Digital Britain built by Geordiest

Construction is undergoing a digital revolution – North East England leads the way

Building projects are ever more complicated, with developments in heating, safety, air conditioning, materials and IT. So there is potential for high levels of error in designing and workflow of a project. In fact the uncertainty around the final cost is so high that quantity surveyors often produce a 20% margin of error – unacceptable in any other field.

All this is changing with the introduction of Business Information Modelling. BIM is an intelligent 3D model-based process that gives architecture, engineering, and construction professionals the insight and tools to more efficiently plan, design, construct, and manage buildings or infrastructure.

Such has been the success of Northumbria University’s BIM Academy and the Dynamo Build cluster that the two have collaborated to develop a vision for an International Centre for Connected Construction, IC3, a £40m centre of excellence to capitalise on regional strength and links to projects from Brazil to Hong Kong, Australia to Portugal.

BIM is a way of working, rather than a physical object, a process for delivering and operating built assets using well-structured digital information that all the necessary parties access.

It requires all parties to collaborate and share information in a mutually accessible online space – a common data environment or ‘information model’. In this way, the risk of mistakes or discrepancies is reduced, productivity increased and costs minimised.

The potential gains from working in a BIM environment are so great that the UK government backed BIM from an early stage, a move which greatly accelerated its development and take up. After all, governments are big spenders on construction and infrastructure which accounts for 12% of the UK economy (but also every other economy – therein providing us with a fantastic export opportunity).

The UK government set up a BIM Task Group and, from 2016, required all procurement for government construction projects to use BIM. The Budget that year earmarked £15m to be invested over three years to maintain the UK’s global leadership in the use of this technology.

Mark Bew, BIM Task Group chairman, said: “From a standing start, the UK is now leading the global race towards digitalisation of the construction industry and we will not let it slip. The hard work starts here.’’

He added: “BIM will become a required UK standard across the entire built environment and our message to all stakeholders is: join us and grasp this incredible opportunity to reduce cost and waste while driving productivity and competitiveness.’’

If the UK is leading the global BIM race, then North East England is setting the pace. Much of the pioneering development was done in the region. Dynamo Build cluster group has some 60 member firms and counting. Many are world leaders in the technology such as RIBA’s NBS Division, Viewpoint, Space Group, Ryder Architects, KyKloud and Luminous. It is estimated that they employ more than 4,500 people working in this domain.

This cluster is underpinned by the support of the region’s five universities. Northumbria University alone has 1,500 students in its architecture and built environment department alongside BIM Academy; Newcastle University has similar numbers in architecture and surveying. It is leading the world in its smart cities work at the National Innovation Centre for Data and Newcastle City Futures programme. Teesside has a BIM capability and is collaborating with TV architect George Clark on `Ministry of Building Innovation and Education’.

Anne Macdonald head of engagement for Dynamo Build said: “BIM in the North East really is a hidden gem, this is a hotspot of knowledge, expertise and enterprise. We have most of the movers and shakers, a hand in many of the leading international projects and world-leading software innovations.’’

All this adds to the compelling case for Newcastle to be the home for a new International Centre for Connected Construction, IC3.

Case study – Atlas Cloud

Newcastle based Atlas Cloud has enabled construction projects to embrace digital technology for more than seven years. It has seen a significant increase in demand for centralised BIM applications to improve workflow in the cloud. Atlas Cloud is working on the largest Infrastructure project in Europe, HS2, with software partners from around the globe including Oracle (Primavera P6), Ares (PrismG2) and Nomitech (CostOS) delivering BIM Level 2 project controls solutions from its “Virtual Project Office” supercomputing platform.

Pete Watson, chief executive at Atlas Cloud, says: “Our ability to deliver and integrate complex applications securely in the cloud, enables our customers to get on with the job. So many projects are grossly inefficient due to outdated processes. With our platform, whether you are an architect, engineer or contractor you can just consume IT and collaborate from anywhere that the project demands. Those that do not embrace new technology are already slowly dying out.”