the BIM model from Siemens stores all the building technology components along with all associated technical data for systems as varied as pumps, lamps, and fire protection dampers. This is ideal for maintenance. In the future, technicians will be able to access the building’s BIM to find all the data and documentation about its devices and subsequently feed their maintenance results into the system so that the information can be viewed by others. “All of this currently has to be laboriously logged in files,” says Wolfgang Hass, a BIM expert at BT.
BIM is also helpful when modifications have to be made to a building at some point in the future, such as combining rooms to form an open-plan office. In the future, such modifications can be entered into the system. The program will then not only calculate the required quantities of building materials, but also the extent to which associated ventilation and heating systems have to be adjusted. In addition, the program updates all the values critical for maintenance and space management – data that constitutes the core of property management.
With the current project in Zug and another major construction project – the Siemens Campus Erlangen – Siemens is demonstrating BIM’s potential. These projects demonstrate that BIM’s value does not have to end when the keys to a building are handed over, but rather that it can be a money-saving tool throughout a building’s entire lifecycle. “It pays to invest more time and care into the planning stage,” says Hass. “When this is done, we benefit from the data through optimized planning, construction, and operation across the entire lifecycle. And we can ultimately offer the client a very special service: perfect building control for decades.”