Planning and constructing buildings can be accomplished faster and more efficiently these days with the latest in computer-aided design technologies.
In addition, use of this technology, known as building-information modeling (BIM), is known to prevent human error and, in some cases, cut overall construction costs.
Those efficiencies have architects, engineers and construction managers who use the technology heralding BIM.
“It’s definitely reduced the amount of time it takes to understand complex designs as we move from design phase to construction document phase,” said Geoff Riddle, an electrical engineer and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design accredited professional at Luckett & Farley Architects, Engineers and Construction Managers Inc.
Nick Eckhart, an architect, project manager and LEED accredited professional also with Luckett & Farley, said BIM has enabled him to “dedicate more time to enhancing the design instead of producing instructions on how to build it.”
The BIM process is described as “an advanced method of creating a virtual representation, a working digital model of the physical and functional characteristics of a facility,” according to Cincinnati, Ohio-based Messer Construction Co.
That definition appears on Messer’s Web site at www.bim.messer.com.
Messer, which has its Louisville office on Plantside Drive, is one company contacted by Business First that uses BIM to varying degrees on local projects.
But use of BIM is not an “all-in” situation — especially in Louisville.
Local market slower to embrace BIM
Both Messer and Luckett & Farley have been using BIM for about five years.
During fiscal year 2010, Messer used BIM on 43 percent of its projects.
Luckett & Farley representatives said they are using the method more often than not, but neither company is using BIM much on projects in Louisville. Eckhart said that is because most of the firm’s projects have been outside of Louisville.
Of the projects Messer completed in Louisville in 2010, 16 percent of them were planned and designed using BIM.
About 51 percent of the company’s Cincinnati projects and 80 percent of those they built in Nashville were planned and designed using BIM.
Andy Burg, executive director of operations technology at Messer’s headquarters in Cincinnati, said the opportunities for projects just are not there for BIM to be used in Louisville. Also, since owners aren’t requiring the model be used, it isn’t used as often.
Kyle S. Beasley, structural engineering manager and LEED accredited professional at Luckett & Farley, said the Louisville market has been slower to embrace BIM in part because smaller structural engineering firms might find the equipment and training expense involved in adopting BIM cost- prohibitive.
“I don’t think everyone wants to go over that hump unless they have to,” Beasley said.
A costly system
Software licenses, more powerful computers and initial training and continuing training are among the expenses associated with implementing BIM systems.
Most architecture firms with BIM systems use software called Autodesk Revit Architecture, said Kristy Bucher, marketing manager for Advanced Solutions Inc., a local supplier of BIM systems.
Bucher declined to give prices for the systems, saying the costs vary widely depending on a firm’s needs, the existing software used and the knowledge level of employees who would use the system.
Additionally, as a general contractor, Messer might encounter additional costs of anywhere from $2,000 to $100,000 to turn architects’ and subcontractors’ drawings into models if the subcontractors are not already using BIM.
The BIM software enables users to produce three-dimensional renderings.
The resulting clear overlays of the renderings show various aspects of a construction project.
For instance, they indicate where HVAC systems, electrical systems and plumbing traverse a building.
Still, representatives of both Messer and Luckett & Farley say they believe BIM has been worth the investment, and they believe building owners will see benefits as they are able to visualize their buildings sooner in the design phase and keep them running at optimal levels for longer.
Cutting waste during construction
The 30 or so computer software applications that make up a BIM system can be used in stages ranging from a building’s planning phase to its facilities-management phase.
At each step, BIM helps to decrease the likelihood of human error, eliminate waste, reduce cost and increase collaboration among all parties involved in a building’s planning, design and construction.
This is possible because of the ability BIM gives the client, architect and construction team to see the project in its entirety, along with each of its systems, before the construction process begins.
Burg said Messer uses the technology primarily for coordinating mechanical systems.
Traditionally, before and during bid packaging and through the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) coordination process, a structural engineer and several different mechanical engineers created two-dimensional drawings to interpret an architect’s plans.
