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BIM and Fire Safety: Raising the Bar for Quality by Michael Strömgren

Fire Safe Europe

27 Feb 2019

Article by Michael Strömgren, Public Affairs Manager at Briab

BIM and Fire Safety: Raising the bar for quality

Quality in fire safety is a concern in Europe after the Grenfell Tower Fire. Building information modelling (BIM) and digital work flows has been highlighted as a promising area to address some of these issues, for example by ensuring audit trails and the golden tread of information throughout a project. Correct and dependable information flowing from planning, design, construction and operation of the building is necessary to ensure that regulations, standards and other stakeholder requirements are complied with. BIM creates added and much needed order and dependability in the building process and enables the construction industry to truly enable robust fire safety measures.

What is BIM?

BIM may be defined in two ways: Building Information Models and Building Information Modeling. The first refers to a digital work method that streamlines the building process and makes its components easily accessible to everyone involved in the project. The second is the digital platform and the models that are created. The advantages of digitalizing the building process are obvious. Increasingly, clients are demanding that design is done in a BIM environment. As a result, all the involved parties have easier access to accurate information when required and can collaborate on a joint and quality assured platform.

BIM key to ensure fire safety in buildings

Downstream, the potentials are large. Construction projects will in earlier stages have accurate information that enables better cost control and increases efficiency due to better collaboration and flow of information. For manufacturers it is possible to dock their digital twins into the required specifications for the project. For the constructed building, loads of information and possible applications are unlocked and we can only imagine how this may connect and open new possibilities. It is perhaps not too surprising that the implementation of BIM has been slow in a quite conservative construction sector. The construction sector is considered to be among the least digitized sectors globally. In recent years things have begun to change. Clients more often demand projects to be model based and that all disciplines are required to work within the BIM environment.

The comprehensive review (Hackitt report) of the English fire safety regulatory system, after the Grenfell Tower Fire, interestingly lifted BIM and digital work flows as key to ensure fire safety in buildings. The report recommends that BIM for fire protection be implemented to improve control and transparency. The intent is to enable duty holders to improve accuracy and quality all the way from design to construction to building operation, i.e. ensuring the golden tread of information throughout the project. Essentially, how can you otherwise ensure compliance if information regarding fire safety features of a building is missing or incomplete?

Further development of BIM for fire safety

BIM for fire safety definitely needs to be developed and a report published by Briab in 2018 describes how fire safety engineering may be included in a BIM environment. Critical success factors for future development are identified. These items, such as the need for more knowledge in the fire safety engineering industry about BIM and a need for standardized terminology and processes to work more efficiently. Industry wide joint efforts are needed to ensure that fire safety gets onboard the BIM train. Standardization of terminology and processes are in priority. How can we, for example, ensure that product information is interchangeable in a machine-readable format, from regulations and standard into design and construction practices?

It’s evident that we need to raise the bar for fire safety quality in Europe. BIM and digital work flows for fire safety is an enabler to ensure that we achieve this and reach necessary fire safety objectives for the future. Innovative technology and digitalization in the construction sector will have a big impact in the coming years and we need to grasp this opportunity now. Today there is no guarantee that buildings are built as intended, or that products are used as planned – putting fire safety at risk. We are convinced that BIM can change that.

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