Think Sewell, thinkBIM

Sewell Construction recently attended the annual thinkBIM spring conference as keynote speakers. Organised by Trimble, Leeds Beckett University, and the UK BIM Alliance, the conference was themed around BIM 4 Health & Safety. We found out more from our Design Manager, Katie, who gives an overview of the team’s involvement.

Sewell Construction was approached by Duncan Reed at Trimble following our research project on the use of virtual reality (VR) alongside Building Information Management, to test whether using immersive VR technology can help improve safety management in a joint project with a Leeds Beckett University student. We shared the benefits we have found from integrating VR tools to existing processes that offer an immersive and collaborative approach to logistics planning, and the communication of safety risk on site prior to the activity happening.

As a forward-thinking business, we’re always on the lookout for additional ways to integrate digital technologies even further into our projects.

Mark Swallow is a PhD student at Leeds Beckett University and Senior Lecturer in Construction Project Management at Sheffield Hallam University and approached us to collaborate on exploring the integration of virtual reality into safety planning. We used this as an opportunity to focus on the steel erection on a live Sewell Construction project – a £7.5 million new build school extension in the centre of Hull.

In our keynote speech, we began by talking about the various ways in which BIM has been utilised on our projects, both during the pre-construction stage and once on site alongside our various project stakeholders. These processes include;

  • BIM walk-throughs for the client team and end users
  • Furniture, fittings, and equipment (FF&E) visualisation using QR codes to create augmented reality scenarios, whereby end users can see and sign off their finished spaces
  • Use of VR headsets and software to engage our clients and students from surrounding schools
  • Creation of digital O&M manuals attached to the 3D model and that can be accessible live on any device and plug in to CAFM systems for FM providers
  • Clash, coordination, and detection exercises using Solibri software checker
  • Design interrogation for methodology planning


This year, we’ve also recently upgraded our BIM certification from PAS 1192-2:2013 to BS EN ISO 19650-2:2018 in line with industry guidance and expectations.

Utilising 3D modelled information for health and safety/planning benefits isn’t a new thing for Sewell Construction. Our project teams have carried out exercises over the past five or six years that have involved using 3D snapshots from the model, alongside Google Earth and mark up tools to coordinate and communicate both health and safety, as well as phasing of works, to the site team and supply chain.

Our research project utilised a whole team approach, inclusive of the Sewell site delivery team, health and safety management, design management, consultant design team and supply chain, including the actual steel erectors and crane driver.

We split the process into four stages:

  • Initial meet to understand current and potential uses, drivers, and expectations, as well as perceived challenges
  • Review of the hardware and software requirements to identify a suitable project, and communicating with the supply chain to get their buy-in
  • Hosting an on-site workshop and implementation of the project
  • Culmination of feedback gathered from the entire working party

Using a live school site as the backdrop for this collaboration meant our Community Investment Champion and site team had the opportunity to further engage with the students, using VR as the hook. To celebrate the completion of the steelwork installation, we invited a selection of students to site to experience the virtual build-up of the steel erection.

We found a huge benefit to the virtual build and ‘real world’ risk assessment and method statement that was created during the VR workshop. The use of VR alongside BIM creates a clear and quick point of reference, meaning that all stakeholders are on the same page and hazards can be identified quickly, with controls discussed and logged accordingly.

It also created the opportunity for the steel erector team – all of whom are experts in their field – to collaboratively share their knowledge and thoughts prior to the day of the installation commencing. This provided a whole new perspective to on-site risks and potential issues that could arise during the steel lift, such as an area of the site that the crane would not have reached had the virtual build not taken place.

We were pleased to both listen to and speak to the HSE at the thinkBIM conference. The HSE Technology and Innovation Unit had carried out similar activities, utilising BIM and tagging perceived hazards into the model for inclusion within risk registers, and health and safety files for the end user. It was really encouraging to see that the HSE are pushing forward the use of digital technologies alongside health and safety for construction, and that as a business, we’re working in line with their innovative thought processes.

Watch the full presentation here.