Andreas Matthé, CEO Electrical Products, Smart Infrastructure, Siemens AG, explains why electrical engineering has to master Building Information Modeling (BIM) to remain successful.
To BIM or not to BIM? That will soon be the decisive question in the construction sector. For involved trades, it will ultimately be a matter of ‘to be or not to be’.
Electrical engineering plays a central role in digitalised building planning, and anyone who thinks that productivity losses due to outdated planning methods are acceptable considering full order books is wrong. Challenges in the construction industry are too diverse. Today, large planning offices and their clients no longer forgo the higher added value provided by digital building twins. But BIM isn’t just the basis for long-term success; it also enables seamless collaboration in complex projects. And the data-driven method offers opportunities for new digital business models.
Anyone involved in constructing a building is familiar with one fact: each involved trade plans independently of the others and usually not down to the last detail. Mistakes are first spotted at the construction site; cables obstruct pipes and vice-versa. Planning continues on-site – without documenting this information. The result is a domino effect: more mistakes, higher costs for the client, and frustration for the affected trades. For the electrical engineering firm, this fragmented planning makes it far more difficult to develop binding personnel and time calculations. So, it’s no surprise that 30% of all construction projects are delayed and roughly 10% of project costs are due to changes (Fig. 1).
This is precisely where BIM comes in. BIM enables all trades to shift their decisions forward – into joint planning. With BIM, they first design a building as a digital twin before the construction site is even ready. Mistakes can easily be spotted in this phase. Finally, the building is digitally planned down to the last detail. BIM is not only digital hightech, but above all – and this is its great advantage – a working method superior to many previous models: it brings people, processes, and tools together in an integrated process.
BIM is also coming to electrical engineering
BIM will come. Even though all order books are full. And for everyone involved in the electrical engineering trade (electrical planners, panel builders, installers, service providers, building managers). The reason is simple: over the long term, no client – whether private or public investor – can afford to ignore the added value provided by BIM.
The European ‘EU BIM Task Group’ calculates, based on industry figures, that savings of 15-25% can be realised in the global infrastructure market by 2025 by using BIM (EUBIM TASKGROUP, 2018). For Europe alone, and cautiously assuming savings of ‘only’ 10%, this would generate cost savings of €130 billion for the €1.3 trillion market. An enormous potential.
At the same time, buildings are becoming more and more intelligent. By using wireless technologies, sensors networked with the Internet of Things (IoT), and data analytics, construction projects are becoming unexpectedly complex and barely manageable with conventional planning methods.
Not least because of these developments, investors are increasingly looking at a building’s total lifecycle costs rather than the construction costs alone and expect full transparency when awarding a contract. Only BIM can provide this by keeping information up-to-date over a building’s entire
Fig. 1: Current deficits in the infrastructure sector (Construction Management Association of America (CMAA), 2019)
Build skills now.
In short, only those using BIM will be successful in the future. When general construction contractors award planning contracts to sub-trades, those who don’t use BIM will miss out on being considered for a tender.
Many will now ask: what do my team and I need for BIM? To begin with, basic understanding. BIM works only with early and continuous exchanges among the trades. This may seem unusual for planning offices and many panel builders and electricians. Additional skills and new ways of thinking and working are needed. Employees need technical and software training, and all this takes time, of course. That’s why it is now the time to change your processes and make BIM a priority.
Fig. 2: The planning process with BIM: A central architectural and structural model is initially specified by the client. Each trade then also creates at least one separate, supplementary BIM model. The individual models are then subsequently integrated into a central coordination model.
Electrical engineering: the backbone of modern infrastructure
Why is BIM so important for electrical engineering in particular? Quite simply put, electrical firms do more than just install a building’s electrical systems. On the one side, they deal with various technologies: higher energy efficiency, greater safety, more comfort, all of which call for far more complex electrical planning. Thousands of sensors and actuators in smart buildings collect and process huge amounts of data to control doors, windows, blinds, lighting, heating and air conditioning to save energy. This requires a reliable power supply.
In short: without electricity, there is no smart building. And without electrical engineering, no electricity. For the electrical engineering trade, this means providing the vital power supply – and possibly visualisation for the building management system. Electrical engineering is thus becoming the backbone of modern, electrification-based infrastructure.
On the other side are complex internal structures. Electrical engineering has several sub-trades that barely communicated with one another in the past. Put bluntly, this isn’t an impediment, but it makes the adoption of BIM all the more necessary. Decisions usually made by electricians during the implementation phase, for example, can now be pre-planned with BIM. Each trade creates its own BIM model (Fig. 2). The open BIM methodology with open exchange formats like the BIM Collaboration Format (BCF) is now a popular industry standard.
Without electricity, there is no smart building. And without electrical engineering, no electricity
Benefits: better planning of resources and materials
Early planning pays off throughout the project. Cost savings total up to 10% and an average of 40% fewer changes are necessary during a project. Operating costs for the finished building are reduced by up to 9% and, thanks to higher energy efficiency, the building’s CO2 emissions are sustainably lower (Stanford University, Center for Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE), 2007).
The key advantages of BIM are obvious:
- Nothing works without BIM: project planning will soon only be possible with BIM. For all trades.
- BIM creates the greatest possible transparency and planning security for those involved. A single database for all enables the precise calculation of time, personnel, and materials, and prevents expensive surprises.
- This way, BIM saves costs for the building and the trades.
- BIM thinks along with the lifecycle: Collected and coordinated data benefits the building and its operators for the building’s lifecycle and along its entire value chain. Tenders for a building, for example, can also be prepared with the touch of a button from the BIM models.
- And all downstream documentation work is eliminated because the final BIM planning comprehensively describes all the building components.
The infrastructure sector is changing. Buildings are getting smarter and construction projects and mutual dependencies are inevitably becoming more complex and difficult to manage. The use of data-driven planning methods like BIM is therefore essential for mastering demanding building planning. And this is true for all trades, in particular electrical engineering – the backbone of the infrastructure industry.
Planning offices, electrical planners, system integrators or service electricians now need BIM know-how to stay in the game. The door is still open for all businesses to survive in the market. Yet this requires timely rethinking.
Businesses that have scarcely worked with BIM so far would be well advised to do so now. Get advice, such as from experts at Siemens AG, and build up your BIM knowledge and methodological competence. Introduce the software infrastructure you need to avoid being left behind. Sensitise your employees and colleagues as soon as possible. All this is challenging, of course, but it’s a great opportunity as well – for the entire industry.