Building the future: Bold implementation generates infra and construction sector innovations

Much is being written, in various contexts, about the experimental culture. This is a favorite term used by the current government. The idea is to achieve rapid growth, innovative solutions and improved services, while promoting self-reliance and entrepreneurship, and strengthening regional and local decision-making and cooperation based on practices developed at grass-roots level.

In the development of the construction sector, design and building and traffic infrastructure development, piloting has become a common term when innovating in project activities. New technologies should be tested in genuine project environments, so that their potential and true benefits can be revealed in a joint construction project between several organisations. An extensive piloting project can include several trials and even experiments of alternative ideas, in which the aim is to develop a good and adaptable operational plan for the project. A topical theme in piloting is the use of information management and inframodels in infrastructure construction.

Information is part of the final result

A project based on building information model involves the same actors as in other construction projects. Service contractors (designers, consultants, contractors, fitters) perform project tasks and generate, share and release the related information for each other, project managers and the client – structured as agreed. The client is provided with an actual building or route and the information required for its maintenance and use across its lifecycle.

Building information technology is applied as part of process renewal during a project. This enables the testing of interoperability between tools, in terms of communicating information, as well as process integration and collaboration between actors. Each actor’s mindset is oriented towards generating efficiency and information for project decision-makers and other parties. Such information should be defined, suitably precise and localised for the geometrical plan (building information model). It should also be provided at the right time and in a format compatible with the tools of the various actors within the collaborative process.

Pilot projects involve the development of information modelling requirements, in which tried and tested practices are defined as minimum requirements and instructions. Developmental implementation is an efficient way of operating. In pilot projects, the socio-technological change can be realised in a way that it strengthens and modernizes the sector and service providers’ business operations. The built environment, and its service-capabilities, are experienced positively by end-users.

The client is the key player in projects using building information models

The client acquires the overall assignment and key experts, and defines the technology to be used. In this regard, the client is the key actor in projects using infraBIM models. The general infraBIM model requirements, YIV2015, define the relationship between the client and the service contractor within a set of instructions: A building information modelling (BIM) project works as follows: “The client must be able to assess how BIM can generate the greatest possible added value for the project and how modelling will promote the achievement of the project’s overall objectives. On the other hand, the project’s service contractors must be able to adapt their business processes to the client’s objectives”

Example: BIM for the City Rail Loop project

Collaboration between the client and service contractor is particularly important in pilot projects, where the goal is to develop the best operating models for the use of technology. The design of a railway line and buildings for the City Rail Loop project is a recent example of an extensive pilot environment for BIM development.

The clients in the City Rail Loop project – the Finnish Transport Agency and the City of Helsinki – did not lack the courage needed to require that all planners and designers involved must engage in BIM from the very beginning. The clients had to enable a smooth collaboration process between several dozen representatives of the design sector. Even defining the correct initial data was acknowledged as challenging, as was the information management required to present an overall picture of progress with the project; this was because two sectors, using different types of BIM software, were working on the same project. This succeeded via an innovation process, which received sufficient support through means such as a BIM management group able to decide quickly on integration challenges as they emerged. Interoperability, enabling information exchange, was achieved through definitions created by a BIM coordinator development group – the scope and usefulness of modelling turned out to be better than anyone had originally dared hope.

The final result was the first international project in which representatives of the infra and construction sectors engaged in modelling using their own planning tools, but using information exchange standards and mutually agreed guidelines. VTT has had a report drawn up on the BIM guidelines issued by the client for the City Rail Loop project, which explains the practices developed and the lessons learned.

Open-minded and bold people able and willing to engage in development are needed in research, development and implementation. The ability of clients and their representatives (design leadership and project managers) to adopt new know-how has a direct bearing on how well extensive infra-modelling based on a PRE-research programme ultimately succeeds.

The BIM development pilot for the City Rail Loop project shows that innovation occurs at project level if enthusiasts for new technology are given the space to develop effective practices. To create value, the technology must be adapted to the processes in question and generate practical methods.

Every major construction and infrastructure development project is a possible platform for a pilot. Collaborative process models can be changed in large-scale projects, if innovations form part of the project goals. Piloting is monitored and used to evaluate the stage of development of new practices. A good pilot project aims to achieve longer-term goals than a single experiment: at best, it forms part of a sector’s development roadmap.

Tarja Mäkeläinen VTT

Tarja Mäkeläinen
Senior Scientist

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