I recently read a book to my two young sons about a car that went too fast and then suddenly “Bing, Bang, Boom, Crash, Disaster!” It made me think about where we are at in our economy, in our construction industry, and even inside our own companies. The implementation of Building Information Modeling and Integrated Project Delivery in our industry can help us get out of this crisis and plant some of the seeds for the next “boom” cycle in construction.

I am often asked what BIM is by other subcontractors as the Chair of the New York Subcontractor’s Trade Association Technology Committee. For one, it is not just a software product, although it is design software that creates 3-D models of what is to be placed in the built environment.

For another, it is not just data, although the “I” in BIM stands for information associated with 3-D building components and the powerfully intelligent object oriented structures from which the model is constructed.

Finally, it’s not just an “internal” process, it really is a change for how we as an industry collaborate and build trust, creating transparency from owners to lenders, architects to engineers, general contractors to subcontractors, suppliers to safety personnel, labor unions to trade associations and so on. The ability for everyone to be on the same page with scheduling, percent complete analysis, labor productivity improvements, prompt payment issues, etc., all rests on our desire to elevate how we do business and work together, with BIM delivery processes at the core.

For a BIM model to be useful to wall and ceiling contractors, a few items of interest include: framing, layout, duct and pipe routings, floor slabs, and tolerance information, which should all be available in the model. In this way, the exact amount of material including the right sized drywall, possibly with precuts for openings and critical end pieces to facilitate productive track and stud installation are within the realm of possibility.

DIMENSION MODELING

The 3-D modeling of metal studs can be automated using BIM framing software, such as Metal Wood Framer made by Strucsoft Solutions. Using Revit’s ability to easily create 2-D models with basic wall types, MWF is a plug-in that adds the ability to create framing based on specialized parametric relationships that can affect the connections and types of members. (For more information, visit www.strucsoftsolutions.com/mwf.asp).

Coupled with the design and model benefits are the value added contributions of the construction processes themselves. If the wall and ceiling contractor was indeed part of the team, valuable historical data could be captured that would help in estimating future projects such as value engineered details or substitutions, man hours per task and area, loading and staging logistics, and sequencing information provided by an integrated scheduling application. All trades that participate in a fully BIM managed project would gain from the ever building knowledgebase carried through their organizations. The majority of BIM projects being run today only include the architect, owner, engineer, MEPs and general contractor. The construction industry seems to be ignoring the critical subcontractor who must integrate their work with all the other trades on the job.

BIM coordination meetings such as this take place throughout the construction process. Where is the wall and ceiling guy?

FOCUSED GOALS

The goal for the contractor is to focus on the value points of any project, while minimizing the effects of problems oftentimes created by others such as: clashes, un-sequenced activities, coordination problems, site logistics, excessive overtime, schedule delays, deficient drawings, excessive changes, site safety, and adverse environmental conditions, to name a few. BIM has the capacity to address all these and more.

Effectively implementing this technology to handle clash detection involves bringing all trades to the table whose work is affected by the location of someone else’s work.

For example, a typical acoustical ceiling requires unfettered access to the deck above in order to locate a hang point for the grid main. Likewise, in order to build a soffit fascia detail, greater ceiling access would be needed. Out of sequence activities could be reviewed and refined through visual simulations prior to onsite mobilization, thus allowing the contractor to plan accordingly.

On non-BIM projects today, the general contractor requires out of sequence work while the contractor endeavors to minimize it, resulting in tension that causes high levels of inefficiency and ill will. Coordination between trades around a detailed model proves the adage, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” This sort of cooperation benefits the outcome of any project by reducing change orders and ad-hoc patching.

Scheduling delays that are often caused by unclear documentation, productivity losses, insufficient manpower, and material production delays can also be reduced. Since drawings are derived from the 3-D model, subsequent changes are automatically updated throughout an entire set of drawings, thus reducing the time needed for revisions and ensuring all documentation is fully coordinated. BIM managed in a 4-D time based simulation can integrate a tightly woven schedule into the process by including participating team members and result in a successful BIM project.

