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Construction evolution brings complexity

Korky Koroluk
Construction evolution brings complexity
Korky Koroluk

The things we build become more complex all the time.

Whether it’s an office building or a hospital, a school or a shopping mall, it’s far more complex than a similar structure would have been 15 or 20 years ago. That’s why BIM (Building Information Modeling) is gaining popularity. It’s a system, or, more precisely, a system of systems that, together, can deal with complex tasks.

Bridges also get more complex all the time, using new suspension systems, and sophisticated networks of sensors that allow engineers to track not only the construction, but the performance of bridges throughout their service lives. Hence BrIM—Bridge Information Modeling.

Underlying the demand for such new and novel systems is the need for sustainability and economy, the twin imperatives that drive almost all innovation in the construction industry today. Sure, we need safer, more economical bridges, but they must also meet long-term needs without compromising the resources that will be needed by future generations. They must be sustainable.

BrIM, like its older cousin, BIM, is all about the collection, organization and sharing of data. Even a modest bridge can yield a lot of data; put them all together and you have information in a useable form. BrIM provides data-sharing between the multiple disciplines involved in a bridge project.

Using that information, design professionals can reduce construction costs using more economical designs. They can improve quantity take-offs and model each step of the construction process in four dimensions—the fourth dimension being time.

Of course, for all this to happen there must be smooth interoperability between software and data systems, and BrIM provides that, too.

Bentley Systems was perhaps the first big construction software company to launch a BrIM package, and it, along with Autodesk, remains a key player in the field. An article on Bentley’s website mentions that that more than a quarter of 600,000 bridges in the United States are deficient.

The ratio will vary from country to country, but consider: North America did a lot of road and bridge building after the Second World War. In the same period, most of Europe and a lot of Asia was rebuilding as quickly as possible.

When all those bridges were being built, bridge engineers saw design, construction, operations and management as distinct functions, and it wasn’t often that the lines between them were crossed. People didn’t realize the benefits of a multidisciplinary approach because they only saw the day-to-day problems in their own areas.

Now we’re all in an era of renewal. We’re also in an era of growing environmental awareness, of global warming and the need to strive for sustainability in all our activities. And, at the moment, we’re living through a period of fiscal restraint in a shaky global economy. All that is why BrIM is arriving at precisely the right time. By embracing a multidisciplinary approach, by adopting the idea of cradle-to-grave asset management, we will meet the problems, that bedevil any project, better.

The idea of BrIM has been around for perhaps seven or eight years now, and it’s only begun to make its presence felt in infrastructure markets. But BIM was also slow out of the starting blocks.

The construction industry has yet to hear much about BrIM. It’s still evolving, after all. And in Canada, no champion has emerged; no one is leading the charge, talking about BrIM to industry groups.

Perhaps it’s a bit early for that. But it’s not too early to do a little reading on the subject, to ask provincial transportation departments about it.

And, when the politicians decide the location for the new Ottawa River bridge that’s been talked of for so long, maybe, just maybe, BrIM will enter the discussion.

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to

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