Innovation through technology

Tom Kelly, programme manager at Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM), and Andy Smith, project leader at MPact Thales (MPT), explain how their organisations are using digital engineering in the Trafford Park Line scheme to leverage value through design, construction and to handover.

Manchester Metrolink’s Phase 3 expansion programme has been described by TfGM as one of the largest and most ambitious transport projects in the UK. The construction challenges of the £350m Trafford Park Line are well documented, but less so is the pivotal role that digital engineering has played throughout the design and construction process and which will continue to do so through to handover.

Building upon the successful delivery of previous Metrolink phases, the collaborative team of Laing O’Rourke, VolkerRail and Thales, known as MPT, stepped up the adoption of technology to improve the production and use of project information in accordance with the client’s requirements. They did this by applying the principles of BIM Level 2, 3D modelling and integrated design coordination, bringing structured digital asset information to the project using this technology to communicate at every opportunity.

Value has already been significantly leveraged through detailed planning, enhanced visualisation, stakeholder engagement and coordination throughout the project lifecycle to date. This has implemented a shared 3D environment, generating a platform for increased transparency and collaboration while at the same time the technology has responded to the objectives of the individual disciplines.

Designers from multiple organisations and disciplines have been able to coordinate with each other at regular intervals, providing visibility of each other’s progress, risks and opportunities via the federated digital model. The use of 3D technology as a platform for collaborative detailed design reviews saved time through the creation of design libraries.

Collaboration was key, and regular BIM collab meetings were held with the design teams, local authority, tram operator and the client. The project team presented all their developing designs within federated 3D environment and provided commentary in live, progressive design reviews that included design disciplines, construction teams, the client and wider stakeholders.

For construction, BIM tools have interrogated embedded information within the model and supported constructability so decisions about costs, efficiency and safety could be made more efficiently. With the ability to determine construction site layout, optimise construction sequences and enhance safety planning, site operation and safety has been improved.

While the JV partners all have experience in solving the issues of implementing design information within a 3D model, the challenge was to address the project management aspect of delivering a successful digital solution for a linear light rail project. Bringing digital engineering solutions, which are strongly embedded in the building sectors, and adapting them to light rail required a high degree of interrogation in relation to longer-term software solutions and processes.

The early identification of design issues and the clashes that might have otherwise delayed the later design stages or even the construction phase have significantly reduced the design programme and construction programme risks. Design reviews that previously took months have been reduced to a matter of weeks. Site coordination has been optimised, safety measures and processes enhanced, and consistent risk-tracking has led to more robust decision-making. This level of impact across all elements of a complex construction and infrastructure programme has ensured greater project certainty.

The MPT team developed an application to allow the linking of a register to geospatial locations within the 3D environment, enhancing communication and audit trails between all stakeholders involved with design, delivery and operation. Construction information was linked to the model geometry and used to validate the construction programme and the cost breakdown structure. This allowed visual communication of how long a task took, what it cost and what it looked like from within the project information model.

TfGM, which initially set the challenge to apply these digital engineering principles to the project, set its own series of objectives through innovation, the validation of the brief, the availability of visualisations for public engagement, and to acquire a Facility Information Management that can contribute meaningfully to the availability of TfGM asset information. The MPT team has taken digital engineering to the next level by using collaborative BIM tools and ensuring that individual and collective objectives are met.




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