BIM People – James Duggan, Arup Ireland


James Duggan is an Associate Director and the BIM Leader at Arup Ireland. He has been with the company for 19 years. spoke to James about his work, BIM at Arup, and his views on BIM.

James graduated from University College Cork with a BEng in Civil Engineering in 1995 and is a Chartered Engineer. His career has developed from being a civil and structural design engineer to his current role where he leads multidisciplinary design teams on large projects. His areas of expertise include commercial, residential, industrial and pharmaceutical, always ensuring to deliver client requirements with excellence and quality.

James, can you tell us about your work as BIM Leader for Arup Ireland?

Arup is committed to the implementation of BIM on all of our design projects. My role as BIM Leader is to provide the leadership, support and guidance to integrate BIM into the everyday fabric and culture of our business. The execution of my role involves setting strategic plans in place around recruitment, training and project delivery with a key emphasis on gradual development, aligned with continual advancement and improvement. This gradual approach has served us well and now puts us in a strong position as the industry as a whole begins to understand what BIM means, its challenges and its rewards.

Who manages Arup’s BIM strategy internationally?

The roll out of BIM is part of the Arup global strategy supported by our Group Board and our Regional Boards. The coordinated roll out of BIM is then managed through a number of integrated task forces. I lead the Irish task force and I am also a member of the European BIM task force who meet regularly to ensure clear communication and common goals.

Has Arup Ireland been influenced by BIM adoption in international offices?

We are in a fortunate position in Arup as we can draw on expertise from our large global network. The mandating of BIM on public projects in the UK, for instance, has certainly led to a greater overall BIM impetus in our UK offices. Through sharing work with these offices, we have certainly progressed our own Irish BIM agenda and we have collectively learned from our project experiences. BIM was adopted in other parts of the world, e.g. Australia, earlier than was the case in Europe. The BIM expertise in the infrastructure area, in particular, was much more advanced in our Australian offices. We have now benefitted from that knowledge and experience, such that we are now well on the road to having significant expertise locally for the delivery of our infrastructure projects. In short, the work sharing and knowledge transfer between our offices and our foreign office network has certainly been beneficial and fully utilised.

What have been the main advantages of using BIM on a construction project?

The Irish Construction Industry is still in the early stages of truly embracing BIM on projects. There are a significant number of contractors, designers and architects who are highly proficient in BIM and bring this proficiency to the projects that they work on. There is an equally significant number who have not embraced BIM thus far and are delivering projects in the traditional way. However, based on my experience both in Ireland and abroad, if a proficient BIM design team and contractor are committed to delivering projects using BIM in a coordinated manner, benefits will follow.

Starting on site, there is no doubt that BIM has the potential to reduce wasted time by reducing RFI’s and wasted materials and time through needless mistakes and clashes. In order to achieve these benefits, the designers need to produce designs that are coordinated and aligned. The entire aim of the designers should be to produce multidiscipline deliverables that are complete and clash resolvable once delivered to a contractor to construct. A vital concept that needs to be embraced is that in order to deliver on the above, a longer design period is required as modelling and coordination take time. However, if done correctly, this will lead to programme advantages and reduced cost overruns on site.

Going back to the beginning, the ability to show our clients their projects as they evolve through Virtual Reality and virtual walkthroughs ensure that we bring our clients along with us through the process, such that they have a very good understanding of how their project will actually look when complete. This is vital and, as far as possible, it eliminates any misunderstanding or miscommunications between the design team and the client/contractor.

One area that we need to focus on more is the advantage that BIM can bring post-construction. In the lifecycle of a building, the construction cost and time are not significant compared to the operational costs of the building over its lifetime. BIM brings the ability to deliver more energy efficient buildings through advanced environmental modelling. It also gives designers the ability to deliver information-rich digital deliverables to our clients for future asset and facilities management tasks. I believe this area is now receiving more focus; hence, it will develop in the coming years.

How many people work in BIM at Arup Ireland?

We are a practice of approximately 550 people from a variety of disciplines including civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, infrastructure, environmental, project management, consulting, etc. We do not have specific BIM teams, as we see BIM as an integral part of our overall business. BIM is about data management in various disguises and we all work with data. It is true to say that currently our BIM activities are more commonly found among our Building Engineering and Infrastructure teams, but each of our disciplines is now heavily involved in reviewing what BIM means for their workflow and how it can be incorporated into an overall digital environment.

Can you tell us about how Arup has utilised BIM on projects in Ireland?

I think it is fair to say that BIM is now utilised on practically all of our new building engineering projects. The degree of utilisation is very much dependant on what is mandated for the project. We are working on projects where BIM is mandated for all project stakeholders. Equally, we are working on projects where BIM is not mandated, meaning that not all of the other design team members are utilising BIM. In these instances, we still execute our projects in BIM to a level and mandate agreed internally at the inception of the project. Our infrastructure projects are now also incorporating BIM into their normal project delivery. We have made impressive strides in this area in the past few years and all new infrastructure projects are also fully embracing BIM at a level appropriate to the individual projects.

