Supply Chain Information Management - Laying the foundation for lifecycle BIM

To be effective the building information supply chain needs standard units of delivery handled by efficient transportation channels

As a follow up to our previous blog post on commissioning Atul Kumar gave the following suggestion “... if you are looking for a topic to write your next blog then please use this, "Supply Chain Information Management". We are working on a large commercial project and we are doing handover documentation for FM using an EDMS and BIM is also there but not in totality. We realized that managing Supply Chain needs an streamlined process.”

(EDMS = Electronic document management system)

We think that this is an excellent idea for a blog post. There are two statements in Atul´s suggestion that we want to cover:

  1. Adding BIM to traditional document based extranets has its challenges. This is an important observation as more and more document based project web-sites add model-viewing capabilities and brand themselves as “common data environments”. This to position themselves as Level 2 BIM data management tools.
  2. A streamlining of the supply chain is suggested as the solution with a focus on process improvements, integrating the physical and digital delivery of goods and information.

Before we dive into the supply chain, let’s start with the end in mind and describe where the journey should take us.

The naive first look at lifecycle BIM

A common mantra in our industry is that “if the project use BIM and the models gets handed over the owner will have an intelligent visual database documenting everything that was delivered, with embedded instructions on how to use, operate, maintain and manage all aspects of the buildings for the rest of its lifetime”.

When you dive into the subject however you find out that that “use BIM” (the processes) and “models” (digital products) can vary a lot and they have to reach a certain level to come anywhere close to the expected outcome.

Then if you start investigating what handed over models are lacking (and why) you find a complex story. There is never one single source of failure and there is not one magic bullet solution. The end results are the sum total of contract requirements, software maturity, team skills and motivation, availability and maturity of BIM object databases etc etc. In addition to whatever the project team can control and improve there is a general lack of industry maturity and supporting infrastructure.

However, in this complexity and uncertainty lies opportunity. The industry infrastructure are getting huge investments in standardisation and content development. Also all parts of the delivery chain are improving their skills. With the right project execution model, the correct mix of partners and an efficient delivery process a good digital twin could be accomplished.

What is broken that needs to be fixed

Both BIM the process and BIM the model is currently broken for handover. The key to improvement is to give all the participants immediate and current benefits while at the same time improve the situation downstream. That is the core of Lifecycle BIM. This means that the project team should improve their handover process AND deliver a better product. The contractor should spend less resources getting handover documentation approved AND they should get premium pay/ win more projects.

Process improvements

Contractors do generally not have a streamlined process for gathering documentation for handover. At the end of the project the work of tracking down product datasheets and operations & maintenance instructions from subcontractors and suppliers start. The job of creating a consistent view of the documentation is a mess. The use of BIM adds to the effort as it is one more content type to keep track of and the owner may require that documentation are linked to the model structure. This is a huge task after the fact and if the model is not as built it is an impossible task.

It need not be this way. If the project are using BIM for design the project team have an intelligent model describing how the asset is designed, how it is supposed to work, what equipment will be there and how components are working together in systems. That could be a great foundation for collecting commissioning and handover documentation. The main contractor can use the equipment database and the visual aspects of the model to assign responsibilities, track status and make it easier to connect documentation to the correct part of the building structure. Digital documentation in the form of BIM objects or standard product datasheets can be automatically delivered by the supply chain the same way they deliver order confirmations and invoices. Standardise and automate the tedious tasks and focus on creating value in describing design intent, user instructions and operations and maintenance procedures.

Product improvements

There are three main problems with handover data today. It is not intelligent, it is impossible to maintain and is a bad foundation for capturing lifecycle history. Design model are neither kept up to date with changes made on site nor updated as specific products are procured, installed and commissioned. The “as built” truth are represented as digital drawings and schedules. These drawings and schedules have lost the object intelligence and parametric capabilities of the model. Issue locations will be captured as dots on a floorplan instead of connected to the equipment or the system. PDF drawings can be annotated but not updated. And how will these annotations across documents and drawings represent the history of the asset?

To model FM process you need the intelligence of the models. If you want to model lifecycle costs, generate maintenance plans and optimise space allocation you need the object intelligence. You need a proper system structure and you need the right properties at the right locations. The only way to get proper object documentation is to get it via the supply chain from the manufacturers.

...chain is no stronger than its weakest link

Supply chain management

Atul suggested supply chain management as a way of thinking to support the lifecycle flow of information. Let´s explore its basic principles to see if there is something for us to learn.

A supply chain is the connected network of individuals, organizations, resources, activities and technologies involved in the manufacture and sale of a product or service. Every product that reaches an end user represents the cumulative effort of multiple organizations.

A supply chain starts with the delivery of raw material from a supplier to a manufacturer, and ends with the delivery of the finished product or service to the end consumer

While supply chains have existed for a long time, most organizations have only paid attention to what was happening within their “four walls.” Few businesses understood, much less managed, the entire chain of activities that ultimately delivered products to the final customer. The result was disjointed and often ineffective supply chains.

Built assets and their digital twins are complex products. They are one-off projects with a unique team working together for the first and last time. The basis for the collaboration is a set of contracts where the owner's requirements are trickled down to designers, contractor, subcontractors and suppliers. To support the procurement and delivery of the digital products there needs to be standard ways to describe a standard delivery. Then the supply chain needs the skills and capabilities to price and deliver according to the specific needs of the owner.

It is easy to think of BIM objects and standard product data sheets as the raw materials of the handover data. It is important to notice however that an Asset Information Model is more than the sum of the BIM objects of delivered products. Some components are made to order and how components are assembled in systems and supposed to work are individual for each project. An efficient supply chain needs to merge these flows of information in an efficient way, e.g.

  • Generic design objects needs to be enriched with real product data without loosing data about design intent and design capability.
  • As built data and history from design and construction needs to be merged with the specific data and documentation collected specifically for operations.

The streamlined supply chain

There are three main foundation for the streamlined supply chain.

The first part is related how requirements and expectations trickle down the supply chain. The owner's specification for a digital delivery should be part of the main contract. For the supply chain to understand what to deliver and be able to price the delivery the contract language and specification should be as standard as possible. Contracts and execution models should help distribute the responsibilities and incentives across the supply chain

Then the supply chain needs access to both generic and product specific components that can be collected, assembled and included in or linked to the models.

As a third foundation the project needs to identify synergies between the handover process and other BIM processes. A lot of the things that we want from a handover BIM model are things that will greatly improve the VDC and Field BIM processes as well. Why wait for handover to clean up the system structure of the model? Also make sure data collection for handover are integrated into the BIM based commissioning process.

Where do we go from here

This has been an introductory post exploring the topic of supply chain information management. It is our plan to come back to the topic and explore more in depth the specific challenges and enablers of a streamlined process. Let us know below if there are specific topics you want covered or if you agree/ disagree on some of the statements made in the blog above.

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