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Visualizing the future with Building Information Modeling (BIM)

Knowledge, like food, is best when it’s shared – and if Ernie Saini is involved, there’s a good chance you’ll get a big helping of both.

"I love to change people's mindsets," says Ernie, a Singaporean engineer in her earlier forties. "I've had people say to me 'elevators are just a box that goes up and down' and I always love to challenge that statement. I can show them the technology that goes into that 'box' and the sheer number of people that we're able to transport." 

Ernie leads the Building Information Modeling (BIM) team in Singapore, having joined Schindler over 15 years ago. BIM is a process that uses an array software to generate and manage digital representations of buildings throughout the lifecycle of a project.

Ernie Saini at Jewel Changi Airport, Singapore

"With BIM, we're able to build the building twice," says Ernie. First, in the virtual world, where plans can be checked and altered easily – saving time, energy, and materials – and then a second time in the real world. "It's always exciting to see a new building standing tall and complete, before the construction work has even started."

With the renderings that Ernie's team provides, customers can see and move around the layouts of the elevators and lobbies in 3D. And now, they can even step into the virtual world and view the designs using Oculus virtual reality goggles.

"Being able to put myself in the virtual future," Ernie explains, is one of the highlights of her job. "Not many people have the chance to work in an industry which is continuously progressing towards the smart future."

Outside of work, Ernie’s passion is baking. "I love to bake, it's what I do to de-stress," says Ernie. 

While baking is quite a different activity from Ernie's day job, she still finds a way for her team to benefit from it. "They're all my guinea pigs," she says, laughing. "Whenever I bake, I always bring some into work for them to eat."

From part-timer to team-leader

Ernie started off at Schindler as a part-time drafter, having learned AutoCAD at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). "I was 24 years old, just married, my baby was only one month old, and my contract was only for six months" she explains.

Ernie Saini, Rahmat Salleh, and Noraini Naib

It was Noraini Naib who saw Ernie's potential. "She believed in me and believed in my capabilities. She showed me the ropes and later on was the one who believed that I could lead my own team," says Ernie.

So, five years ago, when our team won the tender award for the new Terminal 4 at Singapore's Changi Airport, which was our first BIM project in Singapore, there was no doubt in Noraini’s mind who should lead the BIM team.

Rahmat Salleh, who was with Schindler for 37 years, was also hugely influential in Ernie's career. "Along with Noraini, he always helped guide me. We were very close, I used to call him 'Abang' which means 'big brother' but sadly, he passed away earlier this year."

Ernie also speaks very highly of the young members of her BIM team. "They're the ones who give me the fire, who spark the flame of creativity by seeing things with new eyes," she says, beaming with pride. 

Forward-thinking and front-loading 

Building the initial model for a new project is time-consuming, but once it’s done, it saves a significant amount of time.

"It's front-loaded technology, so once the first version is completed, it's relatively easy to make changes," says Ernie. Compared to the traditional way, where if there was a mistake in the drawings it could lead to a wall needing to be knocked down and rebuilt, with BIM it can be checked beforehand. "With the click of a button, you can just shift the elevator opening."

BIM has also proven to be an invaluable tool for coordination and logistics. Thanks to the clear overview the tool provides, the team can see where the best place to store materials is at any given time during the project. That means they can plan ahead and easily coordinate with other service teams. 

BIM elevator lobby rendering
BIM elevator lobby rendering
BIM elevator interior rendering

Everyone sees the same version of BIM

When a new project is started, all the services – everything from elevators to plumbing – are accounted for and represented in BIM.

Interoperability, the ability to combine software written in different languages, is one of BIM's key attributes. It means that even if each service team uses its own software of choice, they can all still be combined into the same final model.

The end result: one overall BIM version for the whole building, allowing everyone involved in the project to look at the same, up-to-date version of the simulated building.

"Everybody is a gatekeeper of their own discipline. So, while we look after and can alter our systems, the plumbers can see what we are doing, but they can't rearrange the elevators," Ernie explains with a laugh.

Future of BIM

BIM has been through many changes since Ernie started at Schindler, but there are no signs of its development slowing down anytime soon.

The plans produced using BIM can already be used directly by our Robotic Installation System for Elevators, Schindler R.I.S.E, to manage the complete planning and installation process. Ernie believes that it’s only a matter of time before we see more robots on-site.

"There'll be fewer people in the field, and AI (Artificial Intelligence) and robots will start to play a much larger role," explains Ernie when asked how she envisions the future. "It's one of the ways BIM is going to make construction sites much safer for the next generation of workers."