Seamus McFerran tells CCE how Gilbert-Ash has embraced Building Information Modelling (BIM) and how it helps deliver efficiencies and ultimately better buildings

As a company, Gilbert-Ash were quick to recognise that BIM has the power to deliver transformative and wide-ranging capabilities at all levels of the construction process. But we had a reminder of just how useful and adaptable the technology can be recently when we utilised it to plan and model social distancing on several of our sites.

Within a very short space of time we had planned one-way systems, exclusion zones and modelled maximum occupancy levels which delivered a safer working environment for our people and supply chain partners. It was extremely reassuring to be able to ‘walk through’ the building virtually with senior managers to test our plans before instigating a safe return to work.

Our journey with BIM began over ten years ago and since then we have been investing time and training budgets into effectively developing and honing our skills. In addition, we have invested in software packages and hardware to keep us at the forefront of the industry, such as a digital imaging scanner, which captures point cloud data and allows us to feed real-time date back into the design process.

During the past decade, we have witnessed the industry start to really embrace the technology. We have worked on projects, such as the Mayhew Theatre at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London, Londonand Cambridge Mosque, Europe’s first eco-mosque, where due to their complex mathematically generated geometry, their successful completion was dependent on the use of BIM technology across the design, manufacturing and onsite activities.

We have several projects, including the new Premier Inn at Ufford Street, London where, as part of internal staff development, we run the project to BIM Level 2 standards, even though this was not a requirement of the contracts.

3D BIM is the task of creating graphical and non-graphical information and sharing it in a Common Data Environment (CDE). Layers of additional information are added as the detail is enriched as the project progresses.

With 3D modelling delivery teams can quickly scrutinise the plans, bringing them to life and working through potential spatial or sequencing problems. Not only does this help to identify issues but more importantly it assists in being able to proactively find agreed solutions, so helping to mitigate possible delays

Gilbert-Ash like to be involved as early as possible and are fortunate that around 40 per cent of our contracts are two-stage or negotiated. This allows us to shape and influence the design and really bring our experience of digital construction to the table.

At Gilbert-Ash we promote an ‘As One’ ethos which sees us working closely with our clients, the other disciplines and our supply chain partners. BIM really facilitates a partnership approach as all the information is shared in real time.

It creates platforms for all the disciplines to come together and negotiate and solve potential clashes and problems From a health and safety perspective, construction teams are finding BIM is very beneficial. For example, on one of our recent projects we had a concrete beam framing the top of a triple height void which would have required considerable temporary works. Through the use of 3D modelling to plan the sequencing, this problem was identified early in the process and the beam changed to steel which removed the need for temporary works and mitigated a potential health and safety risk.

4D BIM increases the layers of information and helps in a number of areas such as monitoring the progress of the project and programme alignment. This brings planners closer to the project teams and allows them, from a

very early stage, to influence and shape the designs to improve the methodology, sequencing and buildability.

It aids with sequencing the work and with the point cloud data allows for off-site construction which delivers efficiencies across time and budget.

Our work on the Citizen M Hotel in Victoria, London, will see us construct a ten-storey, 226-bedroom hotel fully fabricated off-site. This comprises double module bedroom units which form the entire structure of the building, these will be transported to the site, fully fitted-out and erected in a ten-week period. The accuracy of the modelling allows for this level of off-site construction and again delivers measurable efficiencies.

With an industry shortage of skilled labour, any developments which can increase off-site construction capabilities will enable contractors to complete complex jobs on time and within budget.

In the last few years, we have developed 4D BIM capabilities within the business, which links the model to the programme timeline and enables us to demonstrate to clients, supply chains and stakeholders how the project is going to progress in real time.

Even at the tendering stage when companies are still in competition, this is a very visual tool to allow teams to demonstrate and give confidence to potential clients how they are proposing to construct and sequence the construction of the building.

Like a lot of companies in the construction industry we have senior team members who have embraced digital construction later in their careers and really see the benefits of it and we have younger people coming to us with a lot of knowledge of the technology who have been able to mentor upwards.

It is a great combination of skills and experience which promotes a free flow of ideas and knowledge and enables Gilbert-Ash to work as one on traditional projects and more niche projects which require real innovation to succeed.

As a company, there is a lot of innovation, we are looking ahead with expanding that knowledge and developing the capabilities of 5D and 6D within BIM Level 3.

5D BIM delivers detailed cost information on everything from capital costs including purchasing and installation of components through to quantities of materials. With this information in 3D form it is easier to track the spend on the project.

6D BIM looks at the whole-life costs of a building and is geared towards facilities management. Enabling decisions to be made at the design stage will help deliver savings.

The construction industry is changing at a rapid pace and BIM has played a central role in this. Buildings are being constructed now which would not have been possible before the onset of BIM.

I believe we are still only scratching the surface of what digital construction methods can deliver and, for me, it’s an exciting time to be in the industry.

Seamus McFerran is Design Manager at Gilbert-Ash, an award-winning UK construction and fit out contractor with 180+ employees at offices in London and Belfast. The company works throughout the UK and has undertaken numerous projects worldwide in a total of 41 countries from Poland and Bahrain to China, Japan and Australia on behalf of the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
For more information, please see: www.gilbert-ash.com