As a family-run company, Wills Bros focuses on delivering projects to the highest quality, to build long-standing relationships with clients. The company specialises in civil engineering, working as the main contractor with multiple collaborators to deliver large, complex infrastructure projects, such as highways and bridges.
With its near 50-year history, Wills Bros had a heritage which involved paper-based or manual processes, which could lead to inefficiencies on projects. During design reviews, for example, information would be passed around by email, with feedback and approvals tracked manually through Excel spreadsheets. Version control was a challenge – and teams risked working from outdated or incomplete documents.
Issues management could also be a time-consuming process, as field inspections were usually paper-based. Team members would record information manually on-site, before returning to the office to collate the details. Another member of the team would then transfer the information into the Wills Bros non-conformance report (NCR) format for the project record. The process was not only inefficient, but could lead to a lack of visibility over ongoing inspections – and could ultimately delay close-outs.
On many projects, physical filing cabinets had to be maintained on-site in the document controller’s office. The paper-based documentation could be vulnerable to damage in difficult weather conditions, as well as issues like loss and theft. Ultimately the processes were limiting the usefulness of information during the project lifecycle – and preventing Wills Bros from getting the most value from its data.
Wills Bros has been adopting technology and transitioning to digital processes over a number of years. But in early 2019, the company was awarded two significant projects in Scotland. The two large scale civil infrastructure projects, with a combined project worth over £50 million, required BIM Level 2 compliance.
One project involved expanding an airport, surrounding businesses and connections between communities. Muhammad Salman Misri, BIM Coordinator at Wills Bros, explains, “We would be developing infrastructure including two bridges, roadworks and drainage works over two years. Given the scope of the site, having the right quality control processes in place would be vital.”
The other project would involve creating a bypass by delivering 5km of roadworks, including three roundabouts. Muhammad Ziyad Rasheed, BIM Coordinator at Wills Bros, explains, “We would be working within a number of environmental and historical constraints, alongside many public sector stakeholders. It was really important that we could communicate effectively throughout the project.”
To deliver each project, Wills Bros needed a common data environment to centralise all information in one place, where it could be accessed by designers, the site team, clients and all relevant stakeholders. “We wanted a system that would support efficiency and collaboration, by not only sharing information but ensuring that it could be accessed in real-time out in the field – whether that’s quality checklists or 3D models,” summarised Salman.
Autodesk 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.
The Wills Bros team were already familiar with other Autodesk solutions, such as AutoCAD and Civil 3D, which were used in project design phases. Another infrastructure project within the company, a dualling scheme in Ireland, was already using BIM 360 for information-sharing.
Wills Bros implemented BIM 360 as the common data environment (CDE) for the two Scottish projects in May 2019, providing both document management and field management. The platform was used by the projects’ designers, engineers, site teams and clients, supporting more efficient processes throughout the builds.
For example, during the design review process, models were updated in real-time, ensuring that everyone was working from a single source of truth. Everyone in the process would be notified of changes and feedback, for productive and efficient collaboration.
The solution has also made a significant difference in the field. “With BIM 360, 3D models – as well as drawings – can be accessed on-site, without an Internet connection or any other specialist software or viewers,” explains Ziyad. This provides the teams with easy access to the information they need, supporting communication and helping to avoid mistakes and rework.
Wills Bros Section Engineer Zia Niazi explains, “We can carry out clash detection, such as identifying where temporary works clash with formwork. We came across this on one of our bridges, where the end of the shutter was clashing with the L-bar coming out of the abutment. By looking at the bridge model in the field, we easily solved the issue by switching the face of L-bars to the opposite side without cutting and splicing the rebar.”
Issues management is also much more efficient and reliable with BIM 360. Issues can be created on-site and linked directly to locations on models or drawings, with photos and supporting notation attached. The parties responsible for the fix are notified immediately of the action needed, saving the inspectors, Wills Bros, the subcontractors and clients a significant amount of time.
Using BIM 360 for issues management has provided Wills Bros with much greater visibility over the progress of inspections. Inspections are recorded in real-time, with clear data on when the check has been completed and by whom. The team can easily identify if any reports are missing and take action. This ensures that the projects are completed to the highest quality, and the clients receive a comprehensive, as-built handover.
The adoption of BIM 360 went well, although initially some team members weren’t used to using digital tools on-site. “As with any change, there was a learning curve for some of our colleagues,” Salman explains. “Over time, attitudes have changed, thanks in part to one-to-one sessions, and support from our Autodesk customer success manager. Many of the team are now well-versed in BIM 360, and are welcoming the time-saving they can achieve with the platform.”
Feedback from across the organisation and project collaborators has been positive. From an IT perspective, the common data environment offers significant benefits, as far fewer files are being uploaded to the servers and shared as attachments. The field teams also value being able to attach photos quickly from the site.
Using BIM 360 has significantly improved the quality of data on the two large scale civil infrastructure projects. The whole project team can access a single source of truth, minimising errors and miscommunication. Information can be included in a variety of formats, such as photos, notes or location pins, while less data is lost through paper copies. This ensures that the client will benefit from a comprehensive, as-built record, while Wills Bros benefits from greater efficiency throughout the project management.
Importantly for Wills Bros, there is a data footprint, including the time and date when changes were made, that can be accessed at any time. This has improved visibility, ensuring that each collaborator takes ownership of their part of the projects. As a result, Wills Bros and its partners can ensure the highest level of quality on these critical infrastructure projects.
The team has achieved significant efficiencies by digitalising processes throughout the projects. Ziyad estimates that there has been a 50% reduction in the time taken transmitting drawings between team members, now that design teams can upload files directly to the CDE. For field inspections, he calculates that typical action and closure times have been reduced by 75%, thanks to the digitalised process.
There has also been a reduction in the time spent on document management processes, such as scanning information, maintaining folders and printing. Eliminating paper has resulted in cost savings and carbon reduction. And significantly, because information is uploaded in real-time, the teams will also save effort consolidating information at the end of the projects for the client handovers.
By implementing BIM 360 Wills Bros has also been able to better support the safety and wellbeing of employees during the Covid-19 pandemic. The technology allows the team to minimise physical contact on site, with document controllers working remotely from home – helping to keep the projects operational during the pandemic.
The platform has helped to increase the level of comfort with digital technology across the project teams. The technology is also attractive to new recruits, according to Ziyad: “New employees, such as our graduate apprentices, find BIM 360 fascinating. They’ve recently studied BIM at university and are really happy to take the initiative and use the technology. Platforms like this will be really important for attracting and engaging talent in the years ahead.”
Going forward, the leadership team at Wills Bros has clear plans for the business’ ongoing digital transformation, to continue to improve productivity, quality and profitability. The company is looking to promote greater usage of BIM 360 across projects, as well as implementing new functions like equipment monitoring. Salman and Ziyad are also keen to explore more data insights through the platform, using PowerBI. By continually improving its processes with digital technology, Wills Bros will continue to deliver the high standards – and develop long term relationships – that the company is known for.