Lionel Lambourn, director of Syntegrate, first gained familiarity with the possibilities afforded by BIM during his studies at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, before putting those possibilities to use at Gehry Technologies. During his tenure there, he helped set up the company’s Middle Eastern branches, using BIM tools in real-world applications.
It was that firsthand exposure to the ways that technology can boost efficiency in the construction process that led Lambourn to launch Syntegrate. The consultancy’s name was coined to describe the company’s focus on “synthesizing disciplines and integrating technologies.”
Why integrated technologies? As Lambourn quite simply explains, construction is a highly integrated discipline. It requires the work and knowledge of multiple disciplines to create something so complicated as a building, but it’s often at the intersection of trades where problems arise.
Today’s advanced software technology can easily be leveraged to ease the coordination required among building professionals and smooth the transitions of trades and materials.
“In this day and age I see integration of technology as the best way to address some of the accepted, in-built assortments of waste and inefficiency in the construction industry,” Lambourn says. “Our mission at Syntegrate is to leverage technology to realize our built environment more appropriately, more efficiently and more sustainably.”
An Environment of Waste
Waste and inefficiency, Lambourn says, are the single biggest challenges faced today by the architecture, engineering and construction industry.
“I believe waste and inefficiency overwhelm all the other issues and encapsulate all the challenges that we face in the industry,” he says. He offers an example to put this into perspective:
“By some reports, worldwide construction and buildings consume 40 percent of the world’s energy. However, we can conservatively estimate from available data that 20 percent of construction ends up as waste. To make these numbers more tangible, let’s put these numbers in the context of national GDP—worldwide construction is comparable to the size of China’s economy and each year the entire output of Spain is wasted.”
Lambourn sees much of this waste and inefficiency could be solved by better coordination among contractors — a collaboration that could be easily facilitated by the integration of technology such as BIM.
A Tool for Coordination and Visualization
Lambourn offers as a case in point Syntegrate’s work on the Admiralty Station, part of the South Island Line (East) Project, which will become the first four line interchange in Hong Kong.
The ongoing underground excavation and building work, which poses its own inherent risks, is being undertaken adjacent to the existing Island Line and Tsuen Wan Line, and the busy existing Admiralty Station – all within a densely populated area with many other underground structures in close proximity.
MTR Corporation, the owner of the project, recognizes the return on investment that they stand to gain from the comprehensive implementation of BIM on their many Projects, from construction through to operation.
The general contractor on the integrated Admiralty Station—a joint venture of Kier, Laing O’Rourke and Kaden (KLKJV)—were early adopters of BIM technology and are certainly at the forefront of the global construction industry in the implementation of BIM on their projects.
For Admiralty, the joint venture has chosen Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE Platform as their BIM platform. Syntegrate works closely with the joint venture to refine its construction sequencing, from the coordination of excavation to concrete pours to formwork erection. By carefully scheduling each step, the general contractor has been able to execute each phase of this highly complex project with minimal rework, which in turn reduces schedule delays.
Moreover, the solution provides the joint venture with a visualization of the complicated underpinning work required to support the existing rail lines and platforms which remain in operation throughout construction.
Repeated simulations of the onsite work helps the construction team to effectively “practice” and perfect its planning, Lambourn says, so that when workers move onsite they are able to perform their work correctly the first time. This allows the joint venture to realize a dramatic reduction in waste of time and materials.
Broadening Technology Solutions
As projects become more complex, Lambourn believes that the use of BIM technology is a strong first step toward improving the collaboration of architecture, engineering and construction professionals. And he sees many opportunities to bring other technologies to bear, especially given the pace at which new technological advancements are happening.
“These days, we need to broaden our focus of technology to consider technologies such as 3D laser scanning, 3D printing, and even the use of drone technology to improve the way that a building is delivered,” Lambourn adds.
On the Admiralty contract, KLKJV utilizes 3D laser scanning extensively to capture the as-built conditions of the tunneling works at a level of precision that was not available several years ago and that is unachievable by orthodox survey methods.
“When the laser scan is introduced into the BIM platform, we can determine, exactly, how much over-break (excess excavation) has occurred and where any areas of under-break (insufficient excavation) exist. By repeated laser scanning as they proceed, the joint venture can optimize their works so that they achieve just the right amount of over-break with no areas of under-break, ensuring the highest levels of construction quality.”
Using integrated technology is but one solution to what Lambourn sees as a two-pronged approach to solving construction inefficiency.
Realistically, Lambourn says, “We would be naïve to think that the industry alone could tackle such a large problem of waste and inefficiency. Something like that has to come not only from the industry but also from a governmental level.”
Lambourn suggests that governments may need to step in to reward the reduction of waste and efficiency, ensuring this becomes a market factor that the industry must build into the way it does business.
Case in point: Lambourn notes that the industry still relies heavily on the delivery of 2D, paper drawings for contractual permissions.
“A building could be done completely paperless and much more efficiently through a 3D environment. However, governments need to come to the table and recognize that, and change the way that the legislation around the procurement of buildings is formulated so that there is not a real and contractual reliance on paper drawings.”
That doesn’t mean that architecture, engineering and construction practitioners should sit back and wait for governments to do something, however.
By becoming involved with organizations promoting and standardizing the use of BIM, the industry can help determine future technology requirements. Lambourn expects governments initiatives will spread more widely.
For example, the UK government has committed to what they call a “Level 2” BIM implementation by the year 2016 and several months ago, the strategic plan for “Level 3” BIM implementation was released under the title of “Digital Built Britain.”