Up Front: I Have Seen the Future
December 1, 2009
Once upon a time, architects created a set of plans with a pencil and paper. The process created an intimate attachment and knowledge to the building he was designing. Inevitably, he would make a mistake and things did not quite line up. But, the guys in the field were seasoned pros and they would scratch their heads for a moment, figure out how to fix it and quickly move on. Small problems, quick solutions and buildings got built.
Architects switched to a new computer design program called AutoCAD. This was quite different than drawing a line and more akin to plotting points on a screen. The drawings were more detailed, cleaner and clearer. However, lost was the intimacy of the pencil and paper to fully understand the building and the concept of what was being created. Buildings got increasingly more complicated and hundreds of new products were constantly being introduced, pushing design limits and then the ultimate killer, defect litigation. This evolution, combined with other factors, created a nightmare in construction.
Like so many of us in construction, I lived through this nightmare. I often thought of AutoCAD as the double-edged sword: amazing drawings with such clarity and creativity against the reality of the lost knowledge of field experience coupled with extreme complexity. The problem was magnified on large, complicated projects, such as hospitals.
BRAVE NEW WORLD
I have read about Building Information Modeling and thought to myself, “Great, another consultant to gum up the works.” But I was wrong. BIM is the creative solution to the nightmare AutoCAD brought to us in construction. I recently visited a hospital getting ready to be built to see the BIM “war room.” The project is just underway; the subcontractors’ trailers are all set up with minimal activity out on the site.
However, inside the trailers, there is a bustle of activity. To put it simply, they are building the hospital inside the trailers in a 3-D computer model. Every item is included: electrical outlets, hanger wires, HVAC, studs, bracing, sinks and even the operating tables. The large computer screens look like these guys are playing the latest PlayStation computer game. But they are building the building within a super computer. The reason? They find out now where inconsistencies will occur when the building is built for real.
Each subcontractor has BIM experts in the war room. They install and layer their material, product or item into the model. If the location or the attachment of that item conflicts with another trade item or its attachment, he is notified. It happens hundreds of times a day in the BIM war room. The computer geeks (sorry guys) figure it out and implement the changes to make the project work. The program is so detailed and efficient that every powder-actuated fastener into concrete is accounted for (the “impact zone”). The impact zone is the stress in the concrete around where the fastener will be shot into. Since this area will be affected by the fastener, no other fastener should be placed within this circular zone. The circular zone is clearly illustrated in BIM.
When complete, the BIM boys will produce a set of 2-D and traditional blueprints for the field to follow. While a few inconsistencies could arise, the majority of conflicts have been resolved in the BIM war room. The end result is a faster and more seamless construction process, saved labor costs, a better building and less defects.
I was very skeptical of BIM when I first heard of it. After seeing it first-hand, I feel I have seen the future. I knew AutoCAD was this double-edged sword that would not go away. It created real problems but like so many new technologies, it has finally evolved and now with BIM, AutoCAD can be what it was truly created for: a true benefit to the industry. I drove away from the BIM war room and thought how the computer specialists are taking over the world. Fear not my construction friends from the old school-they still need us to actually build their imaginary 3-D animated world. W&C