Belgian construction company Ibens uses prefabrication and extensive BIM modelling to deliver the highest quality project outcomes. Using Autodesk Construction Cloud’s BIM 360 solution has significantly streamlined the company’s collaboration with clients and partners, reducing review times from four weeks to one. With BIM 360, Ibens was able to deliver its first school construction project three months early.
Based in Antwerp, Ibens is a Belgian construction company with 65 members of staff. The company has a strong philosophy of working with clients to shape each project, then collaborating with long-term partners to deliver the work using prefabrication.
Digital Innovator Christopher Baute explains, “We truly believe in prefabrication, because the site isn’t the best place to create the elements of a building – and today skilled people are scarce. With prefabrication, there’s much more certainty for clients; barring weather effects, we usually deliver our projects early, and certainly never too late.”
Ibens has predominantly focused on healthcare, and particularly retirement and assisted living homes. However, more recently the company has moved into new areas, including education and social housing. Three years ago, the company was contracted to build a school for the first time.
“We always guarantee results for the project by outcome, rather than by elements. So, for example, we wouldn’t guarantee a particular heating technology for a retirement home, but we would guarantee the temperature inside the rooms. However, this made scoping our first ever school construction project very difficult,” Christopher explains.
The project was due to be delivered in 18 months by November, but the team was determined to beat the client’s expectations if possible, and have construction completed in August for the start of the academic year.
For over ten years teams have used BIM modelling through Revit from the estimating phase through to execution. In 2020, Ibens introduced BIM 360, an Autodesk Construction Cloud solution, as part of the company’s measures to move from server-based solutions to the cloud during the Covid-19 pandemic. The platform would be vital for the project’s success.
“We needed to have a very intense dialogue with the client from the very beginning, to understand the right outcomes for the project,” said Christopher. “There was a lot of learning to do.”
BIM 360 is a unified construction management software platform that connects workflows, teams and data. Since its introduction at Ibens, all project data is stored on the platform, which works as the business’ common data environment from a project perspective.
Key compliance data, including safety checklists, mandatory site safety surveys and data on the energy performance, is all stored on BIM 360. Everyone can access information wherever they are – delivering benefits during the pandemic and beyond.
“What I couldn’t live without is the accessibility of data,” Christopher explains. “I really love that whether you’re holding your smartphone or using an unfamiliar laptop, when you go to the platform every single piece of information is available for you anywhere. There’s no need to connect to a VPN or open another program.”
Importantly, unlike some other platforms, Revit files can be accessed natively on BIM 360, rather than as static PDFs, with significant efficiency benefits. “Being able to access the latest modifications on-site minutes after they’re made is the greatest gain project leaders have had for five years,” concludes Christopher.
Using the platform has significantly improved communication with clients. “We use the model in BIM 360 as the centre of our discussions in weekly meetings. It means clients can visualise what they’re getting much more clearly and make decisions earlier, rather than last minute changes after elements have already been prefabricated.”
Having a centralised model also supports Ibens’ relationships with its partners. The team can now communicate digitally, rather than over email or phone calls. It’s possible to easily conduct clash detection on the model, to foresee and address problems long before elements are assembled on-site.
These advantages were all crucial for the school project. “Being able to communicate so closely with the client, and use our lean planning method, meant that we could deliver the school project in August – ahead of the client’s expectations,” Christopher recalls. “The school was extremely pleased, and thanks to the success of this pilot project, we were immediately awarded with six to eight further school projects for the future.”
In Christopher’s view, using BIM 360 has enabled Ibens to provide clients with an invaluable level of transparency. “Our clients get better insights during the project and ultimately can make better decisions for themselves,” Christopher reflects.
Clients can also see the levels of care the team has taken to deliver a quality outcome. For example, Ibens uses BIM 360 for issues management, in a process that is fully visible for the client. “While the client might spot two or three issues, they also know that we have already found and solved ten others for them.”
Ibens has also been able to significantly streamline collaboration with its partners. One phase of the prefabrication process requires reviews from multiple stakeholders; nine years ago, Christopher estimates that this would have taken up to four weeks to be completed on paper, whereas now the process has been reduced to a week – or even a couple of days.
“Every part of the approval workflow and communication is completed through BIM 360, so it’s very clear whenever anyone needs to take action,” Christopher explains. “It’s like feeding more oxygen to the fire; everyone is working even more quickly towards a common goal.”
Christopher and his team are now exploring more ways to gain value from BIM 360 as part of the Ibens software ecosystem. “We’ve already connected BIM 360 with our Microsoft Dynamics 365 application, automatically linking data across the business. Data from the platform is exported to Microsoft Azure each night, and we’ve developed a search engine so that project leaders can search through all the information on there.”
In the next few years, Christopher hopes to create an intelligent self-learning system that automatically shares insights from previous projects for better decisions. “In the future, we want the system to automatically highlight mistakes and suggest improvements. For example, if we always plan to deliver a certain element in 20 days, but it usually takes 25, the system will generate a pop up advising a change. It means that if a new colleague starts tomorrow, he will benefit from what I learned today.”
Since the introduction of BIM models on all projects in 2006, innovation has been critical to Ibens’ success – and thanks in part to BIM 360, that will continue into the future. As Christopher concludes, “Using BIM extensively has given us a significant advantage over our competitors. Of course, we don’t want to lose that advantage, so we will keep innovating.”