Comment: Going digital for MEP

Adopting digital technologies for MEP would improve the industry’s overall performance, writes Raguram Jayaram, BIM consultant at Bentley Systems.

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Raguram Jayaram, BIM consultant at Bentley Systems.
Raguram Jayaram, BIM consultant at Bentley Systems.

We are in the middle of an era that is powered by disruptive technologies, which are continuously evolving as I write this article. We are accustomed to quickly adopting these technologies on a personal front, thus changing the social fabric of the communities in which we live. Business practices that are adopting disruptive technologies are well positioned to gain better benefits and stand out among the competition. Recent studies by many industry research groups revealed that digital maturity and the productivity growth index of the building industry ranks the lowest compared to other sectors. In any typical building, MEP systems is a major contributor in determining its actual productivity and performance during its lifecycle. Accelerating the adoption of strategies involving digital technologies for MEP would greatly improve the industry’s overall performance.

Awareness of building information modeling (BIM) is now well rooted in the industry and adoption of BIM as a process is a stepping stone towards going digital. In the MEP segment, BIM provides a huge potential for process improvement all the way from design to handover. With a BIM-centric approach, MEP users can now deliver challenging projects using intelligent 3D models. It has also been proven that a 3D model-centric approach improves design quality and assures spatial coordination, thus reducing the risk of errors and change orders during the construction stages. As a result, the project delivery is on time and within budget compared to traditional methods.

Integrating 3D modeling and its performance analysis will reduce the time it takes to design the MEP systems of a building. Today’s technology enables such a seamless exchange and allows teams to discover a multitude of options to derive the best optimisation of mechanical systems. Informed decisions based on such optioneering workflows are being recognised as the best practices for designing and delivering high-performance buildings.
Although BIM is embraced for design and analysis, information is still shared with fabrication teams in the form of 2D drawings due to traditional processes and interoperability challenges. Teams are also reluctant to create and adopt a separate modeling workflow for fabrication. However, there are mechanical software applications that support direct output for digital fabrication that can eliminate the redundancies for such information exchange. This technology also improves productivity by gaining faster and better visibility into the quantities and financial metrics involved in the fabrication of the mechanical components.

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It is also very important that all the stakeholders involved in a building project have accessibility to the right information at the right time. Project delivery teams currently demand better collaboration to unify the processes involving engineering and non-engineering teams and applications. New digital technologies that support such collaborative workflows are on the rise, and there is a need for innovation in processes for successful adoption.
One of the key strategies building design and construction organisations should consider in the early stages is the selection of an engineering platform that allows maximum mobility of information. Accessing information on the cloud and through handheld devices promotes highly productive workflows and eliminates the need for printed documents. Information mobility also promotes digital reviews during design and construction stages and could become the platform for commissioning and inspection during the operation stages of the asset lifecycle.

Information mobility, combined with latest technologies such as reality capture using photogrammetry and point clouds, supports downstream workflows involving augmented reality (AR). Geo-coordinated 3D models can be viewed in immersive environments using the latest artificial reality devices enabling the users to compare the designed and constructed environments. New processes involving AR technologies shall be used to educate and elevate the safety of the staff and operational procedures and ensure that the jobs at site are carried out effectively and accurately.

Mechanical and electrical devices are the major assets in a building that need to be maintained periodically with utmost care for better performance. Presently, these assets can be monitored by sensors which relay valuable information about the assets’ condition and usage. New digital technologies such as artificial intelligence and deep learning algorithms would pave the way for analyzing the data collected from these sensors and would enable us to better understand the actual performance of the asset. The ability to integrate such analytics with BIM technologies in the early stages of design and for decommissioning would be a great source of knowledge in understanding the real-life data and how to apply it to design better buildings.

Presently, there is a wide variety of digital technologies that are available for mechanical and electrical disciplines in the building industry. While we have not yet witnessed the retirement of an aged and experienced workforce in the building and construction industry, digital technologies and its adoption will pave the way forward for better sustaining our industry and the infrastructure of our planet.

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