The BIM to Field Alliance was founded in order to provide architects, engineers, contractors, sub-contractors, and building owners a comprehensive, trustworthy, and collaborative single-source for information regarding the notion of extending BIM data to the field.


Posted by Rfoletta in Plumbing    11/4/2011

Putting the “I” in BIM

Contractors across the industry are being bombarded with the buzzword “BIM,” but what does it truly mean?  What are the current implications of adopting Building Information Modeling into your Design-Build business plan? What are the future implications and are you, your team and your infrastructure ready?

“I would recommend that you invest now, do some smaller projects, while the market is slower, or you will be further behind when things pick up again.  We’re using the best BIM products the industry offers and seeing the benefits on the projects we are building today,” notes Brett Endres, Technical Services Manager for Washington-based University Mechanical Contractors, Inc. 

BIM is much more than a 3-D drawing.  BIM is a powerful process that involves synchronizing data (information) and rethinking the way you’re doing business.  Some contractors have embraced this modern approach and are already on board reaping the benefits.  They’ve become efficient and streamlined—saving time and money—all while minimizing risk and increasing profits. What are you waiting for?

“For us, [BIM] is a total package providing solutions from conceptual design to fabrication and beyond. Many vendors are only talking about BIM capabilities that will be available in the future, but we are building buildings today and we need real solutions now.  Fortunately, we have found a software solution to supplement our BIM Processes that delivers information and product to the project TODAY…it is not a far-fetched marketing concept, it is a reality,” continued Endres.

Dave Pikey of The Hill Group in Illinois notes that, "Using BIM in a truly Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) environment allows for many more of the decisions to be made for the benefit of the whole group. There can be financial incentives to ensure that what is produced is best overall value. The BIM and IPD process bring a building to market more quickly by cutting out excess steps and costs, and when you have a model created with software that has all of its applications connected to a common fabrication and estimating database, you know so much more about the life cycle of the building, from design through building operations.”


What exactly is BIM?

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is an information-based process (vs. a drawing-based process) that builds long-term value and advances innovation.  It’s about integrating and streamlining design and construction processes, making them collaborative, and about the software tools needed to achieve that end.  And because the BIM process is a new way of doing business in the construction industry, there are still some industry players thinking of BIM as simply creating 3-D drawings in CAD.  But it’s the “I” for information in BIM that sets the process apart from simple 3-D modeling. 

You can also think of the “I” in BIM as standing for “Intelligent” information.  It’s the intelligence in the model that makes it BIM.  Intelligent data models include not only 3D images and symbology—which you can get with many CAD products—but also include systematized and well-defined essential details like dimensional values, fabricating data, price, and labor which then can be used cross-functionally for automating bills of material, cost estimates, clash detections, takeoffs and fabrication specifications before construction even starts.

Today’s definition of BIM

Accurate virtual model
Cloud computing, a new generation of computing that uses remote servers over the internet for data storage and management, is being used to manage the different trades’ intelligent data models, especially for clash detection since those combined files are so large. 
Precise geometry
With precise geometry, you know for sure that what’s in the model is actually what’s being built, allowing early clash detection and accurate prefabrication.
Relevant intelligent data content
Data content in a BIM design must contain dimensional data and fabrication data as well as labor units, material costs and manufacturer’s data.
Support for the construction effort
Allows for clash detection before construction, eliminates redundant design drawing, supports construction scheduling, and promotes the LEAN construction effort, resulting in reduced inventory and waste.
Information for procurement and prefabrication
Intelligent data will allow you to pull from the model product-specific bills of material for the purchasing department, send fabrication information to manufacturing equipment, generate hanger, sleeve, and embedded information for the shop and field, speed the generation of prefabrication spool sheets, and populate cost accounting and scheduling programs—all resulting in the elimination of redundant activities.
Post-construction facility management
With true BIM, facilities managers can set up automated maintenance schedules on equipment (e.g., AC, air handling equipment, chillers, pumps) based on what they know from the intelligence in the model. 
Lifecycle analysis
Running lifecycle analysis on equipment can be automated and owners can determine, for instance, ROI on purchasing this piece of equipment vs. that piece and then substitute the desired equipment choices in the BIM model. The intelligent model can then be used to calculate the sizing, material pricing and labor so that the owner can quickly assess the value proposition of those changes.


