Naji Attalah of Autodesk comments on future of 3D design technology and what it means for projects

Building Information Modeling, or BIM, is playing an increasing role across the entire spectrum of the design and build industry in the Middle East.

And it is becoming more and more the norm for the 3D technology, which provides a constantly updated virtual model of a project, to be deployed over the lifetime of a building – from conceptualisation through to operation.

Technology pioneer Autodesk is at the forefront of allowing systems to become mobile through software such as BIM 360 – so that engineers and contractors can receive real-time information in the field to tackle architectural or construction issues as soon as they arise.

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The firm’s head of architecture, engineering and construction, Naji Attalah thinks greater use of BIM technology can only be good for the GCC and wider region.

“The BIM market in the Middle East is vibrant and continuously growing,” says Attalah.

“This is an achievement that will be hugely beneficial for the region as a whole as it continues to upgrade and build new infrastructure, housing and commercial buildings and establish itself as not just a consumer but a provider of modern industry methods and results world-wide.

“We are seeing owners in the Middle East pushing the limits by sometimes steering what BIM should deliver.”

Across the UAE the country’s construction segment is set to grow at an average annual growth rate of 5.1% through 2016, according to the latest figures seen by market analysts.

Currently six mega-infrastructure projects worth over $55.11bn are in the offing, including the Dubai Metro, the Emirates Road Master Plan and airport expansion projects.

Dubai in particular is experiencing a surge in the number of new government-led infrastructure developments and the recommencement of work on stalled projects. Attalah says: “Industry analysts have expressed that the UAE is poised to deliver multi-billion mega projects by the year 2020, [so] the adoption of BIM represents a paradigm shift for the construction industry.

“Autodesk pioneered the BIM concept and it is surely an example of how design technology can help optimise project costs, enhance sustainability and energy efficiency of buildings and also guarantee higher return on investment for owners and operators.”

Autodesk cites its work with Qatar Rail as an example of the firm’s approach to implentation and maintaining the technology.

“The company will provide BIM implementing, consultancy and advisory services to Qatar Rail, which is responsible for the design, construction, commissioning, operation and maintenance of the entire rail network and systems within Qatar,” says Attalah. “Autodesk’s consulting team will support Qatar Rail on the implementation of BIM technologies and practices. The aim is to help decrease the overall time and costs of railway projects by minimising rework and miscommunication, providing better insight into projects, and accelerating decision-making.”

The technology has revolutionised the industry’s approach to design and build, say Autodesk, as it has allowed stakeholders to achieve key virtual construction abilities through cloud technologies that streamline workflow, which help in finishing jobs on time and on budget.

Another factor in the further adoption of BIM, is that companies are now implementing in-house training schemes to ensure that any deficit of skills is addressed.

Attalah says: “The days of spending countless hours over a project are on their way out. Enabling virtual communication from developers to post-handover operators, BIM offers project parties insight throughout the lifecycle of a project.

“Each project party also gets to handle its own section, amending and adding its expertise to the shared model to be used across the board. The benefits of BIM are many. Practically speaking, for instance, a shared model such as one produced through BIM reduces the chance of structural and design clashes on a project.”

Attalah feels owners have realised that BIM adoption is beneficial throughout the lifecycle of the building – not just being an integral part of the design and construct phases.

The operation may cost the owner three times the cost of the entire design and construction process.

He says: “To achieve these cost savings, owners are leveraging BIM models in building operations as well. The mandates of the owners for comprehensive BIM models are trickling down to consultants and sometimes contractors. We see a trend of consultants starting to adopt BIM without owner mandates after executing some projects and seeing the benefits.”

Attalah says the majority of software in the architectural, engineering and construction sector is used at the office in the design phase. But he feels that this is not in line with project expenditure that happens on the project site. Autodesk is trying to balance construction and design but allowaccess to technology on site using cloud and mobile.

Autodesk has recently developed BIM 360 field construction, on-site management software, which combines mobile technologies for on-site use with cloud-based collaboration and reporting.

It is aimed at giving construction professionals the advantage of new ways to manage field processes: such as quality, safety, and commissioning checklists; distribution of plans and drawings; and mobile 3D and BIM construction document access.

Sustainability is another increasing ly important factor in building design and Autodesk feels that BIM has a vital part to play.

Attalah says: “The sustainability of our built environment is particularly significant when you consider that the majority of the buildings that we will live and work in over the next 30 years have not been built following correct green standards.

“As such, reducing the carbon footprint of buildings is essential for stemming climate change. The sustainability of a new building is based on many factors including water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, etc.

“These factors are heavily influenced by a building’s architectural design, site design and supporting civil infrastructure, and of course the design of the building systems.”

He uses the example of mechanical engineers who, he says, influence a building’s performance in support of sustainable design with greener approaches and by producing supporting documentation for evaluation.

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