Since the founding of the company by Ove Arup, the company has been innovative in designing structures. How will BIM assist designers in their creative work?

Innovation and design excellence are at the core of what Arup represents. BIM will never replace the human mind and genius in terms of creativity. However, BIM does provide the tool to allow creative minds to be even more adventurous. The efficient use of BIM affords us more opportunity to investigate innovative options that we may not have considered previously. The linkage of 3D software, powerful analysis packages and Virtual Reality allows us to explore and visualise innovative designs and options and affords us the opportunity to push the boundaries, while also allowing us to arrive at practical, buildable and affordable solutions.

Please tell us what Arup Ireland has done to adopt BIM?

Arup Ireland has been very proactive in the adoption of BIM. We delivered our first Revit project in 2006. For this project, we purely delivered a 3D model and extracted our 2D deliverables from it. However, the seed was sown and in the intervening years, we have consistently progressed our BIM credentials and deliverables capability. We are now truly embracing BIM as a project delivery mechanism incorporating 3D models, analysis and design in an overall coordinated platform. We have recognised that BIM needs investment and so we have rolled out training programs in-house and we have linked in with relevant external training providers. We have put in place a BIM task force who meet regularly to direct our BIM activities in a coordinated manner. We have mandated BIM on all our design projects and we have also developed a tool called the BIM Maturity Measure to monitor the implementation of BIM on our projects. We regularly measure our projects to identify what we are doing well and also to guide us on where we can improve. BIM does not stand still, so our work will continue. Our BIM Maturity Measure is a great help to ensure our further development.

Can you describe Arup Ireland’s in-house BIM and Construction IT CPD?

Arup is CPD accredited by Engineers Ireland and we take CPD seriously for all our staff. BIM and Construction IT has been a major component of our CPD in recent years and will continue to be of significant importance in the future. We have taken a number of approaches to CPD in this area. Typically, our training in the BIM process is in-house. We generally have train the trainer sessions on a European level on selected topics. The attendees then train others around the various groups and offices, as required. For specific software training, we either send people out on courses or invite trainers in if we have a large group requiring the specific training at any one time. For all external training, we encourage our staff to complete advanced courses and subsequent exams. On completion of these courses, staff have certificates of competence that recognise the expertise they have gained. Given the broad area and amount of knowledge required, we take as flexible an approach as possible to training and CPD. At all times, we focus on the specific needs of the individual and also the end goal of what we need as a company to deliver quality and efficiency.

How do you see the Irish Construction Industry changing in the next few years with digitisation?

I believe that gradually we will no longer be discussing BIM. It will be the normal process of project delivery within our industry. The digital world is constantly advancing, so our industry, as well as others, will inevitably always be chasing it. In a way, this is exciting, as when I review the advances that have been made since I became involved in BIM 10 years ago, I really look forward to what will evolve in the next 10 years. I think the somewhat ‘hit and miss’ approach to BIM presently will evolve into the full implementation of Level 2 and Level 3 BIM on all projects. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will further develop into an integral part of how we develop and present projects both at the planning stage and also through the construction delivery process. For our clients, particularly our large public clients, BIM will be mandatory on all projects. Our sites will be transformed into hubs of digital information used on various devices with not a drawing in sight.

What advice would you give to a client considering using BIM on a project?

I would encourage clients to mandate the use of BIM on their projects. I believe that when planned, managed and delivered correctly by competent project teams, BIM can deliver significant quality and commercial benefits to clients. However, a word of caution, as purely asking for BIM is too general. A client needs to understand BIM, such that they can clearly describe and specify what they actually want. I would encourage all clients to review their project requirements at inception, have an understanding of what their required project deliverables are and what format they require them in and then set about writing a specification in the form of a Client Information Requirement document. It is important that this document is robust and achievable, is not too heavy in the sense of asking for deliverables that they don’t really need and also not too light in the sense that it does not achieve their specific requirements. Once this is in place, it is then very important to appoint BIM competent design teams and contractors to deliver.

Do you have BIM education and training advice for graduates and young professionals hoping to work for Arup Ireland in the near future?

In my role, I am heavily involved in graduate recruitment and regularly deal with our universities and colleges. From speaking to students and our recent graduates, it has become evident that our new recruits have an expectation that it will be standard practice to deliver projects through BIM when they enter their professional careers. The digital skill set of graduates and young professionals is now exceptional. I think this is largely based on growing up as gamers and also the education that they are now receiving at third level where modules on BIM and digital in general are becoming common place.

The advice that I would give to the next generation is to embrace digital, as you will be entering into a profession that needs the skills and new approaches that you can bring to companies like Arup. However, a word of caution, graduates and young professionals still need an in-depth knowledge of core engineering design principles, as BIM is merely a tool to help in the delivery. The ability to do quick first principle checks, dare I say it, by hand, is still a vital and most necessary skillset for all engineers and designers.

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