The general contractor set the different drawings on top of each other on a light table to see a series of lines and elevation numbers that represent MEP systems.
Seen this way, Burg said, design teams might not notice changes and conflicts until after construction begins, which can lead to costly reworking.
With BIM, design teams can see immediately the need for changes in projects by reviewing the three-dimensional model.
“Now we’re looking at a model, and it’s all-inclusive of the different disciplines instead of having to go back and forth to 10 different drawings,” Burg said.
Simplifying complex projects
Burg said Messer particularly encourages the use of BIM on health care facilities construction because those buildings tend to have more complex mechanical systems.
One of the projects on which Messer used BIM was construction of the University of Louisville’s Center for Predictive Medicine, located at ShelbyHurst.
The lab is one of 13 like it in the country, according to a news release from the University of Louisville.
The use of BIM on the project, Burg said, allowed the firm to coordinate its systems better.
“Being able to do things on the computer first made installation a lot easier,” Burg explained, “rather than having issues in the field that would slow the project down.”
The $44 million project, completed last fall, likely would have cost more without the use of BIM, Burg said.
The savings are experienced as the BIM systems result in fewer change orders and requests for information (RFIs), which are clarifications exchanged among the professionals and client involved in a project.
Burg said he’s noticed fewer RFIs and change orders on all projects in which BIM has been used.
Stan Lamaster, vice president of architecture at Jeffersonville-based The Estopinal Group, said communication has been one of the biggest benefits of the BIM system, allowing open lines of communication for the three partners involved — the owner, design team and contractor.
Lamaster said The Estopinal Group has used the same partnership model companies are now using with BIM for several years.
“The benefit is technology has caught up,” he said.
He said The Estopinal Group has integrated BIM as clients have requested it.
Though larger clients have used the model for some time, those with smaller projects are beginning to show interest.
“The industry is starting to catch up and (smaller) clients are wanting to use it as well,” he said.
Messer’s Burg said he was surprised at the impact the system had on customer communication as well.
“It fosters so much more (communication),” he said. “It’s helped customers with their expectations and opened their eyes to what things would look like. And that generates better communication.”
The Lean Construction Institute identifies seven common forms of waste that plague traditional construction processes, which building information modeling helps reduce or prevent:
- Correction: Rework of mistakes;
- Overproduction: Performing work ahead of schedule, which causes interference withother planned work;
- Motion: Construction teams leaving the field to pick up plans;
- Material movement: Moving materials from one staging area to another or handing them off to different crews;
- Waiting: Waiting for equipment to arrive, plans to be produced or questions to be answered;
- Inventory: Materials staged on site too early in advance; similar to overproduction;
- Processing: Redundant or unnecessary reporting, such as requests for information (RFIs), submittals or recreating a model.
Andy Burg, executive director of operations technology at Messer Construction Co.’s headquarters, said business-information modeling (BIM) allows design teams to see conflicts before construction. Also, he said, starting out with fewer questions means there’s less waiting for answers.
Taking laptops to the field that have the model helps reduce motion waste “because teams don’t have to report back to the field office to get information. They can get it from the computer,” he said.
“With the advent of tablet PCs, we’re trying to make it work on an iPad,” Burg added.
“There’s not quite an app for that yet, but it won’t be long.”
BIM’s return on investment
To determine the impact of business-information modeling, a team at Messer Construction Co. compared 11 projects it had completed using BIM during the mechanical engineering and plumbing process to 11 similar projects completed without using it.
According to Andy Burg, executive director of operations technology at Messer, using BIM:
- Reduced requests for information by 72 percent. (On projects on which the entire design team was using BIM, RFIs were further reduced by 52 percent.)
- Mechanical change orders were reduced by 47 percent.
- The average cost of remaining change orders was reduced by 55 percent.
- Mechanical system punch list items was reduced by 56 percent.
Additionally, BIM improved reliability of the construction schedule by 5 percent, he said.
Reprinted with permission from Business First