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Monday, September 14, 2015

Fire Safety BIM – Unique, Simple, and Accurate

Building information modeling (BIM) has taken the fire protection (FP) industry to a newer level of accuracy and efficiency. Historically, fire safety measures have always played important roles in the development of civilizations. By examining the designs of ancient buildings, one can realize the amount of scientific thought that had been spared for making them safe and secure. These measures were deemed necessary not only to protect the inhabitants from accidental fires but also any sabotage or conspiracies by enemy agents. With the passage of time, FP measures ceased to be an exclusive issue with the rich and powerful because governments across the world began to take active interest in ensuring them on a large scale for the general public. Such a conscious decision was taken with the aim of ensuring minimal loss of life and property. Consequently, a great deal of investment was made in researching fire safety measures. BIM has taken all these measures to a higher level of technological innovations.

The advent of BIM has enabled proper coordination among FP professionals and others involved in the construction industry (architects, structural engineers, civil engineers, HVAC installers, and plumbing specialists). This is a marked departure to earlier practices when Fire Safety engineers worked almost by themselves or with minimal coordination with others. Presently, sprinkler designers use customized programs for developing 3D models of FP systems that are capable of auto-preparation of hydraulic calculations, system components’ print lists, and inserting hangers and bracing on drawings on the basis of dimensions and pipe sizes. These tools are extremely useful for the designer but cannot be used or understood by the other stakeholders as they are limited to the specific system applications rather than shared with the building model. Likewise, innovations in fire alarm drafting technology allow designers to build systems that can automatically assign network addresses to devices, calculate voltage drops, perform battery calculations, and prepare riser diagrams. Such tools bring in a great deal of automation and reduce the risks of human errors, but remain underutilized as they are system-specific.

BIM, on the other hand, allows inter- and intra-system knowledge transfer. Thus, the designer’s ideas and concepts get transported to the other stakeholders in the same way as he or she intends it to be. This means that BIM allows the visualization of the project model in a collective manner. This actually translates to the fact that everyone is aware not only of the locations of fire alarms, sprinklers, and smoke detectors but also of their exact dimensions, operating conditions, and other such technicalities. This helps, in the longer run, in proper maintenance of all such systems and gadgets. Also, it enables maintenance staff to respond quickly in cases of repairs and emergencies as the model allows visualization of the entire construction from all possible angles. Thus, when fires are caused by short circuits or other events, not only do the fire dousing operations get activated immediately, but the rescue teams also have enough time to plan their operations as the source, the magnitude, and the direction of the movement of the fire can be pinpointed exactly. This goes a long way in saving life and property because of enhanced emergency response systems.

Another important advantage of using BIM in the science of FP is that it allows easy upgrading of technology and replacement of defective parts. This is possible because the data is easily retrievable from the BIM of a construction and comprehensible. Maintenance staff need not waste time in investigating or researching about the existing technology because the information is already available to them. This saves a great deal of time as they can take on-spot decisions without being apprehensive of fatal errors.

The third importance of using BIM in FP is its ability to resolve clashes with other trades. Thus, during the designing process, it is easy to identify whether the sprinkler system or the fire alarm circuit is passing through an HVAC duct or a water pipe or any other such utility systems. Also, it makes it easier to connect the sprinkler system to the plumbing system so that there is a steady availability of water and the sprinklers are functional. Similarly, BIM helps to connect the fire dousing systems like fire hose cabinets (FHC) to be connected to the plumbing system. These may not be used frequently but have to be maintained regularly to ensure usability during emergency situations. For very large buildings with large floor areas and numerous levels or floors, BIM comes in handy to find out their exact coordinates.

All these advantages of using BIM are gradually altering the approach toward building design and planning. More and more general contractors and subcontractors are willing to come out of the traditional building construction methods and reap the benefits of BIM because of the cost-effectiveness ensured by the technology through its exact materials estimation and time scale. In conclusion, it can be safely said that BIM has completely revolutionized the approach towards building designs and constructions.


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