What does it take to plan, build and repair a structure that is meant to last for centuries in even the toughest conditions? How to support all phases of structures’ life-cycle and to extend building lifetime? This time, we will dive in head first into the digital opportunities of building life-cycle management with underwater inspections and BIM (Building Information Model).

The Potential of BIM for Building Life-Cycle Management

The structure life-cycle is a continuous process, where all of the phases have specific needs to be considered to extend the lifetime of structures. Although the time span of structures’ life-cycle varies between tens to hundreds of years, the cycle naturally includes recognizable phases of planning, construction, use, maintenance and repairs, and, through deconstruction and learning, evolves again into a new cycle.

As previously discussed in our Quick Guide series, 3D data acquisition can offer an easy and digitized access to all underwater assets. The use of digital tools and BIM (Building Information Model) has been the hot topic in the construction industry for at least over a decade, and has revolutionized the planning and building phase of structures by offering an efficient way of providing all necessary information for architects and construction workers with important metadata, enabling more efficient collaboration between planning and construction. BIM offers a 3D virtual model of structures also providing an intelligent way of managing and transferring important data about the building.

But, the challenge is often that important information about the structures gets missing as the model is not maintained throughout the cycle, complicating the collaboration between the different phases.

This is where BIM still has unused potential.

Extending the Scope: BIM as Updateable Digital Representation of Structures’ Life-Cycle

Facilitating the information flow between different phases in addition to planning and construction, the industry has not seen the forest for the trees, as BIM has it all. Extending the scope from BIM being a design tool in planning and building, the role of BIM can be seen as a more comprehensive tool in life-cycle management, present in all phases of the building life-cycle.

How does this connect to underwater inspections? The point cloud data collected via multibeam sonar surveys consists of millions of points containing accurate GPS information. Point cloud data can be attached to BIM or BIM can be constructed based on the survey data. Going forward, we are introducing the idea of point clouds as building information models, largely replacing the need to model 3D objects. As underwater inspections can be performed in all phases of structures’ life-cycle, BIM can be updated and maintained throughout the life-cycle, which ensures that information is always available in the smartest, most efficient format for all participants that need to get their hands on any detail.

1. BIM Optimizes Underwater Planning and Constructions

Underwater surveys delivering data for BIM are an efficient way to collect baseline data for planning and to perform as-built inspections for construction quality control. BIM in the planning phase delivers precise information about the construction site, revealing the possible needs for necessary pre-construction work, such as dredging, details about depths and terrain… All details that could affect the result of the constructions or even hinder the whole project. BIM together with point cloud data from different time periods form a digital entity of the construction site that works as a basis for planning constructions with optimized use of resources, and later on supports the management of structures’ whole life-cycle.

Monitoring and approving construction phases ensures that the outcome is as planned, and that resources are used smartly. Quality control during construction helps to investigate whether the necessary depth has been reached, to monitor the ground conditions, to control and verify the installation of specific elements and to define the exact location for cables, foundations or other necessary groundwork. In addition, the use of underwater inspections and BIM for construction management ensure correct transitions between different phases. This helps to avoid unpleasant and often costly surprises in the future as possible repair needs can be addressed immediately.

2. Regular Information in BIM for Smart Maintenance

Inspections offer a great starting point planning necessary repair and maintenance as the data reveals any signs of corrosion, erosion, vegetation or any other changes in structures. The longest phase of structures’ life-cycle is the phase where structures are used, maintained and repaired. In this phase, regular inspections can extend the life-cycle of structures significantly. Data can be collected in the same location for example every year or every third year depending on the asset management program of the site, which ensures a detailed and dedicated monitoring of structures over time.

Extending the focus of using BIM in planning and construction to saving data also during the longest phase of the cycle, offers new possibilities to extend the lifetime of structures. When data is collected and saved frequently, structures are maintained carefully throughout the life-cycle, and costly surprises are avoided in the future. With regular inspections, even future periodic inspections are facilitated with detailed baseline data. Repairs based on detailed data instead of best guesses offers the most possibilities to reach the optimal length of structures’ life-cycle.

3. The “I” in BIM: Continuous Learning for the new Cycle

Underwater structural inspections and BIM offer the infrastructure owners an efficient way of minimizing environmental, structural and economical risks. Structures are either deconstructed to rebuilt the site or to renew the structures as the natural life-cycle comes to its end, even after careful repair and maintenance. Underwater inspections offer a wholehearted representation of the underwater conditions and BIM delivers information about the site to all necessary parties. BIM can work as baseline data for a new project, facilitating the planning and construction of new infrastructure. Additionally, BIM can be used as the starting point for expansion and reparation projects throughout the building life-cycle. This helps to extend the life-time of structures by improving their quality.

The “I” in BIM, standing for information, is the most significant feature in BIM. Extended life-cycle of structures is maintained during the whole life-time. Underwater inspections support the management of each phase from planning to demolition with continuous learning through the information BIM can offer. If you’re not yet utilizing all the potential BIM has to offer to your asset management, we are more than happy to talk with you about the best solution for your site.

More in the Quick Guide series:

Part 1: Quick Guide to Utilizing 3D data in Underwater Asset Management

Part 2: Quick Guide: Underwater Inspection Process

Part 4: Quick Guide: BIM in Asset Management 

Stay tuned for the next part of our Quick Guide series!


Thirsty for more information on asset management, BIM and underwater inspections? Leave a reply – we’d love to talk to you!


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Karri Kolehmainen & Ville Mäkeläinen

Karri Koistinen

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Ville Mäkeläinen

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