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Technology and Efficiency

Building Information Modeling (BIM) Delivers Consistent Results

Torcon uses BIM to increase efficiency, eliminate waste and save clients time and money.

Torcon's experience has proven Building Information Modeling (BIM) to be a tool that can be relied upon to consistently deliver project success. It is an approachable technology that is quickly becoming essential for all members of the project team.

At the heart of every BIM project is a true digital representation of the building. The BIM process ensures a collaborative environment where architectural, structural, and mechanical design documents are combined into one model. This valuable technology has allowed Torcon to greatly enhance the effectiveness of its constructability and design coordination efforts, and facilitate efficient solutions that eliminate waste and save time and money. BIM's value to projects is far-reaching, from vastly improved processes for clarifying design documents and streamlining coordination to providing facilities management advantages to clients.

Sam Arabia, Manager, BIM Services, sat down recently to provide answers to the most commonly asked questions about BIM.

When is BIM appropriate to use, with regard to project type, new construction vs. retrofit, and dollar value?

BIM adds value to all projects because of its efficiencies in coordination and design review. However, our experience has shown that BIM is most appropriate to use on highly technical or complex buildings, such as laboratory, pharmaceutical, hospital, educational and research projects. These facilities are utility-rich, with robust mechanical, electrical, and plumbing requirements. Projects such as these require thorough coordination of a tremendous volume of individual elements, such as pipes, ductwork, instrumentation and equipment.

Through the use of BIM, the electronic design files used by trade contractors are integrated into a single Building Model along with the architect's design documents. Because each contractor's file shows their respective work in detail, showing sizing and spatial location, conflicts can be detected during the integration process. Typical issues can include insufficient sizing of utility areas for the required ductwork and piping; coordination issues related to equipment utilities or maintenance; or coordination issues among the trades. This entire process takes place well ahead of work in the field, which eliminates re-work and work-arounds that jeopardize quality and productivity.

In our view, any project can benefit from BIM. However, a project's complexity-and not its dollar value - is the best determinant for using BIM.

How does it work?

The inherent collaboration of a BIM effort results in an accurate, to scale, 3D representation of the design. Using state-of-the-art BIM software, such as Autodesk's Navisworks, the individual trade contractor models are combined with the architectural and structural models into a single building model. The resulting union is a complete and functional document that allows the team to view the building's structure, features, utilities and equipment. This virtual model is utilized by all parties, from owners to subcontractors, throughout the entire construction process.

One of the most natural uses of BIM is for MEP coordination. Torcon's project professionals work with the model to identify conflicts based on the parameters and criteria that are programmed into the system by the integrator. The resulting spatial conflicts are assessed by the affected parties and the project management team. Recommendations are then made to resolve the conflicts. These recommendations might include modifications to installations, sequencing, equipment clearances or access zones.

Who is responsible for managing the process?

Typically, Torcon will lead the process in any of several ways. We prefer to use our own staff engineers, who are experienced in using software such as Navisworks, to develop and manage the 3D models on our BIM projects. There are other approaches to managing the BIM process as well, including coordination by an independent contractor, a vendor or a subcontractor. Ultimately, the selected approach is determined by the specific needs of the customer. Torcon can help clients make the right choice.

Does BIM cost more?

There are up-front costs associated with any construction coordination effort, including BIM. However, BIM takes the development of a job to the next level and may add a nominal cost related to the integration process. The amount of detail that can be achieved is far superior to that produced by using traditional "2D" CAD. As a result, early detection of clashes and identification of other issues benefit projects through significant efficiencies associated with shop and field fabrication and better productivity in the field. These advantages are not theoretical, but are readily achieved. As contractors have become more experienced with BIM, they have recognized the value those efficiencies provide in their fabrication and field work, which has been reflected in lower bid prices.

How does its use impact schedule?

We have found the duration of the up-front coordination phase is extended slightly with BIM. The overall project schedule remains the same or is somewhat improved because the information provided by the model minimizes rework or workarounds and potential inefficiencies in the field. With BIM we have created an environment that minimizes conflicts with field installation. In effect, use of the model provides Torcon the ability to maintain project schedules more effectively.

What are the real benefits to clients, contractors, and the trades?

There are many benefits to all members of the project team. BIM lets us find and resolve conflicts early in the construction process. Equipment clearance and access zones are also identified early and subcontractors can coordinate their sequencing accordingly. In fact, equipment models, from vendors or created for the project, can be input to ensure accurate access and clearance zones are maintained throughout the construction phase of the building.

