Friday, 19 July 2019

LEARNING FROM THE PAST TO PRESERVE THE FUTURE


I attended the BIM4Heritage Annual Conference on the 27/28 June this year and, I have to say, it was one of the more enlightening and educational experience I’ve had for a while. 
Prior to the event I had a pretty well-defined idea of what technologies were relevant to FM (Facilities Management) in the BIM (Building Information Modelling) context.  For example, I had thought of laser scanning as a nice way of generating 3D images of buildings but, was of little use to FM in real terms as it rarely captures objects that are enclosed in voids such as ceilings and floors etc.

This is of course true when we are hoping to capture building services equipment such as fan coil units, fire dampers and other ‘hidden’ items that we traditionally associated with the hard FM set up in a building asset.

So, here is my first learning point:

Context matters

When considering the care and maintenance of Heritage assets, a point cloud scan can be essential.  Not necessarily to aid the maintenance process but, to capture the site/object as it exists at a point in time.  The recent disasters of Notre Dame and the Glasgow School of Art are testament to the value of a good accurate and up to date point cloud scan.  Neither of these sites had a full laser survey completed prior to the disaster and consequently, some information was inevitably lost.

Picture courtesy of NBC News

Laser scanning can also give the asset custodian the ability to track changes over time, whether this is after a disaster or simply deterioration over time.
In a traditional FM setting, the value of a point cloud is limited to a nice to look at object that is of limited value during operations.  In a heritage setting, this resource is elevated to a ‘must have’ piece of the ‘Golden thread of information’ we are currently obsessed by.

Picture courtesy of technologyreview.com

The fact is that laser scans still must be painstakingly re-modelled in architectural design software if we are to resolve the images into separate objects with attached meta data.  A process that is still time consuming and expensive although, as technology improves, data processing in both visual and actual terms is becoming more efficient.

Damage at the Rennie Mackintosh Building, Glasgow.  Image courtesy of the Mirror.

I saw the value of BIM information and data being used in new and interesting ways throughout the two days.  I feel much better equipped to think outside the box – we often fall into patterns of behaviour and use of conventional wisdom when we stay in our own little worlds for too long.

It’s generally accepted that FM is coming slow to the BIM party despite sterling efforts from some quarters.  The work that BIM4Heritage has done during the last 3 years is impressive.  Visit their website here www.bim4heritage.org for more information.  Whilst the FM sector has produced some laudable work, it tends to have come from the membership organisations via working groups and has been limited in depth (this is largely because BIM has not fully made the transition into the Operate and Maintain phase yet).  I think the key difference is that the BIM4Heritage group has gripped BIM by the scruff and used the available technology to ‘do stuff’.  They haven’t waited for someone to say ‘hey, here’s BIM 4 FM, it’s all sorted for you, just use it out of the box’.  That is never going to happen folks.


Learning point two:

If you don’t make it happen, it will happen to you.

There is so much innovative technology out there and so many bright people in the FM industry that I wonder why it is such a hard sell to get BIM and other workplace tech in use across the sector.  BIM in the FM sector is going to be driven by client request.  The days of the big, lumbering giants of FM delivery providing a standard, off the shelf service are numbered.  FM needs to adapt to change, use technology where it is beneficial and start to innovate from within.
At FM180 we are constantly looking for new solutions that will help deliver the workplace experience of the future.  Whilst that is important, we also need to understand how that tech can be used in other contexts.  I see new ideas and technological solutions appearing in the marketplace on an almost daily basis.  Much of this tech is geared towards the corporate property world or technical FM.  Thinking outside the box, I can see applications for these technologies and processes in other areas such as heritage.  I have no doubt that both examples given had some form of fire protection in place but, it clearly was not effective enough to ward off the disaster.

Sensor technology is now readily available in multiple forms and types.  A basic search of the RS Components website (there are others) reveals over 20,000 items for various applications.

Source www.rscomponents.com

So, what is my point?  Sensor tech is not new, software applications are not new however; we still seem to struggle to bring disparate sources together easily to form cohesive and effective solutions to common problems.
For example, if the systems available at my two examples had been ‘enabled’ enough to identify the build-up of heat/smoke from locally placed sensors on vulnerable structures and those sensors had a communication link with a system that could use that data to make a decision, perhaps the damage could have been reduced if not avoided.

Ok so, the sensor tech is not going to stop something happening but, it could tell a system or someone that a problem has occurred.  The next logical step is for locally placed ‘intelligent’ equipment to be informed and be able to do something about it.  We must be realistic here though.  A loss of connectivity (common during fire and flood) can remove the technological advantage.  We therefore also need to consider physical interventions (automatic fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, absorbent barriers, intumescent strips are all examples) as part of the arsenal.

That said, we seem to be relatively poor at learning from the past, until the next incident triggers a limited response for a time.  Note that the ‘Golden thread of information’ is becoming a buzz word around the information piece following the awful Grenfell disaster but, after many of the cladding tests are forgotten, have we really come up with any innovation to stop the same thing happening again?

Source: Maxwell, Ingval - Fire and Flood in the Built Environment - 2015

Trying to get back on piste, the point is that technology can make a real contribution to monitoring, managing and preserving our heritage assets.  Whether it be a detailed point cloud showing surface level details and relief, HD photogrammetry giving precise records of construction, surface and layout, drone footage of inaccessible areas or BIM models developed in a 3D virtual world with AI providing ways of generating individual stones on a medieval building.  All is possible.  The value of our heritage assets is incalculable. What seems to be missing at present is an effective ‘ecosystem’ mentality.  More often than not we see single application promising the world which is rarely realised.  A more realistic approach is to consider the bringing together of several applications and data sources to form a cohesive and accessible tool that can be used to help us make decisions, take action and project outcomes.

Learning point three:

You are only limited by your imagination.

The answers are out there, we just need to be more effective at joining the dots.  Think out of the box, define what you need and then seek out the way you are going to deliver the vision.  Sure, it helps to be tech savvy, but if you can explain clearly what you need to achieve, someone will be able to help realise the solution.

One of the observations made during the conference was that we lack effective case study material.  Whilst it is true that we have plenty of case studies of previous disasters, we are really talking about examples of the use of BIM and other technologies as exemplars of heritage management and preservation during the operate and maintain phase (which in this setting is considerably longer than traditional FM is used to).

We are therefore offering up a challenge to the Heritage FM and Asset Management folks out there[1].  Take us up on a free consultation about your heritage asset, the information you hold and the challenges you need to overcome, and we will provide you with an unbiased report on possible solutions that could make your job easier.

Learning point four:

If you only ask questions internally, you’ll only get the answers you are expecting.

I am now completely converted to the idea that Heritage needs technology.  Having always had a strong interest in the sector but, never the opportunity, bringing two subjects that I am passionate about is a chance too good to miss.  If this sounds interesting to you, drop us a line at info@fm180.com or send us a message on Twitter @fm180ltd, @fm180steve or via LinkedIn.




[1] Subject to availability.  Limited to one built asset per organisation.

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