The infrastructure industry is embracing digitalization to keep up with future innovations and become more productive under the growing pressure of increasing costs, tight deadlines and sustainability issues. Building Information Modeling (BIM) has become a widely used tool for engineers and construction companies to improve the level of design and construction information, reach higher levels of collaboration and streamline project delivery all the way to facility management. Now, its sibling known as BrIM (Bridge Information Modeling) is paving the way for the practice to establish itself in bridge building.
What is Bridge Information Modeling (BrIM)?
Although BIM can be utilized in various types of building projects, its use in bridge construction has been limited. Instead of vertical architecture, bridges are horizontal travelways, and the projects are by default heavy construction assignments. Like a version of BIM customized to suit bridge projects, BrIM provides a complete representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a bridge asset, offering an information resource for its entire lifecycle.
Bridge Information Modeling (BrIM) boosts the quality of design with accurate information, consistent documentation, and improved constructability of structures. BrIM allows for accurate pre-fabrication and just-in-time material deliveries, and supports project collaboration across disciplines. Ultimately resulting in optimized solutions for all project parties as well as storing information for preventive maintenance.
Firstly: BrIM is about data standardization
Transparent communication and high-level collaboration are the key drivers for both BIM and BrIM. Making the most out of the tools requires standardization. Standardized information can be used and kept in usable format when forwarded in the process which helps to integrate the project stages.
Sharing data regardless of what software is being used enables high-level collaboration. Thus, advancing the capabilities of BrIM to create open, interoperable and repeatable processes is beneficial to all project parties.
The standardization should be a global effort. BuildingSmart is currently expanding the global IFC standards to include bridge methodologies as well (IFC level 4), aiming to meet the specific needs of the bridge industry.
Secondly: BrIM is about technology
BIM and BrIM can be connected to other modern technologies, such as 3D printing, autonomous construction, big data analysis, augmented reality and virtualization, the Internet of Things (IoT), wireless monitoring, and cloud and real-time collaboration.
A true BIM application is parametric, meaning that the parameters of the objects determine their interactions with each other. A parametric application helps stakeholders create, collect, store, and share accurate and consistent data for full life-cycle support.
On top of this, an open project data platform that supports the standardized data formats, such as Trimble Connect, is necessary. The platform enables the bridge design to be transferred between different kinds of software, ensuring that the management of data happens in a truly collaborative and open way. All changes and removals are visible and recorded, no data is lost or overwritten, and the models can be adapted with almost no disruption to workflow.
Most of all: BrIM is about people
The BrIM transformation is streamlining processes and developing corporate cultures toward model-based practices. However, the most important (and probably most challenging) aspect is to take care of people in the transformation. Change management and building BIM skills throughout the value chain are essential. There is a concerning lack of skilled BIM users hindering project deliveries in countries where the construction industry is booming.
Taking the full advantage of BrIM is a change in mindset: paper is only a representation of the data, but the data itself can evolve throughout the development process.
Sharing is caring about collaboration efficiency
As large bridge projects comprise various stages from planning to operation and decommissioning, BrIM can allow for significant process improvements. For example, construction-ready design work reduces construction costs and improves quantity take-offs.
The constructible bridge model enables, among other things
- 3D visualization
- planning of scaffolding
- formwork and concrete pours
- virtual assembly
- automated machine control, and
- smart inventory.
The digital, standardized format ensures a rapid adoption by software tools as well as minimizes the risk of ambiguity.
A realistic and up-to-date visualizations with imagery and step-by-step simulation of the construction process smoothen the communication with relevant authorities. On top of this, the model enables compressing project schedules due to more efficient workflow.
Working with BrIM eliminates gaps in shared data. Previously, different projects parties weren’t necessarily aware of changes and developments in the process, but with the model being continuously updated and evolving, no one is left out. The model interacts with other solutions, digital construction tools and fabrication machinery, enabling efficient and profitable construction projects. Close co-operation with all project parties, including the client, adds to the efficiency.
BrIM tools also store and update the data beyond the design process, providing engineers and authorities with relevant information to conduct fabrication, construction, operation, maintenance, and inspection. The core value of BrIM lies in data consumption, sharing, and reuse, as all involved project parties can optimize their processes across the bridge’s lifecycle.
What’s in it for you?
So far, the bridge industry has been heavily reliant on paper with prints as primary documents, lagging behind the now-prevalent use of BIM in the construction industry. Moving from document-based communication to integrated and connected data models can significantly improve the flow of the project and reduce costs.
Thus, establishing digital standards and common processes helps enable the use of BrIM as a reference in contracts. This can be done most efficiently with optimal BrIM software, like intelligent parametric Tekla Structures which suits to bridges of all materials, types and sizes.
Currently, design and engineering firms lead the way and bridge owners lag behind, although as-built BrIM data could significantly transform the maintenance phase. Reasons for this low adaption are that BIM is perceived as a purely 3D-design software, and the BIM applications that support smart bridge facility management are in their early days. Also, pilot projects that showcase the potential of BrIM as a value creator rather than a cost element are still needed.
BIM is an essential strategic step in the digitalization of the infrastructure industry. The transformation needs to happen top-down; the top management has to think of BrIM as a creator of value and competitive edge, not as a cost factor. The industry also need to move from silos towards collaboration across disciplines, better integrated contracts, and new project types.
Want to learn more? Sign up for the on-demand webinar: Tekla Structures for Bridge Designers