Turning the tide with Solibri

Editorial Type: Interview Date: 2021-04-14 Views: 2,820 Tags: CAD, BIM, Solibri, openBIM PDF Version:
Evolve Consultancy is using Solibri on the Thames Tideway Tunnel project to ensure the speedy and accurate sharing of model information with the three main contractors

One of the most interesting exploration projects in London is the Thames riverside, particularly east of Waterloo Bridge. In spite of the major housing developments that have sprouted up along the banks, you have the rededication of acres of old warehouses and tiny tidal creeks on the South Bank and the dilapidated slimy steps with names that resonate throughout the historical literature of London on the opposite shore.

Although they serve as fascinating reminders of the weight of history worn by London, they also point to the overburdened infrastructure that was created in the Victorian era to support such a vibrant and populous culture.

The growth of a global capital above ground swallowed up the creeks that originally drained the city of sewage, remedied by the Victorians, who created an underground sewerage network that has served London well for over a century and which is still in good condition. It can't, however, handle today's population, who spill millions of tonnes of sewage into the tidal section of the Thames every year.

Hence the Thames Tideway Tunnel project, a major scheme that will tackle the problem of sewage overflows and enable the London sewage network to meet current environmental standards. Rather than using hordes of workers with picks and shovels (which I imagine were the hottest tools for infrastructure development in the Victorian era) the project now has the advantage of the latest openBIM technology to support its working processes and uses Solibri to assure the quality of the project, with Evolve Consultancy acting as a technology and information advisors for the project.

Work was started on the project in 2015 and it is due to be completed in 2024. It chiefly consists of the design and construction of a large tunnel below the river. Three main works contractors, all joint ventures, are involved in the project, handling twenty four construction sites. The company charged with ensuring that all of the disparate parts of the project can work together is Tideway, and it was Tideway who brought in Evolve Consultancy, one of the UK's premier BIM and design technology consultancies, to help them understand the scope and benefits of the latest technology.

Nigel Davies, the Founding Director of Evolve Consultancy said "We've been working on the project for about seven years now and have been involved in the specification of its information requirements. We're now looking at the information we're going to receive from the main works contractors, and how to validate and check that it's what it is intended to be. It's a significant undertaking!"

Due to the number of contractors involved in the project, it was decided at the start not to dictate the software to be used, but instead to adopt an openBIM strategy in order to keep the data flow open and flexible.

As Nigel explains, "We specified the openBIM approach because it allowed delivery teams to pick and use the best software for their purposes, yet we are still able to validate information as it comes in from a number of different sources. As we don't know what software is going to be used, we have specified a complete series of open standards. We aim at consistent delivery through the openBIM solutions. Information can be delivered in their native file formats, in IFC and COBie, or even 3D PDFs for those people who don't have that level of technology to review the data.

"In the old CAD days, no matter what people were using, DWG would have been the default format for the interchange of information," he added, highlighting one of the major problems of using proprietary solutions on a lengthy project where newer technologies and formats might become standard. "We try to minimise such problems, taking it down to the lowest common denominator, and that happens to be openBIM. How the information gets to us isn't important - what is important is specifying the structure and the consistency of that data, and in this project, it is done by using openBIM solutions.

"IFC is the key carrier for that information, not just in terms of format, but in terms of the structure of the data. With that we can look at the asset information requirements further down the line, and we can always map things from a consistent delivery that we're receiving to a consistent output that the end user, Thames Water, will require."

Nigel explained why Evolve Consultancy opted for Solibri some years ago. "We started using Solibri for validating models. We had been advised to take a look at it and when we started using it, we experienced one of those lightbulb moments: 'why haven't we been using this before? This is exactly what we need!' Now it is invaluable to all the projects that we work with.

"Solibri has been one of the fundamentals that we've built on right at the start of the Tideway project. As we decided to go down the IFC route, we needed something that could handle the data from the thousands of models issued and validate what we receive, part of which involves defining and checking the information to the satisfaction of the Main Works Contractors. That means that we have to process about two hundred separate checks on every piece of information that comes in. Without automation that would be a manual process taking ten times longer than the time the project has still got left to run.

"For us, Solibri is the key. We bring models in and run through the validation process to make sure we've got the information we need and that it's used correctly. Without Solibri, I'd be here 24 hours a day for the next ten years trying to check anything!"

I must emphasise that Nigel isn't actually sitting there spending his time running through the thousands of models previously mentioned. Evolve Consultancy is engaged in fostering the use of Solibri throughout the project, encouraging a collaborative feedback loop with the main works contractors, and working together with them in a series of workshops to look at the IFC data coming in, checking the information and demonstrating how the quality is improved.

Nigel continued, "We're not there to validate the data and point fingers, we're there to validate and identify where, if the information was to be delivered to the client, it wouldn't be accepted - and more importantly, how to actually address that and make sure the information is acceptable when it comes in."

Emphasising the point further, he said. "Without this quality improvement we'd be looking for somebody to blame, and trying to work out who did what wrong. Now, however, we are focused on making sure everybody does the right thing instead."

Based on his experiences with the Thames Tideway Tunnel project, Nigel now recommends Solibri to anyone who is involved with information exchange on a project. "If you need to understand the value contained within a model, Solibri is invaluable. You can, of course, look at its geometry, or you can look at basic tools like clash detection, but these are capabilities that can be found with other software tools.

"The benefit of Solibri, I believe, is that it enables you to look at an information model in its entirety, and not just graphically. It allows you to question the information within the model, and to extract value from it. If you need to evaluate any part of a design or construction model and ascertain every element of it is accurate for the purpose it has been designed, then Solibri is something you should be looking at. I will go further. If you can logically describe the question you would like to ask, then Solibri will be able to deliver the answer for you."

Nigel Davies has 20 years' extensive experience within the AEC industry, and has unique insight and first-hand understanding of cutting-edge design and construction data production and exchange practices. Nigel has worked full-time for a number of world-renowned practices such as Buro Happold and Ramboll Whitbybird, and as a consultant has provided pivotal services to high-profile clients including Feilden Clegg Bradley, Kohn Pedersen Fox, Océ and Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners.