How Digital Technology Helped Develop a Rural General Healthcare Facility on the Remote Island of Orkney

Mark Robson

The Balfour in Kirkwall, in the far north of Scotland, is set to transform the way healthcare services are delivered for the 20,000 residents of the Orkney Islands.

Robertson is one of the UK's largest family-owned construction, infrastructure, and support services businesses. Together with their customers they invest, develop, construct, and maintain across the whole built environment.

Robertson has worked with NHS Orkney to deliver this £65m project, even 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

The project was designed to BIM Level 2 standards, with drawings from a range of consultants consolidated into a single model.

A far-reaching view was taken from an early stage with all the rooms and relevant assets appropriately tagged and marked up, with a view to efficiency on site during the construction phase. Furthermore, the model will be used by facilities managers to repair, replace, and maintain the building assets over the long term.


Innovating to address the remote location

Natalie Duthie, Design Manager at Robertson Construction, explains. 

“Delivering a major healthcare project in Orkney presents a unique set of challenges. To solve these, we used digital technology to share project data between all project stakeholders with BIM 360 Glue used during design coordination and BIM 360 Field during construction activities. 

We considered the remoteness of the island, supply chain logistics, local landscape, and challenging climatic conditions, as well as specific archaeological and environmental considerations.”

Structural steelwork was fabricated off-site wherever possible to enable speedy completion of the building structure. The envelope of the building was designed to make best use of trades available on the islands. 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.


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 has made working practices quicker, more collaborative, and more efficient.

The technology’s 3D model capability has been used to visualise the exact design for the numerous rooms in this facility.

“Having this kind of technology [BIM 360 Field] 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 and speeds up the process of assessing the quality of construction detail. 

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


Digital daily updates eliminate paper diaries

Another feature that has moved Robertson from using paper into the cloud is the BIM 360 Field Daily Diary.

Robertson site managers use this, which is automatically populated with weather conditions, to keep track of labor information and hours. This has eliminated paper daily diaries and is 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 Field, 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 need a broader overview of a project.

As a standard project requirement Robertson aims for QR Codes to be used for location and issues tracking, and QA/QC checks. Site operatives scan QR codes with their tablet, and BIM 360 Field 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 Field, 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 Field. The issue tracking process is simplified and streamlined, making defect management, closure of snagging, and project sign-off /handover a smoother process.”

The information captured and shared to a subcontractor for snags is more comprehensive than it was before. This has given in an average 45% improvement in the time 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 own employees as well as subcontractors – to show the benefits of using this technology.

“Once you show people how useful it is, they really 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 have gone through that process for the first time and recognise real efficiencies for future projects. 

“It has improved our way of working – without a doubt.”

Mark Dalziel, Senior Project Manager at Robertson

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 Facilities Management is contracted to maintain The Balfour for a 25-year period. However, the level of detail contained in the 3D model, and the way Robertson has added marked up, and organized the model will make for an easy 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 review performance and improve processes on future projects. 

The graphs, charts, and reports generated from BIM 360 Field can identify the source of any issues over quality or productivity. This 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 in a consistent way. 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. This encompasses the early stages of design, through to our work on site and finally to client handover and even beyond – when the end users move in. Robertson has invested in digital technology, not only in the adoption of BIM 360 Field but also in the training of our people and improvement of our processes. BIM helps our team to be more efficient and maintain high quality throughout all phases of a project. Meanwhile, it gives our clients a clear view of progress and support open, honest communication, and stronger relationships.” 




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