BIM or Building Information Modelling is a term that you may have come across, it’s a methodology that is starting to revolutionise the engineering and construction management industries.  BIM is an integrated process for developing, coordinating and managing information on a construction project across the entire project lifecycle; cradle to grave.

One of the main outputs of this process is the Building Information Model itself, a digital description of every aspect of the Facility at the point of construction completion. This model pulls together all information assembled collaboratively and is updated at key stages of a project and during the subsequent building life. Creating a digital Building Information Model allows all those who interact with the Facility to optimise the efficiency of their actions, resulting in a greater whole-life value for the Facility, benefiting the bottom line for those business operations the building supports.

Through BIM, the UK construction industry is starting to undergo a digital revolution and this will extend into the production and manufacturing facilities of the future.  BIM is a way of working.  BIM is information modelling and information management working together, in a collaborative and open way where all team members should be working to the same standards as each other. BIM creates value from the combined and shared efforts of people, processes and technologies used in a project.

A Building Information Model is made up of Objects; each individually a combination of many things:

  • Information that defines an item of equipment or a component of a building such as steelwork, envelope system, internal room fabric etc
  • Item properties, such as thermal performance, capacity, material of construction
  • Spatial geometry representing what the Object looks like and its dimensions
  • Visualisation data giving the Object a recognisable appearance; a 3D representation
  • Functional data, such as control parameters, recalibration protocols, maintenance regimes, operating instruction, datasheets etc.

What’s the future of BIM?

The future of the construction industry is digital; and Building Information Management is the future of design and full life-cycle facility management; it is government led and is driven by technology and clear processes; and it is implementing change across all industries. As hardware, software and cloud applications evolve greater capabilities for handling the increasing amounts of raw data and information, the use of BIM will become even more important than it is in current projects and will become the assumed way of how things get done, by default.

Although to date BIM has focused mainly on building construction and design processes, to me it’s clear that production modelling is an essential part of BIM.  In our world generally, a building is only there to house infrastructure and resources for a production or manufacturing process, as well as protecting operations from the elements.

With processes that require high levels of product or personnel protection, such as sterile pharmaceutical processing, synthesizing biological molecules or in semiconductor manufacturing, the Facility and rooms within often form an important part of the production or manufacturing process. It’s great to apply BIM to efficiently design and construct our Facility, but what use is this design and construction efficiency if the core production process; equipment, rooms, laboratories, warehousing etc. are not configured, sized and designed to interact efficiently? Avoidable bottlenecks will be created from day one of operations and we’ll be endlessly chasing our tails around the entire Facility optimizing production activities, just to be able to meet minimum output levels that the capital justification was based on.

Working in capital project definition and appraisal, typical challenges I pose to project teams are:

“Can you show, now, that the specified line configuration and mode of operation will meet the required production objectives, and can you further demonstrate this can be done robustly and consistently – dealing with foreseeable deviations the business environment may throw at us."

 "Show me that WIP storage areas and warehousing for Goods In and Out are not over-sized excessively.”

Operational space equals investing money.  Too much cash invested, by being overly conservative with design decisions is not value adding.  However, not having sufficient space to cope with supply deviations also risks failure to supply which destroys value, sometimes irreversibly - customers buy from elsewhere and then don’t come back.

So, it’s important to demonstrate an optimal capital budget that meets the business objectives and yet accommodates foreseeable supply deviations from steady state.

The resulting process model then represents a production or manufacturing configuration and capacity that the subsequent Facility design and construction workflows need to deliver cost efficiently.  BIM should therefore be driven by optimised process design, which in itself is underwritten by production/process modelling.

The production model is a virtual representation, sometimes referred to as a Digital Twin. Whilst the entire Facility is being designed, procured and constructed, this Twin can be used to train the eventual production team in operations: scheduling orders, timing of purchase requisitions, product campaigning, set-ups, shift pattern optimization, planned maintenance outages etc.  Once constructed and commissioned, the learning curve needed to ramp up production or manufacturing to initial business plan and elevated levels of output has already been substantially dealt with.

By incorporating Production/Manufacturing Modelling as part of a BIM workflow as soon as possible in the project life-cycle, the ability to optimise levels of capital investment, as well as cutting overall project schedule time to full production, can only impact positively on Return on Investment, NPV or whatever investment appraisal technique you use. The ability to deliver projects consistently this way will only enhance your market competitiveness and agility when facing inevitable change.

For production and manufacturing Facilities, BIM surely must start with production modelling.  The missing precursor in current BIM thinking!