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BAM Nuttall increases productivity by a quarter on rail projects with BIM 360

BAM Nuttall is one of the largest civil engineering contractors in the UK. Established for more than 150 years, the company delivers exceptional services for the public and private sector, ranging from road and rail to tunnelling and marine schemes. In 2017, BAM Nuttall undertook two projects for Merseytravel and Network Rail to accommodate new trains and extend capacity on the railway in the North West of England.

13.4

hours saved per person per week

27%

increase in efficiency

40,737

photos uploaded to BIM 360

Discover the capabilities of BIM 360, the top construction project management software.

The Problem

BAM Nuttall was employed on two projects to improve rail capacity in the North West. One project for Merseytravel involved preparing the rail infrastructure for a new fleet of Stadler trains. The £18m Merseytravel Depot Construction Contract (DCC) project involved upgrading the existing Train Maintenance Depot (TMD) at Kirkdale, with stabling facilities, maintenance sheds, offices and a training simulator.

Running in parallel, the Northern Train Lengthening programme was a £3.9m project for Network Rail to extend all the platforms at five stations between Streethouse (Featherstone) and Knottingley in Yorkshire. The new platforms would accommodate the three car trains used in the new fleet, delivering a 50% increase in capacity. The complex, multidisciplinary projects would incorporate rail, civil engineering, mechanical and electrical specialisms.

All rail infrastructure projects are complex in nature, undertaken within high risk environments and with buried and overhead services in abundance. These projects presented significant challenges for BAM Nuttall; the original Kirkdale depot had been constructed in 1880, and there were few records available. The area had also been bombed extensively during the second world war. The team contended with old turntable foundations around the depot and the 1,040 buried services revealed by a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey along 11.5km of railway.

From the beginning, the BAM Nuttall team had to think outside the box to manage the projects properly. Health, safety and quality were key performance objectives, and for Construction Project Manager Raymond Castelyn, it wasn’t workable to rely on paper-based processes.

“At the beginning of the project, the paper-based document management was a nightmare,” recalls Raymond. “The site was too large to be carrying around big drawings with you – and we had 150 drawings that were being regularly updated. Identifying locations could be a challenge, as the appearance of the site before and after the project was night and day.”

If photos were taken of the site, they had to be downloaded from devices, saved in a folder and then relabelled with their location, to make them searchable. “Photos are worth a thousand words, but it was a massively time-consuming process, so at crunch points in the project people just wouldn’t have time to do it,” notes Raymond.

Paper-based processes were also being used to identify and report both health and safety and quality issues, through track sheets and finding sheets. “The documents would be printed and then filled out manually, normally when people got back to the office – so it was hard to be sure they were always accurate,” recalls Raymond.

The data would then be put into the system manually for performance tracking, which made it difficult to quickly identify the trends and patterns that could precede undesirable outcomes. Daily diaries were also filled out by hand. As with all paper-based systems, there was a risk of documents being lost.

As Raymond notes, “With the paper-based processes, we had no traceability, mobility or transparency – and it wasn’t sustainable.” He decided to find and adopt a solution that would improve upon traditional techniques for gathering, analysing and reporting the site data.

The Solution

BIM 360 is a unified platform that connects project teams and data in real-time, from design through construction. Using BIM 360 in the field enables teams to access and collect data on-site, for improved information-sharing, tracking and reporting.

As an organisation, BAM Nuttall had been using BIM 360 on some projects since 2012. Raymond and the team started planning to implement BIM 360 for the field eight months into the Merseytravel DCC project, in September 2017. The team was equipped with five iPads to use on-site and from January 2018, everything had to be digital.

A feature that delivered immediate benefits was the photo tracking function. With BIM 360, the onsite team could link photos to a location or asset, instantly connecting them to site diaries or trackable issues. “It’s a big thing, having everything on one platform,” explains Raymond. “Anyone could look up a specific area of the site and find the photos and records, thanks to the smart tracking.”

Accessing the drawings and models enabled the team to make better decisions on-site. Raymond notes, “It was helpful for coordinating. For example, we had a 3D model of the 1,040 individual buried services revealed by the GPR survey. If I went on-site and someone asked me, ‘Where’s that water main?’ I could look it up on the iPad and say with complete confidence, ‘It’s two meters from that manhole.’ That was hugely important.”

