To what extent can technology, like BIM, reduce construction risks in Latin America?

Whilst the construction industry has arguably been slower to adopt new technology compared with some other sectors, technological advancements have always driven construction forward. With sophisticated machinery coupled with improved software and greater collaboration between the construction team, we are clearly a long way from previous methods of construction.

Examples of BIM use in LATAM

Latin America (LATAM) is no exception. Notably, Building Information Modelling (BIM) - an intelligent 3D/4D and 5D model-based process providing architects, engineers, contractors and developers with greater insight into their projects - has been successfully used in Peru as part of the Pan-American Games in Lima this year. There is now a national strategy to use BIM on infrastructure projects, following government recognition that BIM provides better collaboration between the public and private sector in Peru.

Credit must also be given to Brazil, which has in recent years been at the forefront of many landmark developments for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Brazil is continuing to drive progress in relation to the implementation of BIM. According to the official document issued by The Brazilian Government, “BIM BR Intelligent Construction”, the first phase (scheduled to start in January 2021), focuses on the realization of architectural and engineering projects for the construction of new buildings and the extension or redevelopment of works when having a significant impact on existing buildings. In this phase BIM will be required in the architectural, engineering (structural and plant) models to determine any clashes and assist with any revisions. Furthermore, it will also be required to extract geometric quantities.

The second phase will follow in 2024 with full implementation of BIM by 2028.

Other countries in LATAM have been using BIM too. For example, Mexico used BIM for the design of the new proposed airport in Mexico City, which unfortunately did not proceed.

Benefits of BIM

Co-ordination, visualisation and analysis

The ultimate aim of developing BIM is to create plans, and to assist with analysing the engineering, visualising the project, programming the works, and reviewing and coordinating the design to ensure the early detection of potential issues. BIM also provides an asset register and a more realistic method of calculating the cost of the works to be done, such that the project stays on budget more easily and the costs are identified at an earlier stage. Given this, it is perceived to provide enhanced integration of project processes, improved project performance (e.g. cost, time and environmental performance) and outcome predictability.

Reduction of certain risks

With a compulsory uptake of BIM, which fosters greater collaboration between the project team, it should ultimately reduce some of the risks encountered on construction projects. Whether looked at through the eyes of the developer, contractor or insurer, BIM is a tool that should be welcomed. This is especially so in LATAM where we see a significant lack of preliminary design (few scale models), a lack of consideration of complex ground conditions (which are rife in the region), and inappropriate procurement structures which fail to allocate responsibility properly between stakeholders. BIM should help to overcome and lead to an earlier discussion on these risks in the region, requiring them to be identified upfront and addressed, before ground is even broken.

Improvements in safety

BIM also improves safety on a construction site, even after completion of the project by providing the operator with a lot more information about the site than regular computer-aided design drawings can. BIM can also be used during a crisis and emergency evacuation to more safely locate an access point, as opposed to sending rescue teams in without a full analysis of the conditions. BIM has been proven especially helpful with tunnel collapses in the region as the team can take the BIM model used during construction and then analyse the loads and surrounding terrain before going in.

Asset management

BIM can also be used for asset management so that the insurer has full understanding and visibility on the exact specification and make and model of all fixtures and fittings within a building, avoiding debates with insureds about underinsurance or lack of cover.

Drones

Drones are increasingly being used to reduce the risks in construction projects, for example to carry out bridge and building inspections, that would require working at height. They can also provide a more efficient means of surveying large sites. Further, if a loss arises, a drone can be sent in to examine the scene and identify potential dangers.  

They can also be used to monitor the progress of projects and ensure that workers are following safety measures. They can document progress with the works through photography which can be used to generate a BIM model after a loss, for example. That BIM model can then be used to analyse a claim, and the loss can be addressed and ideally resolved more safely, quickly and cost effectively.

Risk of cyber crime

For all the benefits that BIM and drones offer, there is always the other side to the coin. Cyber crime is a concern that should not be overlooked. As BIM is essentially a computer system, it can be hacked like any other database, with the potential for the project to be totally derailed. With the number of changes that are made daily to BIM models, hacking may initially go unnoticed. Therefore extra vigilance, change controls and surveys over the BIM data and access to it, are essential to ensure that the model has not been intentionally hacked and altered. Drones, by their nature, are also vulnerable to being hacked, which could result in the theft of valuable data.

The use of ransomware presents another concern. It is possible that such software could be used by cyber criminals to hold governments/large developers/contractors to ransom by putting an immediate block on access to the BIM model, which would only be released on payment of the ransom. It is vital to recognise and be cognizant of the risks which could, particularly on a large-scale project, have very costly and serious implications for the completion of the project.

Comment

Knowledge of BIM, including the benefits of its use, how it can be used to its full potential as well as the risks discussed, is important for lawyers, designers, developers, insurers, and contractors alike.

Technology such as BIM will necessitate the need for greater education and training on how to use the technology to its full potential and safeguarding against the risks it can present. BIM is now taught in universities in the UK and US, and knowledge of BIM is becoming an increasingly important requirement for construction professionals entering the workforce. By comparison LATAM is somewhat behind the curve in that respect, emphasising the importance of a global workforce in the region.

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