Why BIM is the model design process for ACR installations

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Published: 05 August 2021


Building Information Modelling (BIM) is becoming ever more popular as the ‘go-to’ design process for construction projects. Daniel Smith, BIM manager for Conex Bänninger, explains the significant benefits of this form of digital specification and how it can help those tasked with planning ACR installations.

Go back just a few years and putting together a specification for a building project would have been a long and frustrating headache for architects and designers. Additional costs and overrunning contracts would be almost inevitable as issues arising from the complexity of the build would only become apparent once work was underway.

Thanks to digitalisation and advances in technology, many of those problems can now be avoided. At the same time, project management and construction have become more efficient, with significant savings and long-term benefits.

The recent introduction of Building Information Modelling, or BIM, means that those involved in the specification process (from architects to surveyors, building services engineers to contractors) can work to a shared virtual model. A model that provides a detailed picture of how each particular unit fits into the overall system or building design, how they interact and if any changes are necessary as a result.

It is acknowledged as a more effective way of working than the ‘old’ drawing board method, where design teams worked independently of each other on a series of multi-stage drawings.

For those responsible for air conditioning and refrigeration installations, the BIM model will provide technical detail on such things as individual fittings, pipework runs and where the air conditioning or refrigeration units are to be located. It will also enable an installation overview to be taken, indicating if they will be impacted by other services, the building’s layout or its structure - or, equally, if the ACR installation has consequences for others.

Should either be apparent, BIM modelling creates an opportunity to seek a resolution. For example, where a supermarket has an air curtain at the entrance to create a barrier between the warmth of the interior and cold air outside, the design engineer might need to know if there is anything above the doorway that could adversely affect the pipe run.

Manufacturer support

Major manufacturers such as Conex Bänninger support specifiers by providing ready access to BIM objects, which are ‘digital twins’ of the physical components that fit into the BIM model. These 3D and 2D representations are data-rich and show the physical and functional properties of each product.

These models are available on several construction data platforms like BIMobject, bimstore and NBS (National Building Specification).  All vendors listed are free to use sites, which means users can download the files.  There are also a number of pay to use sites too, like A2K and Linear, which are industry partners aligned in CE and AUS.  

By using BIM files it makes the designer’s task more manageable, saving valuable time. Still, it is critically important that they are available as downloadable files in formats accessible to all the design team members. This is invaluable in fulfilling one of the key objectives of BIM modelling: to aid collaboration between the different parties involved in a construction project. Working on a shared model not only helps build better working relationships it also enables any potential clashes to be detected and resolved in advance.

Before BIM, these were hard to avoid, and unexpected delays would occur on-site as work was underway with unforeseen consequences and costs.

International standard

Conex Bänninger BIM objects have been created for the company’s suite of plumbing and HVACR fittings and valves, which includes the leading >B< MaxiPro copper press fitting for ACR applications, the >B< ACR copper and copper alloy range and K65 fittings for brazing.

All the BIM objects are in accordance with the international standard ISO 23386:2020, which means they are machine-readable, versatile and consistent across different software.  They are being released as Revit files and IFC (Industry Foundation Classification) files, created to be BIM Level 2 compliant, enabling a higher level of collaboration between the various parties. In addition, the associated CAD software is capable of being exported to the common file format COBie (Construction Operation Building Information Exchange).

One great time-saving benefit of the BIM system is that when a fitting needs to be changed on the model, it only needs one action to make that amendment, no matter how many of that particular fitting there are in the design.
They will all be changed with that single keystroke – and sometimes, you can be talking about a project with 10,000 fittings!

BIM benefits

The public sector has been quick to recognise BIM technology for the benefits it brings: improved productivity, efficient project delivery and better value through reduced costs, with significant savings in operational expenditure (OPEX). It can also help with meeting sustainability objectives, enabling a lower carbon footprint for projects.

The UK government has made BIM a key part of its industrial strategy. Any ACR contractor or construction company wishing to work on a public sector project, such as a school or hospital, must be certified to BIM Level 2. Indeed, so much more cost-efficient is BIM modelling; it is often quoted that for every five schools built using BIM, the fifth one is free, the savings are said to be that much!

Many more prominent private developers are also now using BIM for major projects such as offices, skyscrapers, and supermarkets. The combined benefit of BIM is that it enables more efficient construction and supports the efficient operation of the building once occupied, thereby reducing downtime and maintenance costs. 

For example, in the past, if an air conditioning unit broke down, the building owner would have to get the maintenance man to get his ladder out and physically go around the building to find the fault. It could be a tricky to access place, such as a ceiling void. Then he would need to identify the fitting and the part number, and he probably wouldn’t have the right tools with him. Instead, with the BIM model, which would be passed on when the building is handed over, they can simply click on, and it will locate it and identify it for him, helping the maintenance engineer take the right equipment for the job.

With so much to gain from using this design method, it can only be a matter of time before even more specifiers join the BIM revolution.

Conex Bänninger