Using Digital Construction Technology to Build a Healthcare Facility on a Remote Island


In the far north of Scotland, the Balfour in Kirkwall will transform the delivery of healthcare services for the 20,000 residents of the Orkney Islands.

As one of the UK’s largest family-owned construction, infrastructure, and support services firms, Robertson Construction partners with their customers to develop, construct, and maintain projects across the built environment.

Robertson worked with NHS Orkney to deliver this £65m project, contributing to the funding through their investment business, Robertson Capital Projects. The 49 bed, 14,500m2 facility will provide a rural general hospital with a range of accessible healthcare services from one location, without patients having to travel to the mainland. 

A Future-Thinking Design to Address the Remote Location

Delivering a major healthcare project in Orkney presented a unique set of challenges. The team leveraged Autodesk Construction Cloud™ - the cornerstone of which has been BIM 360 - to share data between project stakeholders during design coordination and construction. 

Designed to BIM Level 2 standards, the project included drawings from a range of consultants consolidated into a single model. The materials and built form of the building and surrounding landscape are simple, robust, easily sourced, and maintained, all reflecting Orkney’s heritage and ecology.

The building’s design intends to make the best use of trades available on the island by fabricating structural steelwork offsite wherever possible. This process enabled the speedy completion of the building structure. 

To maintain efficiency throughout construction and prepare for handover, the team tagged each room and asset appropriately. Facilities managers will then use the model to repair, replace, and maintain the building assets over time.

“We considered the remoteness of the island, supply chain logistics, local landscape, and challenging climatic conditions, as well as specific archaeological and environmental considerations,” says Natalie Duthie, Design Manager at Robertson Construction.

Mobile Access to Digital Documents and Drawings in the Field

After the Robertson design team had marked up construction documents and drawings in the 3D model, their field teams were able to access on-site using mobile devices. This process has made working practices quicker, more collaborative, and more efficient.

“Having models at our fingertips makes a real difference,” says Mark Dalziel, Senior Project Manager at Robertson.

Being able to access 3D models using a tablet in the field makes it easier for Robertson’s site managers and subcontractors to visualise the design for the numerous rooms in this facility, while speeding up the process of assessing the quality of construction detail. 

“Our site managers have used BIM 360 to access the project drawings and models on site. The ability to overmark them, log issues, and distribute these instructions to subcontractors has saved time,” says Dalziel.

Digital Daily Updates Eliminate Paper Diaries

Another feature that has moved Robertson from using paper into the cloud is the daily diaries available in BIM 360.

Robertson site managers use this, which is automatically populated with weather conditions, to keep track of labor information and hours. Digital diaries eliminate paper and are quicker and easier than the traditional method. 

Subcontractors can also use this to demonstrate how many hours they have worked throughout the project.

QR Codes Make QA/QC Inspections Smoother

“In BIM 360, you can ‘pivot’ the view of your data, so you can do cross-discipline QA checking within a particular room, which is a massive time-saver,” says Dalziel. This feature benefits the management team, who needs a broader overview of a project.

As a standard project requirement, Robertson aims to use QR Codes for location and issues tracking and QA/QC checks. Site operatives scan QR codes with their tablet, and BIM 360 automatically shows a 3D drawing of the specific location, along with any snagging issues that are flagged. The user can ‘pin’ additional issues to precise locations within the room, add descriptive text or photos, or mark off outstanding snags as resolved. 

“This has been a real benefit compared to the traditional paper-based check sheet,” says Dalziel. “If we need to review anything with the client, the fact that we can show them drawings and photos makes it easier for them to understand the issues and our approach to solving them.”

Using the old paper process, each person could complete snagging for two rooms in 1.5 hours. Now, using BIM 360, the productivity level has doubled to four rooms in the same amount of time.

“Working with our subcontractors is much more efficient too. If a site manager sees a snag on-site and logs it in BIM 360, it’s emailed directly to our subcontractor,” says Dalziel. “Once they have addressed the issue, it is returned to the site manager, who can review the work and accept it – all within BIM 360. The issue tracking process is simplified and streamlined, making defect management, closure of snagging, and project handover smoother.”

The information captured and shared to a subcontractor for snags is more comprehensive than it was before. This level of detail has given an average 45% improvement in the time that it takes a subcontractor to complete corrective work and close off any issues.

The data is accessible to the right people throughout the entire project team, ranging from the client and management team through to subcontractors and independent testers, allowing everyone to collaborate effectively. 

Making New Technology Part of the Process

Robertson is taking a ‘one team’ approach to investing in training – upskilling both its employees as well as subcontractors – to show the benefits of using this technology.

“Once you show people how useful it is, they come on board,” says Dalziel. “We are all benefiting, and everybody saves time. Now that we have come out of the QA/QC phase and into the snagging phase, our project team has gone through that process for the first time and recognises real efficiencies for future projects. 

“It has improved our way of working – without a doubt,” says Dalziel. The investment in training and adopting the technology is paid back in the time saved on snagging and issues resolution.

Benefits of Digital Technology Extend Beyond Handover

Robertson will maintain The Balfour for 25 years. However, the level of detail contained in the 3D model, and the way Robertson has marked up, and organized the model will make for a smooth transition to the client after project handover and into the post-occupancy period.

“COBIE data was output from the consultants’ M&E model and set up in a format that would give the Robertson Facilities Management team everything they need to operate and maintain the facility effectively well into the future,” says Dalziel.

Better QA/QC Improves Processes for the Future

At the company’s head office in Stirling, the digital team can review the QA/QC data to evaluate performance and improve processes on future projects. 

The graphs, charts, and reports generated from BIM 360 help Robertson identify any issues over quality or productivity. This data also improves the way Robertson evaluates subcontractors as well as the overall quality of the project.

What’s most important for Robertson is that the company has now embedded these digital working practices. Valuable project information is used and recorded consistently. This approach means that the information gathered can be analysed to establish benchmarks. 

Mike King, Group Preconstruction Director at Robertson, concludes, “We are now establishing Robertson’s vision to use digital technology across the full project lifecycle. Technology is a part of the early stages of design through construction to handover and operations. Robertson has invested in digital technology, not only in the adoption of BIM 360, but also in training to improve processes. BIM 360 helps our team to be more efficient and maintain high quality throughout a project. Meanwhile, it gives our clients a clear view of progress and supports open, honest communication, and stronger relationships.” 

This customer story was originally published on Connect & Construct

Grace Ellis

As Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Autodesk and Editor in Chief of the Digital Builder Blog, Grace has nearly 15 years of experience creating world-class content for technology firms. She has been working within the construction technology space for the last 6+ years and is passionate about empowering industry professionals with cutting-edge tools and leading strategies that improve the quality of their jobs and lives.