Lean and BIM – Two principles aiming at increased customer value

Last autumn, I had the opportunity to hold a workshop around BIM and Lean as part of the LCI-UK Lean Construction Training Day.  Since low productivity and difficulties in the development of BIM and Lean-based processes continue to be a major issue in infrastructure construction, I thought it makes sense to share some of the key topics that emerged in our discussions during the workshop.

Despite the digital era, many businesses in infra construction are still suffering from fragmented processes, and consequently, conflicts of communication between the project stakeholders still happen. Furthermore, creation of waste remains an issue – whether it is process related or material related – and requirements and schedules are being tightened regardless of the complexity of construction projects. However, by integrating the principles of BIM and Lean, project stakeholders could establish and maintain a common process that eliminates the costly communication conflicts and simultaneously reduces waste of resources.

Maximise value, minimise waste

The world-wide known Lean concept, originally developed by Toyota, is rather simple. The idea is to maximise customer value and minimise waste. There are four elements to focus on: process, long-term thinking, respect towards partners and employees and continuous improvement and learning Lean production has been applied by manufacturing businesses since the late 1980’s. BIM (Building Information Modelling)  in civil engineering – its methodology and practices – was introduced little over 10 years ago, though the very first ideas of BIM were presented already for over 40 years ago by Chuck Eastman.

Traditionally, the life cycle of an infrastructure construction process is divided into planning, bidding, design, construction and operating stages. In order to ensure a smooth construction process with a seamless data flow, it is crucial to ensure information sharing at each stage of this life cycle. Modern digital BIM-based solutions enable the needed information sharing – especially enhanced detection of possible design conflicts and early-stage involvement to solve them (which supports Lean thinking!). A collaborative BIM model not only illustrates the planned design in an easy-to-understand 3D view, but helps to simulate construction work and allows stakeholders to integrate e.g. review comments and planned construction schedules. By increasing project transparency and enabling collaboration between the different stakeholders, a BIM-based process creates true value in each phase of the infra construction project.

We can identify various maturity stages that describe the way BIM is applied in the construction industry, and I’ll encourage you to read more about these stages in one of my previous blog posts. Simply put, at a high level of BIM maturity, project stakeholders would be using common modelling guidelines, classification and coding standards as well as common data transfer formats to enable effective sharing of design and construction data.

BIM and Lean approaches have both the same ultimate goal: more customer value and less waste of resources. By adopting both principles, construction industry could move towards improved design and construction quality while saving costs and enhancing sustainability. It goes without saying that the increased quality in design and construction work would equal increased customer value.

In Finland, we have a working group called Building Smart Finland which is working to develop the needed common BIM standards and frameworks

Feel free to see the below presentation for more details.

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