There are few industries where quality assurance guarantees are as important as with construction. Plans need to be fit for purpose and executed right the first time. Failure to meet exacting standards can literally be a matter of life and death, not to mention the impacts on costs and reputation. If mistakes are built into a project before they are discovered, it can be an expensive and complex mess to rectify.
There are a lot of reasons that mistakes are made, but the preventative and reactive solutions generally come back to clear planning and accurate access to detail. Maintaining the highest levels of quality assurance is one of several factors driving the application of digital technology within the construction and design process. Chief among these developments is BIM (Building Information Modelling).
Here, we will explain how the adoption of multiple technologies and processes that are now labelled ‘BIM’ will deliver ever-increasing improvements in quality assurance in all domains to which they are applied.
Centralising information is central to BIM
The core element of BIM is the centralisation of information. The level of centralisation is the broad factor differentiating different types of BIM. But, that centralisation, to whatever degree it is undertaken, improves quality assurance by making it easier to deploy clash detection measures and cross-check designs across specialisations.
The most tenuous applications of the term BIM are simply in reference to CAD software and object-oriented CADs — both technological tool-sets that have been around for decades. But, this still maintains the core theme of centralising information in so much as the digital CAD revolution of the 1970s and 80s itself spurred greater collaborative processes in design by centralising what were large paper files into easy to share digital files.
A more conventional application of the term BIM is summarised in the UK BIM Level 2 mandate. To meet BIM Level 2 requirements, all CAD software associated with the project must be capable of exporting to one of the common file formats (IFC or COBie) and a common data environment (CDE) must be created. This takes the collaborative sharing capabilities, and the quality assurance improvements delivered by traditional CAD one step further.
The true potential of BIM, and largely the reason for the creation of the term, however, is not even captured by BIM Level 2. The fundamental idea behind BIM was to create database-first, single-source-of-truth design software to enable truly seamless collaborative design processes. This technology and approach currently exists, enabled by software solutions provided by many of the AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) software vendors — including AutoDesk, Bentley and Allplan.
Although one can almost rule out some of the ways in which BIM gets used as simply marketing hype, there is almost always a grain of truth to the idea that all things BIM make it easier to share and view information across teams. By itself, this helps deliver greater quality assurance at every stage of a project. When taken to its full potential, the improvements become staggering.
Why single-source-of-truth BIM is a goal worth achieving
Single-source-of-truth BIM, what some would reference as ‘true’ BIM, and which sits in the ill-defined BIM Level 3 category, is where substantial quality assurance improvements are being made. The common data environment of BIM Level 2 is transformed into a common dataset that merges all of the files into one.
Using single-source-of-truth BIM, sharing files is no longer necessary because all members of the team are simply accessing the same data. However, all specialists are still enabled to work using their familiar tool-sets and diagrams, only being presented with the relevant information. But, any changes made are automatically propagated across the entire dataset because they are all editing the same dataset.
Using BIM, the chance of creating clashes when constructing many different layers of a building is drastically reduced. Every layer, from electrical systems to piping, is added to the same files so that universal access to every element is available to the whole team.
It’s easy to deploy clash detection software, and each element of the team works more closely with every other element. Specialists benefit from more direct input at every stage of development.
For example, architects can work closely with structural engineers as they develop their designs and run partial designs through physics simulators to make sure everything is fit for purpose. This allows for experimental designs to be modelled and pursued with improved quality. These types of processes are possible with traditional CADs, but require the updating of multiple files and, although beneficial in their own right, increase the probability that incorrect updates or files progress to the next stage of design.
This type of platform also makes it easy to create schedules that will guide teams through every stage of construction — even augmented by animations. Not only can you be sure that the data is correct, and modelled to exacting and robust standards, you have a simple and central way to communicate that information to the teams executing the tasks. Communication and collaboration remain clear and direct throughout construction, just as during design.
Taking BIM into the future: scan-to-BIM
As BIM develops, it’s important to know how things will change in the future. Scan-to-BIM is the use of laser scanning technology, together with point clouds, to inform BIM models. This can include three things:
- The creation of a BIM-like schematic of an existing structure
- The use of scan data to inform the basis on which a model is built
- The use of scan data to compare elements of production to planning
The third point is the primary one to consider in relation to quality assurance during construction and design. Using scan-to-BIM, construction sites can be scanned at different stages of development to compare outcomes with planning and find issues before they become larger problems. This helps to prevent costly and time-consuming mistakes and inaccuracies.
Rather than try to correct a problem, a solution can be found before it even occurs. The visualisation of projects and the collection and sharing of essential data can continue throughout the construction process, ensuring the continuation of quality assurance beyond the initial design of the project.
Laser scanners also enable the scanning of prefabricated materials prior to their shipping and installation to ensure that they meet standards. This is enabling the wider use of prefabricated parts, including methods such as 3D printing. Prefabricated designs allow for more affordable construction; off-site construction can help build new homes 30% quicker and with 25% less cost. It helps to improve quality, reduce waste and even improve workplace safety. Improved quality assurance makes it possible to carry out all of these better ways of working.
BIM delivers quality assurance: it is up to your team to take advantage of that
The use of BIM delivers quality assurance to any design and construction project. To benefit from the advantages offered by BIM, teams need to update their processes and make the most of the latest technologies. By accessing scan-to-BIM technology and processes, teams can go one step further and practically guarantee that outcomes match the quality assurances in design delivered by BIM.
Taking advantage of scan-to-BIM also comes down to building the right team. The newest generation of multistage, vector-based point cloud processing software is delivering registration speeds and automation that is accelerating the time it takes to deliver a survey by up to 80%. Like scan-to-BIM, and BIM in general, this advanced digital process is not yet a universal standard. By accessing the right survey teams, project managers, designers and construction teams can deploy scan-to-BIM solutions in a wider range of circumstances.
Using BIM to centralise data and allow for data management across one digital dataset makes quality assurance across design and construction more robust. Scan-to-BIM takes to quality assurances to the next level. When accessed the right way, this delivers a new standard for construction and design.