Excluding a project member instantly produces a weak link, defeating the collaborative essence of BIM. So, unless we want to be the scapegoat for coordination problems and scheduling delays, it is essential that we be proactive in demanding our place at BIM coordination meetings. (See Navisworks software from Aurodesk, www.autodesk.com).

DETAILED ESTIMATING

BIM models can be used for detailed estimating. Using software, BIM models from popular programs, like Revit, which can be processed and output to a variety of estimating software. In order to implement and gain significant advantages from BIM, the wall and ceiling contractor must link their cost, scheduling, estimating, and billing codes to corresponding elements in the BIM model. How do you link non-model costs? Tracking would be based on defined zones within the model, and labor rates associated with the schedule and type of component being installed.

Material loading and phasing could also be integrated in the same way, ensuring clearance issues and space conflicts are avoided. A 4-D or time based simulation should actually show the locations of your stacks so that beachhead can be established and road maps easily issued, providing flexibility on how to handle these issues in the field. By using the tracking benefits of barcode or RFID tagging, one can pre-build certain details in controlled conditions off site, and have them delivered just in time for final installation. Laser scanning is another technology, which can provide incredibly accurate 3-D information, which can then be incorporated into your model for existing site conditions in the case of renovations, or post construction verification for as-built documentation.

EMPLOY IT

Make BIM work for you. Our goal must be complete BIM integration with your estimating, project management, accounting, and document management system-all of which must possess plug-in capabilities for interoperability. There are many industry websites that can serve as resources for BIM, such as the Building Smart Alliance (www.buildingsmartalliance.org) or Vico software’s recorded Fridays with Vico webinars (www.vicosoftware.com). Ignore BIM at your peril. Although it has been in various stages of development for decades, only now has software sophistication and Moore’s Law of increasing computing power at lower prices been combined to provide what this industry has been asking for.

Finally, there are the legal ramifications. As the saying goes, “Good lawyers make deals, they don’t break deals.” You wouldn’t know that saying from working with the contracts prevalent in the construction industry today. As general counsel, I read the subcontracts sent to us and often chafe at the unbalanced and adversarial approach they establish at the onset of the relationship. Every possible element of risk is passed on to the subcontractor, who is arguably the most financially vulnerable, even at times when the sub is not necessarily responsible for a type of work or potential action on a project. The “gotcha” game has been played in our industry to catch contractors unaware of potential risk and is codified in the agreements we all live with. At times, changing even a single word or paragraph can significantly mitigate potential risk.

Two examples of collaborative BIM specific standard contract documents are the ConsensusDocs 301 BIM Addendum, and the AIA E202 BIM document (www.consensusdocs.org, www.aiacontractdocuments.org).

BIM offers a whole new level of collaboration, as well as an opportunity to avoid unnecessary costs associated with the construction process. The question is, can trust be created between parties in order to bring about the true promise of BIM, where all the stakeholders play nice and the project becomes a partnering event, not a “gotcha” parade?

In attempting to deal with this new reality, a new paradigm called Integrated Project Delivery has emerged to deal with the many obstacles a Design-Bid-Build method poses to BIM efficiency. The American Institute of Architects has defined IPD as “a project delivery approach that integrates people, systems, business structures and practices into a process that collaboratively harnesses the talents and insights of all participants to optimize project results, increase value to the owner, reduce waste and maximize efficiency through all phases of design, fabrication and construction.”

A subcontractor’s specialized knowledge and experience is added to what some are calling “conflict free models.” These models then become a tool that replaces old-fashioned construction documents. If done correctly, these computer models can accurately represent the final building, before dirt is moved, concrete is poured, or drywall is hung. But the process does not eliminate the personality issues, greed or gamesmanship that can plague projects. It does however create transparency that exposes them to the “light-of-day,” minimizing their impact.

I call on all owners, public and private, to reach out and seek the best practices of the design, contracting, and labor communities who are interested in BIM; to lay the groundwork for greater cooperation and cost certainty in our ever changing business. We need to rebuild the fabric of this country with companies that raise the bar, creating a new environment that brings us forward from our current state of disaster to a place as masters of our own universe, and it really all starts with embracing BIM. W&C