BIM Processes

If you’re not using BIM in your organization—that is, your models do not contain size, price, cost, labor and material data that’s usable across multiple applications—you’re undoubtedly squandering time and money unnecessarily.
“However,” says Endres, “though the software tools are invaluable, it is critical that contractors entering this area go in with their eyes wide open.”  Following are some of the things you should know and understand before you invest:
  1. Develop a complete plan for implementation or improvement of your process.
  2. You need like-minded leadership that is willing to stand by you throughout the implementation and development of your team.
  3. Operations must be willing to see the opportunities created by the process and put them into action.
  4. Understand that traditional roles and barriers will be challenged.
  5. You need a vision for how your CAD and estimating teams are going to be structured. In the future, they will be more like one team.
  6. You need to have trade coordination processes and tools that will help your virtual construction services staff succeed in developing coordinated information for your project teams and customers.
  7. Mechanical Contractors often lead the trade coordination process; therefore, be knowledgeable and prepared.
  8. Most of all, you need the right people.  There are a lot of specializations these days and lumping this entire process on a couple of motivated staff members will burn them out in no time.
  9. Find a peer contractor willing to talk about what they do.
  10. Be patient, and don’t lose track of your long term plan.

Ultimately, the more work done up front, the better off you’ll be.

The other half of authentic Building Information Modeling, in addition to the intelligence built into true BIM models, is coordinating the construction process.  This is where a seismic shift in attitude must be embraced and, not coincidentally, where substantial time and cost savings are realized.

The current, common process of Design-Bid-Build is fraught with delays and potential for error.  For example, assume the architect and design engineer take six months to a year to develop the preliminary set of drawings for how to build the structure.  These design specifications are full of errors, not coordinated and non-constructable.  Nonetheless, the job is put out to bid by either manually distributing paper or by putting the specs and drawings online and requiring bidders to download, analyze, and come up with a bid price. This bid process can take at least a month if it’s a big job. The low bidder inevitably gets the job and when he goes to build, the issues crop up (e.g., clashes) and the RFIs start flowing.  The entire construction process slows down, the cost of the project soars and the duration of the project gets longer while RFIs are resolved.  Deadlines are missed and the owner is displeased.


Alternatively, you can embrace the BIM business processes of Design-Build or Design-Assist.  If you’re using an authentic BIM model with a foundation of intelligence (remember, this won’t work if you’re using 3-D modeling only), the mechanical contractor is involved upfront during the initial design phase with the architects and structural design engineers.

With the design-build method of collaboration, the mechanical contractors are doing the engineering, i.e., sizing ductwork, piping, etc.  It’s their design and their stamp is on it.  That also makes them liable for the viability of the design. 

With the design-assist method, the engineers are collaborating on the design with the mechanical contractors, but it’s ultimately the engineer’s stamp that winds up on the final design.

Both of these processes are currently being used on the most successful projects because the upfront collaboration and communication between all parties involved—combined with the data available in the intelligent model—makes the job go faster, automates clash detection before anything is fabricated or built, practically eliminates RFIs, and automates any subsequent change requests and estimates. (With a valid building information model, estimating the costs at each phase of the design-build process is automated and each estimate can be compared to the others and substantiated.)

There are several benefits that come from modeling early in the design process, including earlier identification of spatial issues, dramatically reducing the time to develop estimates, allowing for schedule reduction and using a single model for creating design and detail drawings.

With true BIM, you now have the power to take engineered objects and use them in estimating, coordinating, manufacturing and even accounting.  Because you’re using the same underlying data to generate all of the various reports, models and specifications, you can be confident that your information is accurate.

