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Offsite manufacturing and BIM - Perfect partners

View of Baku Olympic Stadium from above with Tekla Structures BIM model

Here, Duncan Reed, Digital Construction Process Manager at Trimble, shows how offsite manufacturing and BIM are well suited to create more collaborative and efficient partnerships and produce a new generation of sustainable and impressive buildings.

Offsite manufacturing – by its very name – is a process that can, and does, benefit from the use of technology. Whether this is through the virtual development of products, bills of materials or the logistics associated with transportation and delivery,  many parts of the day to day business of an offsite company are now being branded as integral parts of the BIM revolution: product development – 3D, bills of materials - 5D and logistics – 4D. 

So in many ways offsite manufacturing and BIM are like two long lost siblings that have finally found each other. The technology and processes that the offsite industry has been using for years can now be leveraged in more collaborative ways across the wider project, team to reduce risks and improve project outcomes. Indeed, BIM as a process can, and does, bring efficiencies to companies’ existing methods and procedures so that projects can be delivered quicker, more competently and with greater reliability for customers.

Looking up at underside of roof model, Baku Olympic Stadium

Baku National Stadium in Azerbaijan benefited from BIM, the Tekla model was used to develop a 3D graphical animation of the complex roof installation procedure.

Thinking of BIM as a process allows what some may see as constraints in the offsite manufacturing process be turned into advantages. For the last-minute-dot-com construction industry, the need to make decisions early to allow offsite manufacture to commence, are now aligned to the positive needs for the right data being created at the right time by the right people in the team, in order to allow the offsite process to seamlessly integrate with the project.

The key to successful digital workflows using BIM are very similar to the key requirements for the successful delivery of offsite manufacturing:

  • Clearly defined project requirements
  • Agreed project deliverables; quality, time and money
  • Validation of the project against the deliverables

The open nature of BIM leads to a more collaborative working relationship with all parties. The 3D model is understandable by everyone and so greater levels of stakeholder engagement can be achieved. This leads to clearly defined project goals and requirements, as well as well-managed customer expectations, is also managed to ensure that the project actually delivers what is required. 

Visualisation of Birmingham New Street Station South Entrance showing curved steel elements in 3D model

Birmingham New Street Station, South Entrance - Fully design and detailed 'virtually' offsite - ensuring all interfaces between trades had been considered and any problems resolved before any materials arrived on site.

With clearly defined project requirements it is then easier to agree the project deliverables, and in particular to assign roles and responsibilities. For the offsite manufacturer, as one member of the wider team, its scope of services will be better defined by having BIM deliverables than the previous non-digital delivery methods. 

Finally, and most importantly, having set the project up to work digitally the validation of the physical asset against the digital definition of the scheme is not only easier but quicker to complete. Projects using BIM are easier to bring on-stream, as the compliance processes required to validate the asset means you get what you have been expecting.

Having an accurate 3D modelling solution, supported by well-defined data requirements, will deliver benefits at every stage of the design and construction process. From initially creating accurate 3D models, which are used to organise, plan, estimate and for preparation to taking the model on site, offsite manufacturers can have complete confidence at all stages. The benefits of earlier project clarity and better-defined deliverables play to the strengths of offsite manufacturing – a way not previously available to the sector.  

Model of complex steel connections utilised for Birmingham New Street Station project

Furthermore the design and construction benefits afforded to offsite manufacturers also assist in delivering improvements in the maintenance of the asset. A product that has been considered in detail before being manufactured offsite will have included consideration for how it is to be maintained – whether this is in terms of accessible valves and switches or the ability to remove whole components. Indeed, well-considered - manufactured, not constructed on site - units are easier to maintain. This adds further value to the customer in the operations phase of the asset. Ultimately the assembly nature of offsite manufacturing leads to the easier disassembly of the asset at the end of its life, so further increasing the sustainability credentials of the sector.

A project using a well structured, data rich, constructable model shared by the team, offers major benefits to an offsite manufacturer and its wider supply chain to re-use this data, in order to reduce waste and improve project outcomes. The data set can be expressed in whatever form is relevant to the organisation wanting to use the data – whether that is 2D drawings, a link to programmes, creating schedules or viewing the project as a 3D model.  

Therefore, instead of businesses being unnerved about the future of digital construction, this is a time for the rest of the industry to gain the opportunities that the offsite sector has already realised by working digitally, through better project definition, collaboration and validation. By doing this it will not only help offsite businesses show how they can lead in the delivery of BIM on a project but also to the wider industry; offsite has a golden opportunity to lead in the digital revolution.

Birmingham New Street Station South Entrance, shaped like an eye with mirrored cladding

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