BY DEBRA WOOD
Technology and innovation hold the potential to make the construction industry more efficient, and building information modeling (BIM) remains at the center of opportunities for virtual design and construction (VDC). The future looks bright.
“The construction sector’s annual productivity growth has increased only 1 percent over the last 20 years,” said Grant Hagen, VDC manager at The Beck Group, a design and construction firm based in Dallas and a member of multiple AGC chapters, during a recent AGC webinar. “We think that is a huge problem and are looking for ways to solve.”
Internal factors contributing to lack of technology implementation are talent management and failing to adopt new tools. Fragmented value chains, extensive subcontracting and competitive pressure and complexity are external factors. All of these offer opportunities in the years ahead.
“The adoption challenge is using technology to streamline processes in the field and increase productivity,” says Karmyn Babcock, vice president of operational excellence, The Weitz Co., in Des Moines, Iowa, a member of multiple AGC chapters. “The information generated and technologies applied have to be of benefit to the build process, not just interesting conceptually.”
Some contractors, including Beck and Weitz, have embraced new technologies and are putting them to work to improve efficiencies in the field, deliver on owners’ expectations and increase the sharing of ideas. It’s time for other firms to join the technology bandwagon.
“Construction represents the world’s next big productivity revolution,” said Jim Lynch, vice president and general manager of Autodesk Construction Solutions, during episode 151 of The ConTechCrew podcast by JBKnowledge. He indicated robotics, sensor technology, more prefabrication, artificial intelligence and machine learning will gain favor and become mainstream.
“This is going to be a big year in construction, and we are going to deliver huge value to our customers,” Lynch said.
BIM VS. VDC — JUST WHAT DO THOSE TERMS MEAN?
BIM refers to a digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a facility. It is a shared resource about a facility and is a tool, or a noun, Hagen explained. VDC is the management of the models or the action or process, in essence, a verb.
“We view VDC as the process of using not only the model but technology in general to improve the process of construction,” Babcock says.
Other examples of technology tools include drones, cameras and laser scanners. A laser scan creates an image with data points of an existing structure. It has a high degree of accuracy, Hagen reported. The scan can be brought into a BIM model. Then an element, such as a staircase, can be built off site and delivered to the construction site.
Weitz has found laser scanning especially helpful on historic renovations.
Aerial photos or videos can be captured and stitched together and brought in to a model. It can be less accurate than the laser scans.
“We see drones and cameras as another data-collection tool,” Hagen said.
Within the model, the virtual design and construction team can analyze energy consumption, whether certain parts of the building are getting sufficient natural light, answer other questions before the building is constructed and make necessary changes in the model, which is more cost effective.
“It gives you insight and allows you to communicate more effectively,” Hagen said.
Images taken during construction can be viewed by safety officials or others who can spot hazards or inefficiencies and take immediate action.
“It makes sense to build it once in the computer where it’s cheaper, and we can learn from it,” said Josh Bone, a BIM consultant with JBKnowledge on the podcast.
Beck also uses modeling to assist with scheduling, site logistics and coordination.
“It gives us a good understanding of the sequence and flow,” Hagen said.
Babcock adds that BIM helps Weitz communicate to the team about schedules and what the project will look like over time, during preconstruction and in the field with trade contractors.
“It becomes a tool for collaboration,” he says, adding that “it’s less about the tool and more about the people and how it helps us solve challenges.”
Then, after completion of the job, Weitz can turn the model over to the owner, so it becomes a facilities management tool. The company also may embed maintenance videos in the model for the owner’s reference.
“We see it as an end-to-end tool, to help the entire workflow of delivering a construction project,” Babcock says.
USE OF BIM
The 2019 Sage Construction Hiring and Business Outlook Survey indicated 38 percent of respondents do not use BIM. Yet 42 percent say they will increase their investment in IT this year, and 23 percent say they will increase their investment in BIM.
For more details on the Sage outlook survey, please see article on pages 20-22.
“Data is critically important,” Lynch said. “The big value comes when you connect the workflows. The data gets richer as it moves along. This helps reduce the risk of information loss as the model is passed back and forth from designers to contractors and trades and replaces it with an ability to add context and detail to the model as it moves through the project lifecycle in a single platform.”
The data can help prevent issues before they occur and analyze subcontractor performance.
The cost of BIM software has come down, making BIM within reach financially for many companies. A contractor can purchase BIM hardware and software for less than $10,000, according to experts at the ConTechCrew podcast.
Hagen expects the future for BIM and VDC in construction will include more reality capture, such as laser scanning and drone imaging; energy modeling and auditing as owners become more concerned about operating costs and meeting LEED standards; data management and the ability to mine data to educate contractors about trends; augmented and virtual reality, enabling owners and members of the construction team to become immersed in the model before the structure is built; and prefabrication to increase quality, safety and production.
In collaboration with its design-build partners, The Weitz Company capitalized on BIM to coordinate a 3D model that detailed everything from MEP systems to exterior finishes on the Hilton Des Moines Downtown.
During the next five years, Lynch expects more construction activity will take place off site in prefabrication factories. Design drives what happens on the factory floor. He called modular construction “super exciting.”
Weitz and project trade partners use BIM for mechanical, electrical and plumbing prefabrication, with the model replacing the shop drawings. The company also has prefabricated exterior walls for a residential project.
“Field productivity improves when you have all the trades collaborating on the model,” says Babcock, describing how Weitz has used augmented reality to overlay the model with the existing structure to verify that the MEP will fit in the space or make adjustments in the model prior to construction.
Babcock describes using BIM and virtual reality to immerse a client in two different courtyards while the project was being designed. That allowed the owner to experience the areas and tweak the original design to ensure the courtyard delivered the desired experience.
“We see it helping owners make better informed decisions,” Babcock says.
Using BIM and other VDC tools can save contractors time and money while also delivering valuable benefits to other project team members. “One way to show value is to compare the workflow to the legacy method,” Hagen said.