If managed well, BIM-implemented jobs are better organized and streamlined, and they’re completed on average two-to-three months faster than traditionally managed projects. They also require significantly lower contingency funds because of the greater confidence that the assemblies will fit since they’ve been coordinated from the beginning. This ultimately makes the owner happy because the sooner the building is done, the sooner the facility begins generating revenue.

Implementing a BIM process will take more time up front, but you’ll save in the end.  It’s similar to paying off a mortgage—if you invest more in payments upfront, you’ll end up saving money overall.  The BIM methodology speeds up the construction process, reduces risk and increases efficiency and innovation. The owners will be happy and that customer satisfaction will lead to more jobs. 

Future Trends

BIM use has risen significantly and that growth is continuing. Traditionally coordinated two-dimensional drawings are no longer sufficient for complex structures, particularly those with significant mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.  Adherents to BIM and the design-build process currently benefit from existing, multi-dimensional BIM software every day for managing some of the most complicated construction projects in the world. Their accomplishments and successes are quickly putting BIM in the mainstream as the de-facto construction industry standard, and those who cannot provide comprehensive BIM capabilities (i.e., beyond 3D models) are being left out.  Owners are beginning to demand BIM and are changing contract terms to enable it. 
In order to support the new way of doing business, many contractual agreements now specifically call out BIM requirements, rewarding and penalizing specific disciplines.  Contractors who are proficient and capable in BIM are being rewarded, those who are not are being penalized and increasingly, if you’re not able to provide true BIM models, you’re not even invited to the party.

Further, incorporating waivers and caveats into these contracts, regarding who owns the intellectual property and who is responsible for results, will become increasingly common as will provisions for the proliferation of cloud computing.  Cloud computing is going to become more prevalent as more and more trades develop their BIM models and BIM technology continues to advance, requiring more computing power. “We see the coordination as an opportunity, not a contractual liability,” said Scott Reidner, Sheet Metal CAD Manager at Mechanical, Inc. in Illinois.  “With our BIM software, we go from the drafting department, to the field then straight to the shop using the same drawing for all of that since our software works from one common database.”

So, as BIM enters your world (and it will) also keep in mind that it is the mechanical contractors who are best qualified to lead the BIM coordination in the design-build process. The creation of these models is best done by the highly skilled mechanical contractors that have decades of experience integrating systems. In Reidner’s view, “Experience learned through building the real thing translates into a practical, fully constructible building model.” He continues, “Too often, BIM facilitators don’t have construction experience and it can add time to the project if they aren’t sensitive to acceptable tolerances and ‘don’t see the forest for the trees.’’


It’s Time for Action

Building Information Modeling software plus the design-build IPD process equals a powerful system to improve the way modern, complex construction projects get designed, built and managed.  Contractors can use the model to rehearse construction, prepare cost data, coordinate drawings, and prepare shop and fabrication drawings.

Endres concluded, “BIM with intelligent data content eliminates labor intensive processes that are typically performed by field crews.  Now the field can review the reports/spools/fab packages provided and focus on planning work, which makes their crews safer and more productive.  Using our BIM software on design-build / design assist / IPD projects allowed us to eliminate entire steps in the design and detailing document development, significantly reducing the time and cost of delivering the projects.”

Project economics are forcing the improvement of construction efficiency and competition is rearranging the players in the field.  The industry should take action now for planning modern building design by embracing intelligent Building Information Modeling.

About the Author
Bernie Tamasy is a third-generation mechanical contractor with over 35 years of construction experience. He has worked in the field and has held project manager, chief estimator, and business development manager positions. Bernie is the president and CEO of Technical Sales International, Inc. (TSI). Headquartered in Austin, TX, TSI is a provider of BIM software to HVAC, Mechanical, Plumbing, and Electrical Contractors. Bernie holds a BA degree from Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA and an MBA from The University of Dallas, Dallas, TX
On the Cover
The Theseion, a Greek temple commemorating the labors of Theseus, is the most complete Doric temple in the Greek world.  Theseus (a Greek word meaning “institution”) was responsible for the synoikismos ("dwelling together")—the political unification of Attica under Athens, represented emblematically in his journey of labours, subduing highly localized ogres and monstrous beasts.

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