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Mission BIMpossible

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A significant challenge facing the rail industry today is the mandate that all centrally funded government infrastructure projects should be BIM Level 2 compliant by April 2016. Whilst the software tools used in the construction sector are quite mature and evolved, those currently utilised for linear projects such as rail electrification are still developing.

Due to the complex nature of BIM on linear projects, companies range from being rather progressed and having a mature set of processes and protocols to those still developing their information requirements. To help address this, and in anticipation of customer requirements, a team of Balfour Beatty engineers has devised a new software package known as RED (Railway Electrification Designer), which provides the ability to deliver BIM Level 2 in the rail industry electrification sector.

BIM Level 2

BIM stands for Building Information Modelling. In its simplest form it is the method, means and processes by which anyone can understand a building, specifically a digital model of a building.

Level 0 is where designs are 2D, usually paper based and no collaboration occurs. Level 1 sees the introduction of some 3D modelling and sharing of data through a common data environment.

At Level 2, fully collaborative working is introduced, each party using its own individual 3D model and paying particular attention to how information is exchanged and shared. These individual models can be assembled into a multi-disciplinary or federated model.

The challenges

The BIM Level 2 mandate generates the necessity for a clear definition of BIM for rail, not just the acronym itself but the design change methodology it spawns – the shift from creating 2D ‘flat’ drawings to delivering ‘intelligent’ 3D models with attached information. The level of detail required in each model must be defined according to its type and, more specifically, what stage it’s at within the design lifecycle. The exchange of this information must also play a vital role in the whole design process; and it must be done in a common format that all parties can understand.

There is also a need to define BIM in relation to the provision of linear assets, as its foundations were laid in the vertical world of buildings. A building consists of easily definable spaces and the materials used to create them, floors, rooms, windows and furnishings.

Naturally, as the building design progresses, a whole host of information is generated, attached to a model and organised by spaces into what constitutes an asset – the building is the asset, singular and definable.

However, if the project is to electrify a stretch of railway, things get a little more complicated. There is more difficulty in defining assets along a 50km route of railway; is the whole 50km route the asset? If not, is it broken down into discipline-specific assets – track, signals, and civils? There are no floors, no rooms and arguably, in an OLE (Overhead Line Equipment) project, there is no easily and singularly definable asset.

Additionally, unlike the building market, there is no national BIM library for OLE, so all suppliers have to model and attach asset information to each component, which takes a significant amount of time. There are, therefore, additional challenges to overcome. How are 3D models drawn quickly and efficiently without the creation of a component library, and how is information attached to that 3D model easily?

There is a general consensus within the rail industry in relation to achieving BIM Level 2 – assets need to be defined, assets should be modelled in 3D and each asset should have the relevant information attached to it. One further step closer to the successful implementation of BIM is to look at BS1192. This British standard guides the industry on how to manage, collaborate and understand asset information. In fact, if parties can create 3D models, attach information to them and collaborate using these models in what is defined as the ‘common data environment’, they are well on the way to achieving BIM Level 2.

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With this in mind, three engineers from Balfour Beatty Rail Engineering Technology Solutions, based in Balfour Beatty’s Electrification Design Hub at Alaska House in Liverpool, have, over the last 12 months, developed their own ground breaking BIM platform – RED (Railway Electrification Designer). RED is a stand-alone software application for Microsoft WindowsTM that integrates with Bentley’s MicrostationTM CAD package and it simply removes the 3D modelling and asset tagging challenges by automating and streamlining the OLE modelling process.

3D models

RED can generate 3D solid OLE models in real-time, enabling a significant reduction in 3D draughting time whilst maintaining engineering integrity and eliminating the need to draw 3D OLE components manually. By using RED, the time taken to create a complex OLE structure is significantly reduced compared to traditional methods. RED has been designed to be easy and intuitive to use, enabling rapid component creation. So, not only does it enable efficient working in 3D, it does so without the need to have an extensive library of pre-prepared components. Furthermore, if any adjustments are required, editing a 3D model using RED is easy as it permits modification to components without the need to completely redraw them.

RED promotes collaboration as it can be used in design meetings such as inter-disciplinary reviews and signal sighting reviews. Users can make OLE design changes on-screen, reducing iterations and making the process lean. RED is also configurable for each OLE project – it is designed to be fully configurable to comply with any relevant CAD standards.

Additionally, it is worth noting that 2D elevations (cross sections) and 2D plan views (layouts) are created in parallel as part of the 3D RED model. Each time an edit is made to the model, the changes are reflected in the 2D extractions. A single 3D RED model, where all the graphical and asset data exists, forms a singular model, a single source of truth.

Asset information and data capture

RED utilises three significant technologies to address asset data capture. The first piece of technology deals with track information – as each structure is created in 3D, RED automatically detects and applies ‘cant’ and ‘high rail’ data using the RED Track Detect System.

Secondly, RED is able to detect ground profile models and understand how these interact with foundations, enabling correct geospatial placement of OLE models.

Thirdly, RED dynamically attaches information to each 3D component as it’s modelled. Currently, RED uses the Network Rail Ellipse data structure to organise asset information. However, RED is flexible enough to be configured for virtually any type of asset information required.

Importantly, information can be augmented and improved upon at each stage in the design life cycle. The supplier might add minor or indicative information at the preliminary or conceptual design phase but, as the model progresses through its life, more and more data may be added. This means that a RED model can be created at concept and the same model can be delivered to the client for virtualisation and 3D driver training at the end of a project.

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Whilst RED has a robust, extensible and configurable data framework, where any and all information can be stored, the granularity of what data is required at each design stage remains undefined. When the industry decides on its requirements, RED can easily be adapted.

Information exchange

BIM Level 2 requires that data is exchanged between parties and RED does this effortlessly as it has a built in export engine which allows all OLE and track data to be exported. Driven by user-editable templates, the system can export data to COBie (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange), IFC (Industry Foundation Class) or any other industry standard format. These exports can be transmitted alongside the model and satisfy the BIM Level 2 requirements for information exchange.

RED is a design package for OLE that is both CAD and BIM Level 2 compliant. It is compatible with major electronic document management systems, particularly Bentley ProjectWiseTM, and its model output is compatible with all major CAD packages. RED is a full life-cycle BIM design package and Balfour Beatty is committed to its continued development.

Ian Heague is principle engineer, Peter Evans is design engineer and Jon Mercer software engineer with Balfour Beatty Engineering Technology Solutions. The team can be contacted on 0151 529 7428. To learn more abut BIM in a railway environment, come to the Rail BIM Summit in London at the end of January.


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