Building Information Modelling tool for 122 railway stations
Primary delivery improvement theme impacted
Other delivery improvement theme(s) impacted
Information modelling brings significant project benefits, particularly at relatively early states when options and value engineering proposals are still being considered. Building Information Modelling (BIM) is a digital representation of an asset(s) that can be used in infrastructure delivery from planning through to Operation, Management and Maintenance (OMM).
The data model often enables a better understanding of sequencing in construction and uses attribute fields to provide information about assets. This assists with the handover from construction to operations, allowing facilities management to perform its job more efficiently.
Through the development of BIM, standards have improved over time to enable consistency between digital drawings and representations, (e.g. the United Kingdom Government has defined the criteria for what constitutes BIM level 0 through BIM level 3).
BIM OMM refers to the process of updating and using real-time data from a digital model that is representative of the current state of a building. This is known as a digital twin, ’a dynamic virtual representation of a physical object or system across its lifecycle, using real-time data to enable understanding, learning and reasoning‘ (Bolton, et al. 2018).
SNCF Gares & Connexions (SNCF), a rail station developer, operator and manager in France found that as it developed its stations and services resulting in increased passengers, it required a greater technical understanding of these assets. The collection and structuring of this data was being done inefficiently resulting in wasted time and cost.
The organisation was preparing to report certain types of operational and performance data on its stations, under its obligations as a regulated business. In the process it found that certain types of data were not being captured adequately or not easily retrievable at a central point. Data was held across multiple different platforms and drawings, often leading to issues with information handover and inefficient facilities management.
SNCF looked to BIM as a solution but found that existing BIM solutions did not adequately meet all its requirements. Few existing solutions created a national database for certain asset types or captured changes as the assets evolved over their operations phase, (e.g. through building modifications or equipment upgrades).
Under traditional procurement rules in France, SNCF was required to tender for the ‘innovation’ component of the BIM solution separately from its ‘industrial development’. This traditionally reduced the private sector’s willingness to participate as it would be required to invest in the research and development of the product with no guarantee of being able to industrialise it.
SNCF elected to take an active development role with the private sector by delivering the BIM solution through a 12-year ‘innovation partnership’ with Dalkia (the maintenance, operation, energy efficiency, and facility management company of the EDF Group), and StereoGraph (a 3D software provider).
This type of arrangement is termed Partenariat d’Innovation, (Innovation Partnership), and stems from a European Union directive in 2014 to facilitate the award of contracts with innovative aims. This partnership model was launched by the French Government in 2017 with SNCF writing a specification of what it wanted in the end-product. SNCF engaged several suppliers over an 8-month negotiation period to find a partner with the right cultural fit, and a focus on co-investment, co-development and co-ownership.
The Innovation Partnership covered the research, development, and deployment of this tool and focused on bringing new ways of working through a bespoke collaboration. Teams were co-located at Dalkia’s premises at La Défense to promote a flexible and one-team approach. Ownership of the end-product is shared between Dalkia and SNCF to become a value-added ‘commercialisable’ product and the foundation of their BIM GEM solution, and Dalkia is able to sell the solution on the market as it wishes with SNCF.
The partnership provides flexibility, with the partners needing to mutually agree annually if the project continues beyond its first year given it is jointly funded.
Several experienced personnel from the stations involved in the project were seconded into the partnership team to enable their operational insights to be captured in the model’s development. They act as internal champions of the product to promote and enable wider understanding of what it is trying to achieve.
SNCF Gares & Connexions – Operation and development of France’s 3,000 stations
Dalkia (subsidiary of EDF Group) – An energy services company
StereoGraph – 3D software publishing.
2020 – Developing prototypes and running a pilot at two stations that are representative of SNCF assets and their diversity: the brand new Nîmes Pont-du-Gard station and the listed building of Toulouse Matabiau station.
2021 – Once the prototypes have been approved, the second phase will begin with the deployment of the platform at 10 stations in Brittany (Auray, Guingamp, Saint Brieuc, Lorient, Vannes, Saint Malo, Quimper, Rennes, Morlaix and Brest).
2024 – Finally, the last phase is a progressive roll-out of BIM at the 122 main SNCF stations throughout France.
Results / impact
The Innovation Partnership is creating the first large scale BIM-OMM tool on a single platform that gathers data relating to the current state and subsequent changes at SNCF stations. When complete this will provide real-time up-to-date asset information that can be shared by all stakeholders over the life of the asset.
Once rolled out, the impacts will be significant across multiple aspects, from improved customer experience to greater efficiency in managing the station assets to phasing / sequencing of any maintenance and renewals required for ageing assets. This will be achieved by centralising all data on station assets which have previously been stored in a range of online, offline, paper, and staff personal knowledge, reducing the time and expense spent gathering data. The BIM-OMM solution will enable improved investment decisions such as for station refurbishments, and greater energy efficiency and operational performance.
BIM-OMM enhances collaboration by ensuring a single source of truth is accessible to all required trades, with any modifications immediately brought to the attention of all involved. The continuous capture of new data into the model ensures better knowledge retention of what was previously disparate pieces of information.
Several joint commercial opportunities are being identified as a result of the Innovation Partnership. Other companies within the SNCF Group are considering how they could use the product, and SNCF has signed an MOU with Dalkia regarding partnering to propose the tool to similar station operators internationally.
Key lessons learnt
For a digital twin to be useful in everyday life, the tool has to be maintained over the long term on an ongoing basis just like the real asset. This is especially relevant for SNCF who rarely build new assets and focus primarily on maintaining existing (and often very old) assets. This has led to the creation of a new type of job – BIM Data Manager – or a digital equivalent of a traditional asset manager role.
To create a collaborative and one-team approach, it is imperative to develop a longer-term innovation partnership between the public and private sector which is co-financed, enabling a shared vision and shared results. This enables all parties to be incentivised in such a partnership agreement to achieve the shared vision for such a complex project.
It is important to change the mindset of staff to suit the partnership model. Staff involved in the partnership were used to primarily working through the traditional client-provider relationship and needed time to understand and adjust to the mindset required to make the Innovation Partnership successful.