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A conversation with Gianluca Dell’Acqua

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Gianluca Dell’Acqua, the first to introduce BIM for linear infrastructures at academic level in Italy, is professor of Roads, Railways and Airports of the Department of Civil, Building and Environmental Engineering at the Federico II University of Naples.

Can you describe what BIM is and in which fields can it be used?

BIM is an innovation’s process based on the digitalization of all phases of the life cycle of civil works. By using this methodology, it is possible to represent a digital “twin” of an engineering work and gather a vast amount of information pertaining to it.

Which are the countries where BIM technology is most widely used and developed?

Initially, the countries where BIM became more widespread were the Anglo-Saxon countries, namely the United Kingdom and the United States, thanks to a significant regulatory push. In Scandinavian countries too and more generally in Northern Europe, BIM is now a well-established technology. Today, BIM is also used in Asia, while in the Middle East the technology has mostly been introduced by those European and U.S. companies engaged in large-scale works.

What changes has the introduction of BIM technology brought compared to when it was not yet being used?

The interoperability between players in the construction supply chain is the most significant change. We can see it in the design and facility management phases, since the designer and the contracting entity work simultaneously on the same digital twin, with a huge reduction in the time needed to transform information. Innovation also significantly diminished expected costs (12%-16%) in the life cycle of the works.

Interoperability also applies to BIM technologies. Indeed, establishing interoperable and shared, non-proprietary open formats represent an important goal. In this regard, Building Smart – an international organisation leading the digital transformation of the construction sector – is working on Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) for BIM, which should enhance this aspect.

For each stakeholder involved in a project, (project owner, designer, contractor, infrastructure users) what are the benefits of BIM technology?

As I said, BIM technology brings a number of benefits related to interoperability, with a significant increase in the quality of works and a significant reduction in construction time.

In my opinion, the greatest benefits pertain to who works in the facility management phase, and to some extent also to contractors. However, the planners and designers could be at the beginning the most disadvantaged because they have to adapt to the use of this new technology, but once the gap is closed, all stakeholders involved will benefit in the long term.

In your opinion, how the adoption of new digital methods and technologies can contribute to workers’ safety on construction sites?

In terms of safety, the benefits are several considering that the introduction of BIM reduces construction time and workers’ exposure to risk, and that savings can be reinvested in safety measures. In addition, the adoption of BIM allows to optimize the management of interference between activities and to simulate and, thus prevent, certain interferences that in some cases would be difficult to foresee.

What opportunities does the advent and adoption of BIM offer to those delivering civil engineering solutions?

In addition to the benefits already outlined, through BIM, it is possible to more easily manage the maintenance of a work in terms of data collection, also with a view to further maintenance, since it will be possible to have an updated and lasting trace of the operations implemented, by dynamically recording the companies carrying out the interventions, the materials used and the test certificates, etc.

Do universities pay enough attention to BIM?

This issue counts a lot to me. I was the first professor in Italy to introduce the study of BIM for linear infrastructures (roads, railways and hydraulic works) at university level. In general, many universities have introduced courses on the topic, but few are focusing on BIM for infrastructure and civil engineering, the so-called horizontal BIM.

Today there is a strong demand for young people with this kind of skills. It is a very important opportunity for young engineers entering labour market who can work side by side with more experienced engineers, drawing on their knowledge and enriching it with new skills.

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