How BIM is Helping Builders Save Big on Construction Projects
Source: San Francisco Business Times
Leigh Askew, director of MEP at Level 10 Construction.
By Mary Ann Azevedo – Contributor, San Francisco Business Times
As the price of Bay Area construction has skyrocketed, companies have looked for any way to save money. Over the past 10 years, advances in price modeling have made it an increasingly reliable way to do so.
Building Information Modeling, also known as BIM, has undergone a number of advances in the past several years. As technology has gotten more sophisticated, it’s become more feasible for construction companies to plug in project variables to BIM software and come up with reliable and precise cost estimates for design and build out.
BIM comes in a variety of “dimensions.” The earliest forms of price modeling were 3-D; spatial representations of projects. A 4-D BIM adds the project schedule to the mix, and 5-D adds budgeting.
Some current major projects using 5-D price modeling include megaprojects Oceanwide Center and Trinity Place in San Francisco and the biotech-oriented Genesis North Tower in South San Francisco.
Just two years ago, 5-D BIM price modeling — a five-dimensional way of showing the physical and functional aspects to any project — was considered cutting edge, despite some companies starting to play around with it as far back as 10 years ago. Projects even offer 6-D, which includes facilities management information over the lifetime of the project. This option is typically requested by building owners and does not factor into the construction of a building.
The construction industry in particular has benefited from the use of BIM. In the Bay Area, home to one of the nation’s hottest commercial real estate markets, its use is also seen as a competitive advantage.
A 5-D BIM platform allows owners and contractors to identify, analyze, and record the impact of changes on project costs and scheduling, according to McKinsey & Co.
5-D BIM’s visual nature gives contractors a better chance to identify risks earlier and thus to make better decisions, the firm’s research shows. For example, project planners can visualize and estimate the impact of a proposed change in design on project costs and schedule. One McKinsey study found that 75 percent of those that adopted BIM reported a positive return on their investment. They also reported shorter project life cycles and savings on paperwork and material costs.
Leigh Askew, director of Mechanical Electrical Plumbing Services at San Francisco-based Level 10 Construction, said his company began using BIM Modeling about 15 years ago. Level 10 was an early adopter, he said, in using the technology.
“Back in those days, it was pretty new and only a few people were using it,” Askew said. “We were one of the first to utilize it. But now when we’re working on a project, almost every trade is using it in one form or another. It used to be unusual to see it in a project, but now it’s kind of normal.”
At the beginning of a project, Level 10 uses BIM in design with models showing the overall size and shape of a building and its orientation within a neighborhood, for example. As a project progresses, BIM is used to help Level 10 with fabrication level detail where pipes, ducts and steel work can all be fabricated by using a model for dimension.
BIM is particularly useful for projects that have time constraints, noted Askew.
“With BIM, you can prefabricate a lot the (parts) – even things like duct work – so that when you get to the site, things move faster,” he said. “The more things we can build in an assembly line or fabrication shop, the better because it is often safer to build things in a shop than in a field.”
This ability can make a difference especially when working on bigger pieces such as large lead of pipes.
But BIM is not for every project, Askew said.
Making these models can be time-consuming and expensive. At the beginning of every project, Level 10 evaluates whether it makes sense to use BIM. It usually opts not to use BIM on simpler projects.
“The more complicated or the faster the project is, then the investment in BIM makes sense,” he said.
Mike Ranney, virtual design and construction manager for San Francisco-based Swinerton, said his firm first used BIM in 2006. The Northstar Lodge in Truckee was the project that served as a pilot for Swinerton’s Virtual Design and Construction (VD&C) program. At that time, Swinerton used a modeling services company called Vico to develop the models and assist in coordination and design review.
In the Bay Area, every job is evaluated to determine which VD&C services are appropriate to the project, he said. Swinerton consistently implements full mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, architectural, stud framing and structural modeling and coordination across its projects that are $20 million or larger.
Ranney agreed with Askew that one of the biggest advantages to BIM is that it allows firms to prefabricate components. It also gives greater control and validation of coordination, and better visualization of real-world objects in 3-D.
“It also allows us to incorporate actual conditions within the design space through laser scanning and improves field efficiency by avoiding conflicts and providing digital layout tools,” he said. “We believe these tools are essential to our business and make us better at what we do. Combining the tools with construction and design experience clearly saves time and money in our business.”
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