Building Information Modeling shouldn’t be viewed as a four-letter word. It’s the future of building design and construction because it emphasizes resolving issues much earlier through collaboration and removes much of the on-site uncertainty that leads to ill-conceived “fixes” that create more problems. It is coming like a tidal wave (and in many cases is already here), so you have a choice to make-sooner rather than later. You can either ride the wave or get washed away. The choice doesn’t have to be scary. This article is intended to walk you through the basics of BIM and show you how you can plug-in and prosper-not just tread water.
BIM is the process of drawing all the main components of the project as a virtual (computer-based) 3-D model. The project team (ideally everybody involved) then uses that model-or a portion of it-to work out all the details and resolve the potential conflicts before any framing piece hits the job site. This process pushes more resources to the front end of the project in an effort to save time and money later by eliminating a significant number of RFIs, on-site fixes and change orders. It also leads to increased quality in the completed project because fewer unintended and unexpected job site fixes are required and there is less down time waiting for answers.
Reduction of costs by increasing work efficiency and eliminating unnecessary waste of time and materials. The overall intention here is for a more streamlined process that reduces and ultimately eliminates waste (time and materials). The benefits to the elimination of waste are pretty obvious. By reducing waste, you buy only the things necessary to build a project and allow more to be built for the same overall price tag. With energy efficiency and waste reduction being front page topics today, this type of savings is on the top of everybody’s lists. This also benefits everyone involved in the project (including subcontractors) by keeping your costs competitive and uncertainty, as you assemble your quote to a minimum.
Improvements in quality of the finished construction through improved communication throughout the process. This process (also referred to as Integrated Project Delivery) brings together the whole project team sooner and encourages collaboration by tapping into the expertise and knowledge of every team member. This collaboration can and often does eliminate bad design choices during early design stages when these changes have the most positive impact. “Clashes” are greatly reduced or eliminated. Hard clashes occur when two or more things try to occupy the same location. Soft clashes occur when two or more things are so close to each other that it isn’t practical for installation or maintenance. When clashes are eliminated so is head scratching on the jobsite and so is downtime. Pieces go together as planned and the final result is a product that fits the way it was intended.
BIM shifts the work from figuring things out through waiting for answers to simple assembly. All this effort up front allows for the actual construction process to become more of a simplified assembly process. Of course, unplanned conditions still pop up, but the goal is to eliminate the “big, hairy” ones on paper (or on screen) before they get transferred to an actual piece. Pieces that adhere to the design model fit reliably without the interference of other components or systems. Costs of material and labor are reduced and profits rise because you can accomplish more with less. Think of it as polishing the process until it shines. Too often in the past, ineffective processes have eaten projects alive. In fact, according to a recent study, the only non-farm industry that hasn’t significantly improved productivity since World War II is our building industry … think about that.
Is BIM a magic wand or magic button to push? No. Instead it’s a way of improving process and getting to the right answer sooner in the design/construction timeline. It really boils down to getting the right people at the right table at the right time to get the right answer? Seriously, that is a good way to summarize this. It’s more about the people than the tools.
You’ll notice that since more effort is spent in early design collaboration, the more experienced people are at the table, the better this works. Great news for the job-tested designer, detailers and those skilled with BIM tools. When these skilled contributors are teamed with other people (if necessary) skilled at using the tools, things begin to happen quickly. Ten person project teams become 2-3 person teams and productivity soars.
How do I ride the wave? I’m sure you’ve seen more and more projects coming across your desks that are requiring BIM capability to be part of the project team. If you don’t already have this capability, you may be thinking, “Now what?”
There are alternatives that allow you to jump on board by outsourcing, contracting for services from a third-party vendor to acquire that expertise for the project. This allows you to stay in the game without huge overhead or training expense.
A vendor can bridge the gap so that you can decide, in a less pressured environment, when or if you want to develop your own independent BIM capability.
Let’s look at an example of how this works from the real world. Recently, Radius Track was contracted to do the 3-D modeling work and light gauge steel framing for the Madison Site Theater, in Santa Monica, Calif. By working directly with both the architect and the construction team, the company was able to model the ceilings of the various performance spaces of the facility. The subcontractor’s fabricator was also at the table with the architect and the general contractor collaborating on solutions. The manufacturer’s experience meshed with the design intent and means and methods to produce expedited and effective results.
The provider then cleaned up any unwanted irregularities from the original model’s surface curvature and extracted the data to produce the precisely curved pieces (usually track, studs, angle, or composite pieces like box beams or headers) necessary to accomplish the design intent. By being able to perform curvature analysis on these surfaces, we were able to make the corrections and adjustments necessary before any members were fabricated or any clashes had to be addressed on-site. This eliminated many on-site fixes and streamlined the process greatly. Again, the emphasis here is on analysis and correction then on fabrication. It is this process and sequence that makes all the difference in the finished product itself and how you get to it.
Experience counts in an outsourcing partner. Since we have been doing BIM design and 3-D modeling for the last 12 years, the company has learned a lot about using direct digital transfer from the 3-D computer model. The company translates this data directly to the fabrication process. This direct linkage allows the user to fabricate reliably precise and accurate pieces to exactly match what the project requires. W&C