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Seven benefits of BIM for heating

06th November 2016

Building Information Modelling can help create and maintain facilities that are more energy efficient and cost-effective to run. Chris Meir, Sales Director at Remeha, looks at the benefits of BIM for facilities managers in achieving and maintaining high performance heating efficiency.

The UK government recently announced that it is investing £5.4 million in a new centre of excellence for digital solutions in the built environment to help “better plan, build, maintain and use infrastructure”. A central element of this digitisation initiative is the focus on the digital tools, standards and processes that make up building information modelling (BIM).

What is BIM?

BIM is a means of designing, building, operating and maintaining a building using a collaborative, shared, up-to-date system of digital 3D models. Since April 2016, UK centrally-procured projects are required to use BIM Level 2 as part of the Government Construction Strategy. Through widespread adoption of BIM, the government intends to reduce capital costs by 20% while improving efficiency and collaboration throughout the lifecycle of an asset and building.

How can BIM benefit facilities management?

By creating a digital description of the building, BIM makes it easier for facilities managers (FMs) to group, access and manage information on the assets during the operational phase for improved efficiency. Let’s consider a service like heating which, together with hot water provision, is the largest user of energy in a building. Integrating a BIM model with a facility’s maintenance management programme will help FMs repair failing equipment efficiently or avoid failure with a robust preventative maintenance programme. How? To answer this, let’s consider first what data a BIM file might contain.

Putting the ‘I’ in BIM

Many non-domestic buildings still rely for their heating on commercial boiler plant that will require regular servicing and maintenance to optimise its performance during its lifecycle. The BIM object of a boiler will contain a wealth of data on the boiler model from its shape, size and weight to the heat outputs, carbon and NOx emissions, service and maintenance areas, and maintenance schedules. It can even provide a link directly to the manufacturer’s technical manual.

FMs can then import this data, designed in a standardised format using the CIBSE product data template, into their facilities management systems. The key here is to provide the right amount of information to suit the purpose. For this reason, manufacturers like Remeha provide two levels of BIM files to meet the requirement.

Moving the position of the boiler or changing the model will automatically update the schedule so that the information is always accurate and up-to-date. If changes were to be made to the design or requirements of the heating system, schedules and quantities would be generated automatically.

In this way, BIM is a valuable resource that helps ensure effective, energy-efficient heating operation by facilitating both maintenance of the equipment and its eventual replacement. Let’s look at some of the benefits.

Seven benefits of BIM

Early engagement - BIM is beneficial throughout the lifecycle of a facility. BIM allows the professional FM to get involved at the design stage on new buildings and have a real impact on the building outcome. This can not only enhance the end result, but it also promotes the role of facilities management in the operation of a building.

Asset management - Effective facilities management is all about maintaining accurate data on your assets. By integrating the detailed FM and BIM data, FMs are able to make more informed decisions about heating equipment and planned maintenance. This means that they are able to diagnose and even predict problems more quickly.

Robust operational and maintenance data - The BIM models provide robust data that can help FMs create preventative maintenance schedules and rolling replacement programmes more easily, if these are not already automated. If they are, BIM can connect to the software to supplement the existing information, helping avoid failures and costly emergency repairs. BIM can also assist in supply chain collaboration and with the procurement process or costing decisions, again resulting in time and cost savings.

Visualisation - The 3D environment of BIM makes it easier not just for FMs but also for heating engineers to visualise the heating equipment and its location. Sharing the BIM file, complete with a full service history, with the engineer ahead of a service visit could save FMs significant time and costs.

Clash detection - When replacing dated equipment, again BIM brings benefits. A typical scenario might be the need to switch from non-condensing to condensing boilers for compliance. BIM can help with the additional design factors that need to be considered. It can enable pipework runs, flues and pumps to be sized accurately and quickly. It can also flag clash detection and encourage best use of space within the plantroom.

The reduced time required to make the changes and the efficiency savings mean better time management. At the same time, accuracy is improved and the outcome of the project is more predictable.

Improved use of space - The visualisation of BIM helps FMs identify more easily where space could be used more efficiently. In terms of heating, this might mean configuring space more efficiently, for example relocating a plantroom or reducing its size as heating equipment like boilers becomes more compact. At the design stages, early visualisation may flag issues such as space restrictions into the plantroom or boiler access which will help avoid unnecessary time and labour savings at a later date when servicing or replacing the boilers.

Prefabrication - BIM is also seen as central to more effective design for manufacture and assembly. In this way it supports the use of off-site prefabricated heating equipment - like bespoke-designed rig systems for multiple boiler installations – reducing on-site labour and costs on refurbishment projects.

BIM has transformed architecture, engineering and construction. Yet it’s the operational phase of a building that is the main contributor of its lifetime costs. Building services in particular - notably heating - have a significant impact on facilities costs, accounting for as much as 80% of total operating expenditure.

Using BIM as a tool helps FMs maintain high heating system and project efficiency, minimising energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and time and labour costs. And especially when combined with the building’s integrated building management systems, BIM can help improve the effectiveness of facility operations, enabling FMs to deliver better buildings.

This feature originally appeared in Tomorrows FM.