Are you using the right tool for the job?

In the article “Streamlining the Construction Project to Deliver Ahead of Schedule and Below Budget written by Josh Zimmerman Section Manager for SSOE, Mr Zimmerman praises virtual design and construction (VDC) for its ability to troubleshoot and expedite construction.

Mr. Zimmerman also praises collaborative procurement efforts that allow overlapping engagement of the General Contractor with the design phase to expedite long lead orders and fabrication.

In principle, I don’t disagree with either notion, but are these principals right for all projects?

The simplest way to explain VDC is to describe it as a computer generated three dimensional model of a building.

The model is a detailed virtual representation of all of the building systems and components.  The virtual systems are loaded with data to give the components of the system certain characteristics. This technology has been around for quite some time and there are many firms that have adopted some form of VDC.  VDC is also widely known as Building Information Modeling (BIM).

BIM is a great way to design a building.  For all the same reasons that Mr. Zimmerman cites, I too support the use of BIM in construction, but the promised benefits of BIM cannot be fully realized unless the entire project team is on BIM. BIM has always suffered from a lack of widespread adoption.

Compared to traditional 2D CAD software, BIM can be cost prohibitive.  A single license of CAD costs $1500 versus BIM which costs $2700.  Larger firms like SSOE have the resources to adopt BIM, but a lack of skilled BIM operators has thus far limited them and others from widespread adoption.  Add to this the lack of willingness from Owner sot pay the additional 10% to 15% in design costs that it takes to build a BIM model and you have limited adoption of the software.

Fielding a design team where only portions of the team are utilizing BIM is as good as none of the design team using BIM.  Each member of the design team must build their portion of the project in a BIM model in order for the coordination benefits to be significant.  It is also best to have the General Contractor be versed in BIM and the ultimate advantages to BIM are realized if the building operator or the Owner is also utilizing BIM to manage the facility.

With each added layer adding the costs of software and skilled operators, it is no wonder that adoption of this great tool has been slow.

Mr. Zimmerman chronicles an ideal environment in which to showcase the benefits of BIM.

Having worked with SSOE in the past, I know that they have in-house BIM capabilities for all disciplines.  As such, in a project where they are the designer and construction manager, I could see the benefits being significant.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of projects are not comprised of a single organization (or even multiple organizations) all perfectly in tune with one another and all working on a BIM platform.  In most engagements, you have smaller Architects and smaller Engineers collaborating with smaller General Contractors.  In the event that one of these vendors is actually a larger multi-national like SSOE working with other smaller firms, the probability that one will be working on 2D CAD is quite high therefore limiting the potential benefits.

In addition, the complexity of a manufacturing environment striving to achieve a lean manufacturing process lends itself perfectly to BIM modeling.

The coordination of conveyors and equipment through building systems is the ideal design environment for BIM to shine.  Owners of manufacturing environments also have higher maintenance needs making the use of BIM models in their building operations a great asset.  As such, the perfect storm of a lean manufacturing plant working with a large Engineering Procurement and Construction Management firm procured in a Design-Build delivery with Cost Plus pricing which supports overlap of key fabricators with the design phase is a construction utopia that is rare.

The most common scenarios are ones where few team members have the skill and equipment to utilize BIM, Owner’s have little interest or need for BIM in building operations, Contractors and fabricators are unskilled or poorly trained in BIM, coordination in the field is not overly complex, and procurement is performed sequentially because Owner’s prefer the predictability of stipulated sum agreements.

So while I appreciate the great work that SSOE and other EPCM firms can do in complex industrial and manufacturing environments, the benefits of VDC in construction is probably only useful for 20% of projects.  A sector that according to the AIA Construction Consensus Forecast has declined 5% in 2016.

I don’t want this article to read as a dismissal of BIM and VDC, but I also don’t want Owner’s of Office building’s reading Mr. Zimmerman’s article expecting similar results.

You must use the right tool for the job.  Adopting BIM/VDC and EPCM Cost plus procurement to build retail stores, office buildings, or residences is akin to using a sledgehammer to nail in crown molding, you simply should not do it.

So what are your thoughts?  Will we ever see wholesale adoption of BIM and EPCM or are certain projects better done using traditional design and procurement models? How have you used BIM? What was your experience?

Thanks for reading.  If you enjoyed this content, please feel free to browse my previous articles and please like, share, comment, and subscribe.  This helps promote my content and is greatly appreciated.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.