Fire goes BIM

Published:  14 March, 2017

COMMENT: As the construction sector embraces the digital age, where is the fire detection industry? Charles Smith of Apollo provides an overview of BIM’s introduction and fire detection’s progress within the new world.

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is the perfect illustration of how digital advances within the construction and building management sector can give even the most experienced of architects, builders, specifiers and fire detection system designers a helping hand to achieve higher levels of accuracy and efficiency.

It was back in 2011 that BIM became something of a buzz word within the sector as the UK Government announced, through the Government Construction Strategy, its intention to require collaborative 3D BIM on all public projects. The strategy had the main aim of modernising the industry and driving a 20 per cent reduction in both capital cost and the carbon footprint from building projects.

When it first announced this strategy in 2011, the Government initially aimed for implementation within two to three years, but it soon became clear that the construction industry wasn’t ready for such a big step. This led to the implementation date being repeatedly pushed back, eventually to a target of 2016 for all project and asset information, documentation and data being handled electronically via BIM level 2.

As we’ve now seen, the final 2016 deadline has come and gone and we’re beginning to see the impact of BIM construction strategy, with many companies’ plans now totally digitalised and paper versions fast becoming a thing of the past. For early adopters such as Apollo (our BIM library was completed in June 2016), BIM compliance is a truly unique selling point although it’s a fair observation that the fire industry in general still has some way to go before its use is a given.

A BIM object is a combination of many things, product defining information, product properties, geometry data and functional data. Our BIM models include properties that derived from COBie-UK-2012 and requirements called for by the NBS BIM Object Standards. They are available in both Revit and IFC formats, and provide an accurate digital representation of an Apollo product.

The demand we’ve seen for our BIM information has been very encouraging. To date, we’ve seen our BIM objects – both through the NBS national BIM library and our own website – achieve nearly 200,000 views and tens of thousands of downloads. While there is a heavy UK focus, it’s worth highlighting that these figures include users from over 130 different countries. These statistics pay testament to the potential positive impact of the platform to drive innovation within the fire industry on a truly global scale.

The benefits of BIM are clear, with much of the anecdotal feedback we receive being hugely positive. One of the main advantages of its use in fire detection systems is the role it plays in managing integrated systems which often involve different partners, for example one contractor for a fire suppression system, one for the evacuation strategy and another for the detection design. Independently, the three may not always come together, but BIM offers the flexibility for architects and system designers to be able to digitally visualise the product and system models for a range of contractors and how these fit into a plan. This is especially beneficial in circumstances where modifications and adaptions are required.

Another benefit is the ability of BIM to help the customer understand the life cycle of a building. This is particularly pertinent in circumstances where a building may have been taken over and the new occupier hadn’t been involved in its original design and construction, or for the owners of multiple properties who may currently have numerous paper plan details. BIM offers the opportunity for these groups to achieve a better understanding of what has been installed and where, helping to advise them on which products are reaching the end of their life cycle, and when. This is obviously a huge advantage for ensuring the reliability of fire detection systems.

The same approach can also be applied to system maintenance. Knowing when a device or system was installed, and its location – particularly on large-scale projects which see hundreds of detectors in place – is a valuable tool. This helps to ensure that detection systems are regularly maintained, preserving their effectiveness and allowing customers to schedule a cost-efficient programme of maintenance for all of their devices.

Finally, as one of the key driving factors for its inclusion in the UK Government’s Construction Strategy, it’s no surprise that BIM offers considerable cost savings for the industry. As outlined above, BIM is a helpful tool in ensuring timely maintenance and a significant factor in ensuring the effective operation of a detection system. Further cost savings can also be seen at the design stages, with architects and system designers able to see exactly how many devices are needed for a successful system, thereby minimising the wastage of over-ordering often seen in projects.

BIM also plays a fundamental role in helping to deal with the complex intricacies often seen on building projects. An example might be where problems, such as a structural beam in an awkward position, might previously only have been found once detectors had been delivered and installed. These troublesome factors can now be digitally visualised, and solutions to them implemented.

So, what can we expect to see in the future for BIM? It’s clear to us that its uptake will only continue to flourish as its adoption moves increasingly into the private arena as a natural progression from its mandated status for public projects.

In general, as our digital age continues, it will undoubtedly open up a raft of opportunities for the industry. One of these will certainly be the widespread creation of virtual reality environments, which will give all of us within the fire protection sector the opportunity to fully visualise a project at the initial architect design stages. We also fully expect a move towards greater interconnectivity between more systems than at present, as the increased use of digital technologies leads to higher levels of systems integration.

The digital age, and its focus on innovative solutions which will improve safety and efficiencies, is something that we fully embrace and we’re excited about the future developments we anticipate within the sector.

Charles Smith is head of product management at Apollo Fire Detectors.

  • Operation Florian

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