Laing O'Rourke's belief is that the key to successful digital engineering (Building Information Modelling) is the management of data. Aligning that data across multiple project stakeholders and project lifecycle phases provides a platform on which the model can be built. It enables smoother processes, better interoperability and improved data integrity.

The implementation of digital engineering protocols is fundamental to the way we work and has been rolled out across all Laing O'Rourke projects. We engage with the supply chain at the earliest opportunity to implement these protocols. If we can engage with the client's design team at tender stage, we will. The earlier in the process that these protocols can be applied the better, ensuring that the modelled 3D elements contain rich data beyond simple geometry.

Setting the standards

We seek to understand the capabilities and capacity of the project team as soon as possible and to establish an agreed 'level of delivery', together with digital engineering responsibilities and accountabilities. The level of delivery will vary from project to project, but the key fundamental principle that data should be organised at every stage does not change. The project standards will detail at which stage of the project lifecycle the information should be produced, establishing a benchmark of delivery which sets the minimum standards expected, supporting specific deliverables of the project.

Collaborative management

As a global engineering enterprise, we have widespread experience of working with project stakeholders (consultants, designers and the supply chain), who invariably use different software. Typically, we set up and manage the digital engineering environment across the majority of our projects and continue to support the integration of data within the model. For the sharing of individual model files and collaborative management of the resulting combined Building Information Model we use a project extranet. Over the course of many projects we have established a process for hosting model files in this way and maintaining an up-to-date combined Building Information Model which lends itself to the 'federated BIM model structure'. Hosting the model in this way enables us to manage the data during the delivery in a consistent manner such that it can be passed through Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) and into the operational asset phase.

The ability of digital engineering to influence these project phases affords project stakeholders the opportunity to optimise at every stage of the project lifecycle.

Sustainable benefits

A key driver for the uptake of digital engineering in the future will be sustainability. The implications of design decisions from a sustainability aspect can be better understood earlier in the process if digital engineering is embraced. For example, the BIM can be used as a waste minimisation tool, providing consultants with easily accessible material waste information that helps them make informed design decisions. Minimising waste results in reduced risk for the contractor and a lower build cost for the client. Significant volumes of construction waste could not only be diverted from landfill but removed completely from the construction process. Furthermore, the use of the waste generation report created from the model to automatically populate site waste management plans could help construction teams to manage the residual waste generated on a project. This will ensure that the fine balance between waste minimisation and effective waste management is achieved.

Environmental impact and BIM 

Environmental impact and BIM

Another opportunity to leverage the model for sustainability purposes lies in calculating carbon performance. This is achieved at an early stage in the project lifecycle by appending embodied carbon values to commodities used within estimating assemblies. Whenever an estimating assembly is used to price a project, the associated embodied carbon will be calculated. The model can be used to create a detailed Bill of Quantities, driving accurate calculations for the embodied carbon values of the asset. This data can then be presented visually by colouring up model components according to their embodied carbon levels.

A specialist software package that analyses the geometry of a building (shape and size, as well as the specific components of the building envelope) allows us to build an integrated energy model. By specifying the thickness and U-values associated with the building components, as well as infiltration rates, the heat transfer characteristics of the building as a whole can be calculated. When set alongside carbon calculation and waste minimisation, it becomes clear that the model has the potential to be the enabler for a holistic sustainability strategy based on reliable, structured data.

From concept to assembly

Laing O'Rourke also sees digital engineering as a key enabler for Design for Manufacturing and Assembly, driving the manufacturing process from concept to assembly sharing structured data between client, supply chain and contractor. Well managed data is of paramount importance in this process.


Standardized information-rich objects for consultants to use

We work with our supply chain to develop the model in accordance with the methods described in the Laing O'Rourke digital engineering protocols. This enables us to produce a model export which is set up for use by our Explore Industrial Park (EIP) manufacturing facility in Nottinghamshire. The design model can be developed containing data sets and attributes for all manufacturing information accountabilities. The attribute data is used to populate the designers' drawings and schedules. These attributes are retained within the transferred Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) model and are visible in EIP's software package on import. This removes the reliance on 2D drawn data and enables the EIP team to convert the design intent model and progress this with supplementary detail into a manufacture model.

3D information is exchanged from the design consultant's model environment to EIP's software via IFC neutral file format. This provides a robust and enhanced information transfer, delivering project gains by omitting the duplication of model processes and removing the risk of error from human interpretation of 2D drawings. The out-turn benefits of this approach are varied. Laing O'Rourke can achieve greater predictability of outcome in both cost and programme earlier on in the process, and realise efficiency gains. Early decision-making is made easier, as is the drive towards consistency and standardisation, both of which combine to help increase the uptake and application of defined manufactured components. For Laing O'Rourke, this is the apex of collaborative working through digital engineering: empowering clients, consultants and project teams to optimise projects through the use of rich, structured data.

In conclusion, digital engineering has the potential to offer great benefits to the industry, but only if the data is managed correctly. In future, practitioners will be split between those who manage their data and those who let their data manage them. This will manifest itself in the quality of the end product and the value derived from the model.