The words “ 4D Planning ” and “ BIM are increasingly common in the delivery and management of infrastructure but what exactly is 4D Planning and how can we use it most effectively?
What is 4D Planning and BIM?
4D planning is commonly defined as the intelligent combination of a 3D BIM model with the dimension of time (/project programme). This four-dimensional model allows project managers and stakeholders to visualise their project programme in a three-dimensional space. Improving communication, increasing engagement and aiding decision making throughout the project lifecycle.
BIM or Building Information Modeling is the holistic process of creating and managing information for a built asset, BIM integrates structured, multi-disciplinary data to produce a digital representation of an asset across its lifecycle, from planning and design to construction and operations.
Why add in the “dimension” of time to a 3D model?
Engineers introduced 3D BIM models to help coordinate projects and improve stakeholder engagement within the early stages of projects to positively impact project outcomes. The integration of time to the model vastly improves the value added to project teams, bridging the gap between design and engineering construction.
Powerful and automated clash detection tools allow teams to speed up and enhance the quality of design and minimise errors.
Software like Synchro, can detect three main types of clashes:
- Hard clashes - when two construction elements pass through one another or occupy the same space due to a design error.
- Soft clashes - when objects encroach into geometric and spatial tolerances.
- Workflow clashes - detect out-of-sequence anomalies related to procurement, construction, and work crews on site.
The project’s critical path can also be represented dynamically using 4D, as technology improves this could be a long term replacement for Gannt charts
What are the benefits of 4D planning?
The ability to digitally plan and rehearse the build sequence provides a range of opportunities. Enhancing visualisation and improving communication, through the use of 4D, can bring forward the experience of teams, reduce safety risk and offer opportunities to improve project planning.
Using 4D not only facilitates collaboration to develop optimum construction methodology, it also allows the team to identify safety issues, develop strategies for plant logistics and refine delivery timescales..
Building on this key improvement, regular practitioners of 4D planning are able to unlock/achieve benefits such as:
- Improved understanding of the delivery plan.
- Easy identification and improvement of construction sequencing.
- Reduced risk to workers due to improved identification and mitigation of risk
- Improved collaboration and coordination between client, contractor and sub-contractors.
- Clear visibility of progress issues and the ability to mitigate potential programme risks.
How to get started with 4D planning?
For a project to use 4D planning, 3D BIM must be used in the design phase.
This model will then need to be aligned with the programme, from there each model element will need to be broken down into a construction phase and a corresponding set of tasks often recorded on a Gantt chart and other project management tools.
For example, a bridge beam that will be constructed across two different phases must be divided into different sections to represent this construction methodology. This granular detail is essential for reflecting an accurate programme across the model.
How well has 4D planning been adopted?
If you search Linkedin for UK 4D planning professionals currently working in the rail infrastructure sector, less than 25 people appear in the results. The 4D planning approach has been widely adopted in other sectors but rail infrastructure appears to be late to the party.
If you are wondering why this might be then the usual suspects are likely to apply:
- Time / Efficiency - Current approaches and technology solutions mean that right now it is likely going to take longer for a project team to manage a programme in 4D rather than its current 2D approach
- Organisation Structure - 4D planning is a specialist skill, it’s not something that can be just easily tagged onto an existing roll. Teams therefore often simply don’t have the required skill set to deliver a project within a 4D model.
- Programme methodology - Change is inevitable on infrastructure projects. When things do alter, the project team often end up swapping and resequencing programme activities to try to gain back time. This can often render the model defunct.
The future of 4D Planning
All construction technology is designed to improve efficiency and allow teams to work better together, 4D planning solutions are no different. As the technology progresses, big data and artificial intelligence will allow teams to progress modelling and scheduling simulation to levels previously unfathomable. Leveraging wider data sets and machine learning capabilities will allow teams to quickly and easily identify clashes, risks and benchmark against other projects.
However, the predecessor to this has to be a successful adoption. The more that 4D planning methodologies and software solutions are used on projects, the quicker teams will start to focus on datasets and consider the structure of datasets in design right through to operation and maintenance.
In summary, 4D planning is a valuable tool for businesses in the rail industry. By integrating time and schedule information into the traditional 3D planning process, businesses can gain a more comprehensive and accurate view of their projects, identify potential issues and delays, and make adjustments as needed. By improving communication and collaboration, optimizing operations and processes, and visualizing project progress more effectively, businesses can enhance efficiency, reduce costs, and improve project outcomes and profitability.