As part of the Marseille light rail system extension project, in which 7km of new transport infrastructure and a maintenance and stabling facility are to be built, Egis has developed new collaborative working and technical project review methods based on the digital model.
An important milestone in an engineering project cycle, technical reviews offer project management teams an opportunity to scrutinise the various subjects at play in the correct spatial and functional integration of the project’s make up, or to identify inconsistencies and at risk areas. These meetings are also a good time to “re-synchronise” specialists around the latest project developments.
Up until a few months ago, digital models were generally incomprehensible to non-specialists. People wishing to consult them needed to be familiar with 3D design or visualisation tools, own the latest updated software and be able to find their way around the multitude of models or objects contained within them. Consequently, except for a select number of qualified people, only a few contributors in the project unit ultimately succeeded in adopting and using the digital model in their everyday job.
Such is the drawback that Egis wished to avoid on the Marseille project, by helping its teams and stakeholders to experience the digital model in a totally different way by using a BIM collaboration platform (the Bimsync solution by Catenda) from the earliest design stages.
All aboard the BIM platform!
Thanks to this platform, it has become possible for all contributors - and not only BIM specialists - to navigate around the project model and consult its content using a basic web-connected browser. And to discuss the project, there is no longer any need to highlight plans or exchange sketches by email: the platform is capable of supporting technical conversations focusing on specific objects or places in the model and managing them itself until they are closed.
A new form of issue log.
So what has this changed? Firstly, the digital model has, over the course of its compilation, become the place to start (or continue) discussions during consolidation and project reviews. The possibility of creating “Post-Its” in the model, holding discussions around them and assigning them to the relevant specialists and managing them in the dashboard, met with the strong approval of all the engineers and architects in the team.
Through this platform it is as if technical reviews became “open for business 24/7”. The updated models are easily consulted by all contributors who can thus analyse their production in view of interfaces with other packages and submit their comments online.
Thus, nearly 370 issues emerged during the design of the maintenance facility and the 7 km of infrastructure. This issue database, which is similar to a project’s technical issue log, helped us focus our meetings steered by our design consolidation manager on issues which deserved to be discussed around the table, whilst keeping track of the decisions taken and the issues to be developed subsequently.
The model as a catalyst of collective intelligence.
Furthermore, the Marseille experience showed that with a shared model, the project consolidation manager was no longer the only person tasked with identifying and solving problems. Offering everyone access to the digital model helped us to harness the experience and viewpoints of all contributors, but also activate the collective intelligence of the team.
Finally, complex projects such as the Marseille tram draw on the expertise of a wide range of specialists who do not all hail from the same world. The digital model may not turn their world upside down, but it acts as a “frontier object” to them, i.e. an intelligible medium to help them understand one another more easily, without requiring any particular translation effort.
A more natural, but not automatic, collaboration.
These 18 months of hands-on experience in Marseille showed that the latest BIM platforms could make digital models accessible to everyone and facilitate collaboration. There is not much further to go before project owners and their partners will also be able to draw benefit from digital models in their everyday work.
But while collaboration around models appears natural, the interoperability between the different specialist 3D solutions, the organisation of data (no fewer than 130 models in our case!) and managing information flows nevertheless require proficiency in BIM exchange methods and rigorous oversight. In Marseille, without the mobilisation of a BIM integrator within the team, our approach would not have led to such conclusive results.