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Major countries have been adopting and implementing Building Information Modelling (BIM) in their public infrastructure projects. The UK can be regarded as the undisputed champion of the same with a mandate that all centrally-procured construction projects have to achieve BIM Level 2. Finland has been implementing BIM since 2002. Denmark has mandated all state clients to adopt BIM practices. The U.S too has policies in place mandating BIM adoption for certain categories of public-service projects.

So why are countries across the world adopting BIM? It’s simple -BIM facilitates better information exchange between all project stakeholders and enables collaboration between teams working on these construction projects. By allowing you to build virtually before you build physically, it eliminates information leaks and keeps design, operation, and maintenance costs in check by preventing wastage. And that should make it indispensable in Smart Cities.

BIM and smart cities

Smart city projects are complex. There are several teams involved, design, project, construction, and supervisory teams all need to work in tandem to achieve the best outcomes. Smart city design is based on bringing together smart buildings and structures and ecological sustainability. Smart Cities are built to make the most intelligent use of the resources at hand, to ensure quality, and to minimize resource consumption. Given this objective, Smart City construction too must ensure minimal wastage, reduce the environmental impact, and ensure optimal resource utilization. Advanced construction technologies such as BIM can help make Smart City projects successful by giving the involved stakeholders all the information they need at the right time.

BIM is not just a technology– it is a set of processes supported by technology, that ensure efficient asset allocation. This may be crucial to creating a Smart City. Here’s my view of how BIM could lie in the heart of Smart Cities

Greater collaboration

Smart cities are concerned about three broad areas – smart living, smart safety, and smart sustainability. To build such an infrastructure, there are many design touchpoints. Construction and project teams have to collaborate closely as well. There is the technology aspect to be considered too. The volume of asset information is heavy in any Smart City project and all these teams have to work together to ensure that the information exchange happens seamlessly. Also, the volume of information continues to increase as the project progresses.

By implementing BIM, all the project stakeholders can ensure that no information is lost during any exchange. With BIM forming a common platform for a shared understanding of the plan, these stakeholders can work collaboratively. The architects and engineers have access to informed design options, the construction team can reduce waste and ensure timely project completion etc.

Easier integration

A smart city project depends on integration to develop an intelligent integrated infrastructure for transport, communication, energy consumption, etc. -at the building, as well as on the city scale. In such projects, the buildings remain permanently integrated with these other bases. Putting this jigsaw together is a complex task to manage.

By employing BIM, invested teams enable a free flow of standardized information between systems and open up collaboration channels that facilitate these integrations easily. Again, there is no information loss, every party is aware of their KPI’s and anomalies can be identified easily.

Easier project visualization

Obviously, converting a design masterpiece into physical structures requires great precision. BIM’s highly detailed, precise, and constructible 3D structural models help in project visualization from conception to completion. BIM models can also easily test building constructability in advance and ensure that errors, rework and any wastage is minimized. BIM can also be used to determine the exact amount of material needed and thereby reduces wastage to negligible amounts. By reducing waste associated with construction, not only can the cost of construction and time be reduced but the environmental impact of the construction process can also be curtailed.

3D modeling

Of course, 3D modeling isn’t just for design. 3D modeling also allows us to level the model infrastructure that needs to be built underground. The construction team thus know how far to dig to not break an existing pipeline or a fiber-optic cable. Drainage, bridge, and highway designers can also leverage the same immersive model to optimize the Smart City infrastructure as everything here is geo-referenced. BIM also facilitates the study and visualization of darkness, lighting, skyline studies, line of sight, etc. to enable more data-driven decisions regarding Smart City construction. This will help improve the operational efficiencies of the Smart City when it’s up and running.

Data convergence

Connectivity and data lie at the heart of any successful Smart City project. Consider a future not too far away, where BIM meets data points such as location data from mobile phones or satellites. Think how this could impact ongoing maintenance, issue reporting and fixing, and repair operations by making them more proactive. BIM could essentially provide a Smart City nervous system. The Smart City could leverage this to communicate information, improve environmental performance and the utility and transport network, and increase sustainability both during construction and building maintenance.

I saw a quote from Lean Doody, Smart City Lead, Arup, on the role of BIM in the Smart City context. In this statement he says, “BIM is transforming, not only the way buildings are designed and constructed, but also how they are managed and developed in the light of changing customer needs. In so doing, BIM is changing relationships and business models across the whole value chain. Meanwhile, at a city level, the technology-enabled city is an untapped source of sustainable growth and represents a powerful approach for tackling unprecedented environmental and economic challenges. By unlocking technology, infrastructure, and public data, cities can open up new value chains, spawning innovative applications and information products that make sustainable modes of city living and working possible. The data delivered through BIM at a building level will be an important enabler of these new value chains.”

I could not agree more.

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