Advice and Opinion PropTech

Building Information Modelling (BIM) to tackle challenges and provide solutions for KZN rebuild

The catastrophic floods that occurred in KwaZulu-Natal in April 2022 caused an estimated R7 billion in damages. Road and rail systems were ravaged, hundreds of schools were destroyed, whilst water supply and electricity networks were badly affected. Over 820 companies were severely impacted, leading to thousands of jobs at risk.

The ensuing rebuild of the province’s infrastructure is an immense task with many factors to consider, and many challenges to overcome, especially given the fact that as a result of climate change, extreme weather events are likely to become more common in the future.

The role of BIM

New academic board member of the recently launched Trident Engineering Institute and Nelson Mandela University Department of Construction Management head, Chris Allen, says that BIM technology can play a significant role in assisting in the process and identifying the necessary expertise and resources required to rebuild KZN’s infrastructure.

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is a process involving the creation and management of digital twins that assist in the design and construction process throughout the many stages of a project’s development.

If we consider the specific challenges that arise from a rebuild programme, the need for speed and accuracy in the collection of information are critical to successful delivery,” Allen says. The ability to use aerial photogrammetry, Lidar scanning and other scan to BIM technology can both speed up the process and increase accuracy of this information, specifically given the seamless integration now provided by the different technology suppliers. Simply put, BIM technology enables professionals to build back better.

Road rebuilds and resilience

With over R500 million committed to their road project rebuild, SANRAL, who are already requiring the use of BIM on new build projects, would see immense value generated through its use. “The transport infrastructure rebuild can only be enhanced by collecting this data, a single source of information reducing the potential for errors and creating a more transparent process to manage,” says Allen, who is also interim Director of the Built Environment Research Centre at Nelson Mandela University in Gqeberha and a Board member at the BIM Institute.

In addition, through simulation modelling and other add on tools, engineers would be able to take lessons learned from the damage caused to improve on the quality of the infrastructure so that it is more resilient to future similar events”.

With access to more accurate information from many of the locations where damage occurred, this data can only enhance the response from the design and construction teams responsible for delivering the replacement infrastructure. “Simulation software using the digitised model information produced by BIM systems can be used to accurately predict what may occur in future with similar weather events and even worse conditions”, Allen says and explains that this provides professionals with information they can use to improve the resilience of the infrastructure.

The use of BIM will improve the build process through better coordination and communication of requirements,” he says.

Reduced delays and increased efficiency

The urgency of the rebuild and the need for heightened speed and accuracy, means that delays and red tape need to be kept to a minimum – another advantage of integrating BIM technology into the process.

The digitalisation of information to improve efficiency has been adopted in many sectors of the economy, and this is no different when it comes to the built environment.

BIM, alongside electronic information management systems, provide a mechanism to improve how we manage the flow of information and thus improve the decision-making process that needs to occur alongside that”.

Allen says that a good example of this is the recent decision by the City of Joburg’s Development Planning Department to initiate the Construction Permit Management System (CPMS). This is a digital solution specifically designed to optimise its construction permitting processes. “This digital solution will totally do away with manual paper-based submissions in order enhance the operational efficiency and good governance of Development Planning”. 

Although it is not a BIM submission system yet, something that has been trialled in some countries, the use of BIM will enhance a professional’s ability to create and submit the necessary digital documentation, improving the information management flow.

The need for integrated planning

Allen says that the challenges we have from rapid urbanisation means that integrated planning and building more resilient infrastructure is critical to the future growth of our cities. This also reduces the burden on the fiscus when more resilient infrastructure must be replaced less often.

Densification is an aspect that needs much greater application. The more we spread our urban areas out from a core, so we increase the need for infrastructure. At the same time, we are increasing the use of virgin naturally vegetated land, which may be more at risk due to the proximity to water or being located on slopes

The future of our industry is digital, and BIM is the foundation upon which all the other technologies are built,” says Allen.

Career opportunities

For students with a BIM qualification, there are so many opportunities arising due to limited skills already in the workforce. “Our students are the future of the industry and therefore BIM provides an opportunity to get into the industry as more companies look to hire individuals with either the technical skills or know how to implement in the office or on site”.

The Trident Engineering Institute, a distance education institution headquartered at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, will enable students anywhere in South Africa to study BIM remotely from January 2023.

It provides a magnificent opportunity for us to not only upskill our youth, and some of our more tech savvy middle aged professionals, but also uplift many with knowledge and expertise that they can take far beyond South Africa’s shores, improving our economy and their personal circumstances”.