The use of BIM minimizes workarounds and potential inefficiencies in the field. It actually encourages the trades to become more aware of the scopes of other trades and their individual coordination issues. Further, BIM allows us to give the client an interactive walk-through that facilitates visualizing the space before it is completed and an accurate picture of how the building is coming together. The process makes for fewer surprises when the building is complete. With all of these advantages, BIM gives us the best opportunity to meet the schedule, minimize rework and workarounds, and deliver a facility that meets our client's expectations.

What are the biggest challenges with regard to use of BIM? How are you addressing these challenges?

There are some challenges regarding universal adoption by all trades and by all companies. While many subcontractors have enthusiastically implemented BIM as a valuable tool to increase their own efficiencies, it is not used by all companies. In general, most major mechanical and electrical trades, as well as virtually all structural steel providers, are totally committed to using BIM. We continue to strongly encourage others to consider and adopt BIM-like civil, concrete and foundation, masonry and drywall contractors. We do this by raising their awareness of its benefits on our projects and by providing education and training.

Another challenge is ensuring the customer recognizes BIM's value is not inherent in the software. The coordination process must be managed by skilled staff and closely monitored for quality control. Any inaccuracies in the creation of the model are amplified by subsequent trades as they coordinate their own work within incorrectly depicted areas. Also, it is essential the construction manager maintains communication among members of the BIM team, promptly distributes updates, and ensures continual discussion about any emerging issues.

Why is BIM better than other methods that have been used in the past and/or are being used today?

BIM is far superior for highly technical and complex projects because it provides an extraordinary amount of detail and a level of accuracy you cannot achieve with traditional "2D" CAD or any other method. The software can also be used for underground operations to assure construction will not be in conflict with foundations and tunnels, and that planned work has the proper clearances where required. BIM consistently identifies conflicts within the model that may have been missed using other methods. When used correctly, BIM can have a positive impact on the project's budget and schedule.

What do you see as the future of this Technology?

As BIM technology progresses, Torcon is committed to moving forward with it. There are many exciting and practical applications for BIM that are starting to be realized outside of coordination and collaboration. BIM applied within an Integrated Project Delivery system brings the promise of further efficiencies being applied to the construction process through lean practices and prefabrication. Advances in laser scan technology have made possible accuracy of new construction and BIM savings being applied to complicated renovation and "green" upgrades of existing buildings. Energy analysis can be applied in the BIM model achieving an environmentally sustainable design. The BIM model is being realized as a valuable tool in fire and life safety planning.

The BIM model coupled with a facility's management program offers a wide array of possibilities for integration between project documentation and day-to-day operations and maintenance. The execution of scheduled maintenance, equipment monitoring and upgrade review can all be completed through a facilities maintenance program and enhanced by a BIM model to get accurate data of conditions and information to make better decisions.

In short, BIM will offer building owners a tremendous amount of information about their facilities, which will aid in effective management through the lifecycle of the building.

What issues exist when team members use different software?

Although only a relative few standard CAD programs are being used, and a natural variation occurs based on trade-specific programs, the import and conversion process can cause problems. None of the issues are insurmountable when the integration process is properly staffed and managed. Torcon utilizes the Navisworks system from Autodesk to develop 3D models on all BIM projects. Navisworks is the platform that gives us the ability to inter-coordinate with multiple trades who design and fabricate from different systems. From a designer's Revit file to a mechanical contractor's Quickpen file, the Navisworks system integrates and coordinates various components to allow us to create an accurate and comprehensive model. The overall process, however, is made easier if contractors are all versed in the use of Navisworks.

What are the overall advantages of BIM?

BIM is a valuable technology for projects of a highly technical or complex nature because it provides an extraordinary amount of detail you cannot achieve from traditional 2D CAD or other methods. By using BIM, all subcontractors' models are integrated into one overall document, allowing for accurate clash detection. When these issues are identified early in the project, they can be addressed early. Changes made on paper (in the design documents) always lead to more economical results for the project when compared to issues discovered in the field during construction. BIM and the early identification of issues provides savings to the owner by way of better productivity and efficiencies associated with production, fabrication, and installation.

We have found the schedule remains the same or is improved with BIM because the information provided minimizes rework or workarounds. Clients have also recognized BIM provides value in facility management, by having an as-built model with detailed information on every system and piece of equipment in the building.