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Case Study: Manchester schools

Atkins multiplies BIM by seven

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  • Client: Manchester City Council
  • Lead Contractor: Laing O'Rourke
  • BIM Tools: Autodesk Revit

Atkins, working with Ellis Williams architects, used BIM to carry out design work for seven school projects in Manchester as part of the council’s “Basic Needs” programme, which was funded by the Education Funding Agency.

Although the projects in the framework varied in scale, from classroom block extensions to the £4.5m Manchester Communication Primary Academy, the council demanded that BIM be used across all of the projects.

It’s a requirement that Neil Bowker, senior architect at Atkins, sees as becoming the norm. “I think that this what you have to do now. If you are not BIM-enabled then you need to improve your game as most clients [we work with] now demand it.”

“All our projects are delivered in BIM, this is our normal way of working now, this project is pretty standard in this regard,” Bowker adds.

Ellis Williams – which delivered RIBA Stages 1 to 3 – created and populated the original BIM models, which were taken on by Atkins and eventually passed to contractor Laing O’Rourke. Atkins was also responsible for providing structural, mechanical, electrical, acoustic and fire engineering services.

Prefabrication was a key element in the suite of seven buildings

The information exchange process was developed in line with best practice, drawing on BS1192:2007 and PAS 1192-2:2013. It included a checking and audit process to ensure the data was consistent with the BIM Execution Plan (BEP).

However, this was not strictly a Level 2 project, says Bowker: “The building was delivered in the spirit of Level 2. We weren’t required to provide COBie data drops for example so elements of strict Level 2 weren't included.”

An 18-month design schedule meant collaboration between all teams was essential to keep the project on time and budget. Although the BEP shaped day-to-day data management and provided guidance for the various teams, informal conversations were key to delivering the project on time.

Bowker explains: “The speed of the project required a high level of collaboration to ensure that the handover went as smoothly as possible. There were open honest conversations between Ellis Williams and ourselves to determine what needed to be done by whom. We could have worked more contractually, but a lot was agreed face-to-face. Of course, this was all underpinned by a contractual agreement.”

The library of BIM objects meant that elements didn’t need to be reproduced for every project.

Once Atkins took ownership of the model, there were even greater levels of coordination between the disciplines. All the separate design teams worked in Revit, and as all the disciplines were in the same company, live models could be shared between the teams.

“We had informal conversations as the other design team members were part of Atkins, we could share the live model without the normal challenges surrounding quality assurance. We still had a formal process to go through, but the opportunity to informally share information greatly improved the design and coordination process,” says Bowker. 

This regular sharing regime ensured the streamlined coordination of BIM models, which reduced the need for amendments.

As prefabrication was a key element in the suite of seven buildings, standardised elements were created in a central location then pushed out to all the models. This included structural concrete elements, a SIPS product used in the external envelope, the classroom ventilation system, windows and doors.

This library of BIM objects meant that elements didn’t need to be reproduced for every project. As an object was refined in the “central library” the changes were synchronised across all the projects. This also eased the quality management across the whole programme.

This library came into its own when a late budget change meant that more than 100 windows had to be altered across the schools.

Bowker explains: “Due to a late change we had to amendments to the window systems on all the schemes. We updated in these in the central library and then pushed it out to all the models, which was a relatively painless process.”

There were open honest conversations between Ellis Williams and ourselves to determine what needed to be done by whom. We could have worked more contractually, but a lot was agreed face-to-face.– Neil Bowker, Atkins