With BIM Mandate Here, UK Turns to Sensors

  • As of April 4, the UK now says builders must meet BIM Level 2 compliance on government contracts;
  • Now on deck, BIM Level 3 will use smart city sensor networks to glean ‘big data’ from infrastructure;
  • Truly ‘smart cities’ now move closer to reality in London, and elsewhere, where BIM is emphasized.

Bechtel Corp. was recently certified by the British Standards Institution to deliver construction projects using Building Information Modeling at BIM Level 2. We stand to get great benefit from delivering such projects, but now also have one eye on BIM Level 3, which will bring this industry even closer to achieving “smart cities” in the UK.

The UK’s BIM Task Group defines BIM as “the creation, collation and exchange of shared 3D models and intelligent, structured data.” Level 2 focuses on taking these models and data from disparate areas of a construction project — such as its architecture, structure, and associated services — and channels them into one holistic storage environment. It establishes data-centric work processes to ensure the infrastructure is built, from the outset, to enable the optimum performance.

  • Last May, BW previewed the UK’s BIM-aided “collaborative frontier.” Read our story here; 
  • This May, BW launched its new CITIES Channel on YouTube. Visit our online library here.

Now the UK Government is putting together its vision for BIM Level 3. One key element will be a requirement for smart city sensor networks to be integrated into infrastructure. This is an important development for our industry as the new infrastructure’s performance will be monitored over time, enabling customers to measure the extent to which it is delivering against the design expectations.

Some infrastructure — like London’s $21-billion Crossrail network, now 75% complete — is designed to last more than a century. This raises the question of the time period contractors will be held accountable for the project’s performance under BIM Level 3. Given that new infrastructure, such as railways, can take a number of years to reach peak performance, I estimate that the Government will be looking to anything from a two- to 10-year monitoring period for contractors. The UK Government is already testing this arrangement of retaining contractors during the operational phase on a number of projects with an approach known as “Government Soft Landings.”


Sensors aid preventative maintenance, detectINg signs of trouble before they become full-blown problems


Sensors can help with preventative maintenance, as they detect signs of trouble before they develop into full-blown problems. Sensors are already widely used in the construction phase. At Bechtel, one example of how we use sensors is embedding them in wet concrete, where they send real-time data about the rate at which it is curing to a bespoke app. The data allows us to optimize the curing time and take corrective action if we detect sub-optimal conditions. (See below)

BIM Level 3 sensors will collect real-time data about infrastructure during the operational phase. This data will be combined with existing monitoring systems such as SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) and BMS (Building Management Systems), and analyzed to help optimize the performance of the infrastructure. One simple example would be to monitor passenger movements within a railway station and dynamically adjust the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to always maintain optimal conditions. Sensors are also now being tested to enable the self-regulation of distance between trains, thereby removing the need for costly and high maintenance signaling systems. This enables a safe increase in the frequency of trains and boosts capacity, which is particularly critical in so many cities  — like London  —  with fast-growing populations.

Based in London, the author is virtual project delivery operations lead for Bechtel’s Infrastructure business line. This article first appeared on Bechtel’s Build 100 blog.