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Compatibility and ownership issues hold back BIM in geotechnics

Crossrail BIM

Sharing and misuse of geotechnical interpretive data, as well as software compatibility issues, are some of the main barriers to wider use of BIM in geotechnics, according to engineers from Mott MacDonald.

Speaking at the Ground Engineering Infrastructure Summit workshop yesterday, Mott MacDonald geotechnical engineer Peter Fair and principal geotechnical engineer Chris Hurst outlined the advances in what they dubbed “geoBIM” as well as the barriers to wider use.

Fair said that the company had been applying GIS and CAD software in a BIM approach since 2010 and has gradually introduced more sophisticated software into the process. “There are significant benefits from having one live model,” he said. “We have seen improved understanding of the geological model and changes to the design can be undertaken more easily.”

Nonetheless, Hurst said that there are still some major barriers to the use of geoBIM both within the geotechnics industry, as well as using it to feed into the BIM models used in later phases of work by other engineering disciplines.

“Within geotechnics there are interoperability issues where data is lost during the process of moving from GIS to CAD and from the ground model into the federated model,” he said. “I think we won’t see an improvement in this area until at least the end of this decade.

“There are also concerns over sharing of interpretative data and how this might be misused in later stages of a project but often the challenge is that the software we use is not compatible with that used by other professions.”

Hurst added that there is still a challenge around awareness of ground risk and how geoBIM can help manage these risks. Nonetheless, Hurst said that understanding of the benefits of BIM have not reached maturity in geotechnics so the industry is not “selling” the benefits to clients effectively and opportunities to apply the approach are being missed.

During a question and answer session following the presentation Federation of Piling Specialists chairman Alasdair Henderson, who is also divisional director for Bam Ritchies, said that the industry should also consider the benefits within their own businesses from the use of BIM. “We have seen a 10 to 15% increase in productivity at Ritchies as a result of the workflows that result from the BIM approach,” he said. “Use of BIM has also allowed us greater integration of information and handover of data to our customers in a format that is more accessible.”

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