concepts
01 | 2020
6/12
© Mark Syke-VIEW/Alamy Stock Photo

Top performance Down Under

BIM specialists at the HOCHTIEF subsidiary ViCon successfully used the ORIS data management system while building Australia’s first driverless train network in Sydney’s North West. The digital construction experience they gained in Australia will soon be used in other countries as well.

René Schumann can still vividly remember a time when even modern construction projects were initially conceived on paper. Construction plans as big as tabletops were carefully folded together and passed around from hand to hand. Material and personnel requirements were jotted down on slips of paper. And when people looked for this information later, they often had to face a wall of file folders.

Of course high-performance computers have been used for a long time now to make the construction process easier. But even in the digital age, foremen using ballpoint pens to scribble in their construction journals at the end of a shift would often have to complete all the analog paperwork in their leisure time. And on the next day their notes might be hard to decipher. Schumann, the Managing Director of the HOCHTIEF subsidiary ViCon, smiles when he thinks of this recent past, because he’s working to create a future in which ballpoint pens are no longer needed.

Since 2007, ViCon has been completely oriented toward the growth field of digital building construction and civil engineering. The ViCon motto, “Build digitally first,” has guided the construction of more than 500 digitally designed properties of various types and sizes since then. But construction of the fully-automated metro rail network in Sydney, which began in April 2015 and opened in May 2019, was in a class of its own.

CPB Contractors, a company of the Australian HOCHTIEF subsidiary CIMIC, was a member of the Northwest Rapid Transit (NRT) consortium and brought with it Group know-how from Essen. So ViCon used its Online Rail Information System (ORIS), which it had developed in-house, to support the 36-kilometer Sydney Metro Northwest project. High-frequency, driverless trains now run every four minutes in the peak between Tallawong and Chatswood on the new North West line. At Corporate Headquarters in Essen, Schumann recalls with pride that “in 2015, ORIS was a genuine revolution in Australia.”

A NEW SYSTEM IN ACTION

ORIS is a system of information collection and evaluation at large-scale construction sites. Workers at various locations at the site enter data into tablets or smartphones, and this data is compiled by ORIS. This is new technological territory within the broad field of Building Information Modeling (BIM). BIM methodology is based on a digital 3D model of a multitude of project data in a networked format. The data, which are linked with the 3D model, is collected decentrally via the ORIS platform, and as many workers as possible at the site are linked with the system. Thus the data is digitally collected and utilized in the places where it is generated or needed. This creates huge advantages for further project processing, especially for ordering materials, monitoring progress, and construction site safety.

HOCHTIEF ViCon equipped each of the 14 large-scale construction sites, which operated in parallel, with 210 tablets. More than 1,000 specially trained workers used the tablets to collect data, in many cases underground. Thanks to a Field2BIM app, the progress of construction could be easily followed offline, even under unfavorable conditions, and updated with the next online connection. Construction workers acting as data collectors may seem odd, but they make construction work more efficient, faster, better, and more relaxed.


ALL THE DATA IS BROUGHT TOGETHER

The BIM Manager is the control center in the network of the digital construction process. Within the error-prone process of large long-term construction sites with thousands of interfaces between various companies, he weaves the threads of all the different trades into a rope that’s almost unbreakable. Without him, the “digital twin” of the future building would simply be computer jargon.

Robert Kawczyk, the BIM Manager in Sydney, has supported the project team for over five years through close cooperation between Essen and Australia. Using a computer model of one of the nine new subway stations, he explains how Sydney constructed state-of-the-art infrastructure via BIM. His cursor moves from a blue track bed across green roof constructions and stops at a red wall, “where you can tell with just a click which precast concrete units will be needed when, as well as their manufacturing status,” he says. Listeners can hear the enthusiasm behind every word. Best of all, the system’s participants can access the data at any time if it is useful for their “user-specific workspace.”

Schumann, who has 20 years of experience at HOCHTIEF, emphasizes that ORIS, with a data volume of over 1.2 terabytes, does even more than simply digitalizing analog processes or abolishing paperwork. Its true goal is “to significantly accelerate data processing and data analysis and establish automatic connectivity between today’s data silos.” In Sydney, the BIM method has given the 7.5 million residents of New South Wales—the continent’s most populous region—Australia’s most modern infrastructure project. The project, which was completed on schedule, has also conserved money, materials, and resources.


TECHNOLOGY SAVES CONSTRUCTION COSTS

The exact amount of savings still needs to be evaluated. Schumann says there’s “always an element of speculation, because you can’t implement a project twice.” But the Düsseldorf market research company BauInfoConsult estimates that, on average, costs due to errors account for over ten percent of total investment costs. A cost-benefit analysis conducted three years ago—halfway through the project—showed that the three, four or even five-dimensional digital management process had replaced over 121,000 paper forms—thus reducing management costs.

Unlike rigid foldout plans, the integrated system is flexible, easy to understand, and foresighted, thanks to permanent error analysis. However, Schumann admits that the system cannot yet react independently to unforeseeable contingencies such as material shortages, unusual weather events, and soil conditions.

BIM is first and foremost a method that assists people on construction sites. But BIM also sustainably improves cooperation during construction by enhancing communication. The experience gained in Australia, with BIM methods and the ORIS system, will soon be very useful in other countries as well. For example, in Germany HOCHTIEF ViCon is helping to digitalize infrastructure projects at the Ministry of Transport’s National BIM Centre of Excellence.

Schumann believes “that BIM will soon be the standard within the entire Group.” He adds that for a global player with 50,000 employees a major change of this kind takes time. But he thinks that digital data management will prevail and make paperwork even more superfluous than it already is. However, he reassures architects and clients who simply like the feel of paper that “those beautiful plans on sheets of DIN-A0 paper will still exist.” BIM aims to only improve the construction process, not to separate it from its roots.