Joined up thinking for better integration and operation

Everyone working in the construction sector will recall the Latham report (1994) on joined-up working in our industry. By partnering, teamworking and collaboration, the construction industry could bring benefits for its customers as well as itself.

That kind of working has proved challenging, although there have been some good examples. One of the main hurdles for our sector though is that buildings are not really thought about holistically. Each part of the industry thinks about their area: the architect, the contractor, the consultant, the sub-contractors. Buildings are such huge projects that even finding ways to share information across these disciplines about the overall picture is difficult.

From a building controls standpoint, the lack of holistic thinking means that systems installers are often faced with the task of knitting together disparate systems – of solving the problem of silo-thinking right at the finishing line of a new building. Or of going back into an existing building to try to find a way to bring existing systems together so that they work more effectively and efficiently.

Where good, long-term energy performance is concerned, the holistic approach would be invaluable. It would enable the controls and building energy management systems (BEMS) to be designed and installed in a way that would ensure all the elements of the building operate at maximum energy efficiency.

Technology may now be catching up with Latham’s vision for construction. Building information modelling (BIM) is growing in its popularity among architects, engineers and contractors. The use of BIM is also being driven by legislation that requires more predictable performance of buildings in use.  BIM technology can be used equally successfully on refurbishment projects.

BIM centres around a digital modelling of the building, that is accessed by all the parties to the project. The model develops along with the project, and it acts as a central information point. BIM can be used for the physical aspects of buildings – will this piece of equipment fit in that plant room? And for modelling energy use or carbon emissions.

With everyone on the construction team looking at one model, and understanding how their work impacts on others, it is easy to see how this technology can benefit the industry. For BEMS it has the added benefit of showing just how all the different systems, such as heating, cooling, lighting and others, can impact on each other. Far from leaving the knitting together to the end, this is joined-up thinking from the start.