One size fits all: can BIM be ‘business as usual’ for the construction industry?

While there are numerous case studies involving multi-million pound new-build projects delivered by the largest of organisations, one of the more common questions about BIM in the construction industry is about its suitability for all projects. Is BIM appropriate for smaller, more complex projects? What about refurb projects, or projects led by small to medium enterprise organisations?

With detailed examples and drawing on the lessons learned from the refurbishment of our own Grade II listed, Newcastle-based NBS headquarters, this case study explores how we used BIM throughout the project.

In March 2016 we set out to transform our headquarters in Newcastle upon Tyne, turning the Old Post Office into an engaging and inspiring workspace built around two large open plan floor spaces. The vision was to create an exciting space where the NBS team could do exciting things, positioning us at the forefront of the new digital economy.

The initial brief was to provide workspace for 180 people, with capacity to expand in future if needed. A variety of meeting spaces would be needed, both formal and informal, to facilitate groups, breakout discussions and all the way up to full boardroom meetings. Further requirements included a lecture suite, an exhibition and events space, a café hub, a workplace gym, and incubator office space for fledgling digital businesses.

Finally, the project was to be an exemplar in the use of BIM, from the employer’s information requirements through to project team collaboration and then to handover of digital information. Our challenge was to show the industry that BIM could work on a complex city centre refurbishment project involving a listed building.

Stages 0 and 1 of the RIBA Plan of Work Stages 0 and 1 of the RIBA Plan of Work

The project followed the new RIBA Plan of Work stages and, starting with strategy, we developed a client brief and appointed JDDK Architects to the role of lead designer and architect.

At the briefing stage, an individual plan of work for the team was put together using the RIBA schedule of services. Prior to modelling work, JDDK undertook research sessions with NBS employees to help establish their ideal office space. Lunchtime presentations set out the proposed approach to the project while a graffiti wall and the use of desktop postcards were used to gather staff comments. All of this information was digitised and informed the design brief which would then flow into the modelling and specification process.

Summers Inman were brought on board to complete a cutting edge 3D laser scan of the Old Post Office, which was then translated into a digital model. This model was used to generate the information for planning applications and to secure listed building consent.

A laser scan of the existing building
Building the digital model of the existing building from the scan

Interior designers Ward Robinson, service engineers Armstrong Rhead and structural engineers BDN had input early on in the project timeline, with the resultant modelling used to form the proposed works for approval by the clients’ board.

Coordinated models from all disciplines of building fabric, services and furniture layout, built around the precise geometry of an original building built in 1871 is a fantastic example of how BIM can be used to improve efficiencies and reduce the risk of incorrect data.

Stages 2 to 4 of the RIBA Plan of Work Stages 2 to 4 of the RIBA Plan of Work

An integrated process

The creation of a federated model shared between disciplines ensured that the geometric aspects of the design were coordinated. Accurate dimensions from the 3D laser scan enabled collaboration between the architects, engineers and interior designers combining designs, allowing structure and services to be coordinated in complex areas of the historic building.

Coordination was, however, not limited to the geometric design. NBS Create was used in conjunction with NBS plug-ins to coordinate the design items in the digital model with the equivalent items in the specification.

Coordinating complex new engineering work with the architecture of the existing building
Coordinating the design and specification for the new office floor

An online common data environment and standardised process was used so that the project team could always access the latest versions of important documentation, such as the models and the drawings from these models.

This information set was then passed to the contractor’s team so that information could be used during the tender process and then through the construction phase. Information from the models and specifications was then distributed through the sub-contractors and suppliers as the building work took place.

New approaches to BIM

Typically, BIM projects have focused on the coordination of geometry and generation of drawings from the 3D models. However, with this project we really focused on the production of digital information, wider in scope than just the geometry.

Designers used the NBS National BIM Library to drag and drop supplier objects directly into their models, such as pipelines from Wavin, roof lights from Velux, raised access floors from Kingspan Access Floors and products from Dyson, Ideal Standard and Dolphin Dispensers. Using standardised BIM objects from the cloud allowed information to be more efficiently and accurately assembled.

Sanitary ware design using NBS National BIM Library
I did find that because of the lack of objects available across the industry, that as we were working we would have a bias towards manufacturers with BIM objects available. So for example, whether it’s sanitary ware, raised floors, suspended ceilings or rooflights, that where objects were available then that made life really easy.

Adam Vaughan, Director and Architect, JDDK

Standardised digital information was also used from the suppliers to form the specification, with roof specifications from Bauder, curtain walling specifications from SAS and floor covering specifications from Forbo.

Specifying the manufacturer products that comprise a roof covering system
Specifying the performance of a coating system and requesting proposals from the main contractor
Moving to NBS Create (from NBS Building) was quite a change. One of the things about NBS Create is that it really plugs in nicely to Revit. It allows you to check that all of your objects and materials have got a corresponding specification clause… and whilst at the start it seems quite daunting, it really helps the BIM workflow.

Adam Vaughan, Director and Architect, JDDK

A more efficient method of working

NBS research shows that £2bn is lost in the UK construction industry through rework, and one of the major causes is badly coordinated project information.

Working as part of a team in a collaborative 3D environment allowed work to coordinate all aspects of the project to design out potential risks at each stage. Carrying out visual inspections of models and automated reviews using clash detection reduced the chance of unexpected and potentially costly problems on site.

Stages 5 to 7 of the RIBA Plan of Work Stages 5 to 7 of the RIBA Plan of Work

By using the industry-leading specification software, the team ensured that all items or products within the project were within information stores and fully coordinated prior to construction. We feel that the adoption of BIM in our refurbishment had clear benefits throughout the project timeline, from the consistency of the specification to the build and through to the operation and maintenance (O+M) of the building.

Information flow

The main contractors provided NBS with the final 3D model as well as a digital archive of all of the assets that require maintenance from all of the suppliers and sub-contractors. This information will now be used on a day-to-day basis to in the operation and maintenance of the building.

We are now investigating how to use innovative web technologies to link an online 3D model with this O+M data on our intranet to help with the running of the building.

Using web technologies to view the building information model through the web browser

A success story

Great success stories are always achieved when talent and experience combine with innovation and enterprise – a formula that has delivered great success for NBS. Integral to our growth is our Newcastle-based headquarters within the historic Grade II listed Old Post Office building.

Project team

JDDK Architects

Summers Inman

Ward Robinson

Armstrong Rhead


Surgo Construction

Manufacturers featured

Wavin Ltd BIM objects, Kingspan Access Floors Ltd BIM objects and NBS Plus specifications, Dyson BIM objects, Bauder Ltd NBS Plus specifications, Dolphin Solutions BIM objects, Armstrong Ceiling Solutions NBS Plus specifications, Velux Company Ltd BIM objects and NBS Plus specifications, Smart Systems NBS Plus specifications.

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