How Evolve Consultancy defined the successful use of IFC for a major infrastructure project, leading to Tideway being awarded the Construction Computing Awards BIM Project of the Year 2019.

Evolve Consultancy was established in 2005 to provide support and development services to the construction industry. Since then they have grown to become one of the UK’s premier BIM and design technology consultancies with clients all around the globe, they have established themselves as experts in their field. The staff at Evolve have the practical experience that is required for design, development and implementation of technology enabled data production processes, paving the way for new ways of working. That is certainly a skill that has provided huge benefits to the Tideway project already and has been a key part in Tideway establishing their goals as an intelligent client to collect the data for handover and operations and ensure the soft landings period is achieved in a smooth and efficient manner.

The Tideway Project

Despite being a marvel of Victorian engineering, the London sewerage system is not no longer fit for purpose. Currently it spills millions of tonnes of sewage into the tidal section of the Thames every year, which is an unsustainable situation.

The Thames Tideway Tunnel project will tackle this problem of overflows and expand the capacity of the London sewage network to meet European environmental standards. The scale of the Tideway Tunnel should ensure capacity for the city for at least the next 120 years.

The essence of the design is to divert sewage overflows, which currently empty into the Thames, into a large tunnel 65m below the river. Starting in West London, the route for the main tunnel follows the Thames to Limehouse, where it then continues north-east to Abbey Mills Pumping Station near Stratford. There it will be connected to the Lee Tunnel, which will transfer the sewage to Beckton Sewage Treatment Works. There are 24 construction sites along the length of the tunnel, divided into 3 zones: West, Central and East. Covering these zones are three Main Works Contractors, all of which are Joint Ventures.

The Strategy

From the start Tideway had decided on an Open BIM strategy. This of course means everyone working on the project can use their desired software solutions that they are familiar with and the tools that are best for the job at hand.

This removed a vast swathe of requirements and expenditure for software procurement, licensing or training, and instead focussed on the delivering of Open BIM data. This also allowed for the tender process to cast as wider net of bidders as possible, be it designers, contractors or fabricators. As no prescriptive requirements were placed on potential bidders (beyond delivering the correct information) no one would be disqualified at the outset.

Another major advantage of the Open BIM approach is the flexibility in feeding the outputs into the management systems that Thames Water implement, when they take control three years after the handover of the works from the contractor. That decision also removed any potential risk of using native formats and not being able to open the models in the future as the authoring tools develop and change and support for old file formats may not be available.

The original Employers Information Requirements were responded to by the three Main Works Contractors in their BIM Execution plans. These were then developed into a strategy that delivered validated, structured data that could be translated into Thames management systems when required. The sheer scale of sub-contractors means that these plans have been workshopped and revised numerous times to aggregate demands and abilities into producing all the required data.

To utilise the Open BIM format of IFC, Tideway worked with the Main Works Contractors to agree adaptions to the schema, which would be internally validated prior to sharing information, ensuring that this major infrastructure project could be delivered, and mapped successfully, to the IFC requirements.

Tideway developed with Evolve Consultancy custom Solibri rulesets to allow for simple and efficient validation of the Main Works Contractors IFCs. Through testing and workshops this approach allowed for the vast majority of modelled elements to be classified and populated with data, without defaulting to generic classifications.

The client in this case has descried exactly how and where they wanted data, and that they would be validating the data once the models are received to check for compliance, of course there is also an expectation that the models are checked and data validated before models are submitted too. They included a model validation checklist to ease that process and this formed the basis of the checks executed with Solibri Office.

Excerpts from Model Validation Review Checklist

Once the desired checks and their outputs have been defined then the rules are configured in Solibri to check the desired outcomes, automating a process that to be checked manually is laborious – in this case with the volume of data to be processed, unworkable – and open to error. Inconsistencies can be visualised, and errors corrected prior to handover.

Rulesets in Solibri Office Configured to validate model data

COBie in Infrastructure

The decision to use an Open BIM strategy could be described as a brave one, as discussed already it is often quoted that IFC won’t work on infrastructure projects mainly due to the spatial requirements for zones, spaces etc that are far easier to define in a building.

Tideway and Evolve formulated a way of providing exactly the information that the client required to manage the asset in the future using COBie as that vehicle, it was the desired solution as the software in use for facilities management had the ability to import COBie and therefore offered the simplest solution. To ease this process for the project stakeholders, Tideway were extremely supportive of their requirements, giving examples, and guidance documentation. When questioned whether IFC would work, they produced worked examples that proved it did.

These brief excerpts from the comprehensive documents provided the step by step guides required to show how model components should be attributed, so that the IFC and COBie outputs would be correct and allow any future maintenance teams to find the components required for service or replacement in exactly the right location.

IFC and Model Checks and Validation

As we’ve already alluded to there were a comprehensive set of Solibri rules set up to automate and speed up the checking process. These checks were conveyed to the design team so they could quality assure their own authored models and outputs. This of course means that Tideway and Evolve should be then just doing a sense check on the models they receive and of course ensuring compliance to the EIR.

In Summary

The combination of an intelligent client (Tideway) that knew what they wanted, with the help of a world class partner (Evolve Consultancy) were prescriptive about exactly how they were going to get the delivery they required. A decision to use what some may say was brave to adopt an Open BIM approach meant Tideway allowed their design team, contractors and sub-contractors to use the tools they chose and already knew well and future proofed the delivery of models and information.

Solibri’s unique model checking solution is the vehicle that brings that guarantee of quality data to the process, checking and validating each model and its data to the requirements of Tideway. Its logical rulesets are flexible enough to be configured to allow Tideway and Evolve to get exactly the asset information they require.

As BIM and digital processes move forward much of the construction industry is still figuring out how they provide checks and approvals that although time consuming and open to errors were simpler in a 2D world. Tideway and Evolve are leading the drive to provide quality projects with quality data.

After all what good is data if it hasn’t been validated?

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