Health and safety forms could be completed on-site, then immediately uploaded and reported, so that the site team could track safety statistics and eliminate incidents. Quality checklists, non-conformance reports (NCRs) and corrective action requests could all be filled in from the field.

The main users of BIM 360 were engineers onsite. As Raymond recalls, adoption was initially mixed: “Resistance to change is always the biggest issue, when it feels easier to optimise a broken process than to learn a new one. But I had people like my deputy on the job, who was in his 60s and immediately said ‘Wow, this is great.”

At the end of the project, people had been won round. Responding to a survey on the technology, one commented, “As I was new to BIM 360, I had to start fresh with the system. However, it wasn’t too difficult to work, and I was able to ask my team questions whenever I was stuck. I feel it saves time, especially when you’re able to stay on site instead of having to go back to the office.”

The projects benefitted from an improved level of traceability. The team could track the cost of each NCR and identify challenges with any subcontractors or elements. Reports could easily be generated and sent to each subcontractor on a weekly basis. Monthly reports were also shared with the client and the wider BAM Nuttall team, improving visibility and communication across the project.

Results

Using BIM 360 significantly improved the efficiency of both projects, according to data that Raymond collected. On the Merseytravel DCC, the project saw savings of 13.4 hours in a 50-hour week per person when averaged across the team, resulting in a 27% increase in efficiency.

The results on the smaller Northern Train Lengthening programme were consistent, with 16.2 hours saved per person per week, equivalent to a 32% increase in efficiency. Team members noted in a survey that the impact on their working day was significant: “Huge time and cost savings can be made on a project by using BIM 360 to manage the site.”

The highly bespoke nature of the projects made it difficult to benchmark the impact of BIM 360 on quality. However, Raymond notes that the number of issues recorded exceeded any other project across BAM Nuttall’s rail division in 2018: “With only 28 people on the project and five iPads on site, we took more photos than any other project, recorded more issues – and the list goes on. That’s a really positive sign that our tracking was better even than much larger projects.”

Using BIM 360 to capture data in the field also supported the final handover to the client. Although using the platform for the handover wasn’t part of the original contract, the team could easily extract rich information directly from the platform and pass it on, supporting the long-term management of the assets.

The platform opened up significant possibilities for data analytics, as due to the rich data export function, the information could be visualised in PowerBI: “Having all the data in one place means you can start doing the smart stuff. You can track close calls and issues or pick up problems in particular areas like concrete. Traditionally it would be really complex to pull that information from Excel sheets, but with BIM 360 the data is exported with the click of a button. Data is what it will all be about going forward, and with BIM 360 you get a solid foundation in place.”

Using BIM 360 in the field delivered significant return on investment. On the bedded services part of the project alone, Raymond estimates that conducting the GPR survey then having the 3D models available on-site delivered a return on investment of 4:1. As BAM Nuttall already had the BIM 360 licenses in place, the only costs of implementation were the five iPads and the time taken on planning and training.

The Merseytravel DCC project was the first time that a 3D model had been linked into BIM 360 in the rail division. Following the success of the project, BAM Nuttall has ambitious plans to roll out and mandate BIM 360 in the field on all other rail projects. And during the disruption caused by Covid-19, BIM 360 is already helping teams on other projects to share specific pandemic-related checklists to ensure that employees can work safely.

Raymond is looking forward to using BIM 360 on future projects: “To me, it’s a no-brainer.” Meanwhile, the positive experiences of other project teams are clear from their survey responses: “The 3D model is a fantastic tool. In a way, the BIM 360 app should be set up so the user MUST access the model to start doing their work. In my opinion, it’s one of the best things to happen on construction sites in a long time.”

Quotation mark

"Having all the data in one place means you can start doing the smart stuff. You can track close calls and issues or pick up problems in particular areas like concrete. Data is what it will all be about going forward, and with BIM 360 you get a solid foundation in place"

- Raymond Castelyn, Construction Project Manager
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