Building information modeling (BIM) uses three-dimensional modeling concepts, information technology and interoperable software to design, construct and operate a facility. However, BIM can be more than a tool for virtual modeling — it can provide schools with a 3-D walkthrough of a project while it still is on the electronic drawing board.
BIM can become a platform for collaboration when it is used effectively by all key members of a project team — the architecture/engineering firm (A/E); general contractor or construction manager; and major subcontractors, in particular, the mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP) and fire-protection contractor. Education facility owners and managers gain not only the decisionmaking advantages associated with 3-D visualization in the design phase, but also the time and cost savings that result when design issues and spatial conflicts among building systems are resolved before breaking ground. After the ribbon is cut, schools and universities can continue to use this technology in-house as a powerful facilities operations and maintenance tool.
A collaborative approach
For many years A/E firms have used 2-D computer-aided design (CAD) to produce construction drawings. Larger mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire-protection contractors have used 3-D CAD software to draw distribution systems and create fabrication drawings. This enabled them to fabricate elements of their distribution systems early. This approach has its advantages; greater productivity with a smaller labor force during installation can reduce costs for an education institution. However, if A/E firms and contractors are working independently, they cannot be certain that the systems will actually “fit” together without conflicts when they are installed. As a result, requests for information (RFIs) and re-work remain problems during construction.
BIM is more than an electronic drawing tool. Driven by an information-rich database, it enables members of the project team to simulate the structure and all of its systems in three dimensions and to share this information. The drawings, specifications and construction details are integral to the model. As a result, the team members are able to identify design issues and construction conflicts well before the first earthmover arrives at the site.
Whether they are public institutions answering to taxpayers or private institutions governed by a board of trustees, academic institutions must take a deliberate, conservative approach to ensure that a project achieves academic, financial and scheduling goals. That creates challenges in fast-track construction projects.
When administrators are able to look at the planned facilities in a 3-D virtual model, they can make better decisions more quickly. The school, its facilities planning and operations groups, and even building users can identify issues and make many of the decisions that without BIM did not surface until a walkthrough of a building while it was under construction. This reduces the potential for costly change orders and disappointed users.
When BIM is used to its fullest advantage, the school or university hires the key members of the project team at the outset of the project, using qualifications-based selection. This allows the major subcontractors such as the MEPs to become involved at the initial design stage and maximizes their contributions to the design process.
This remains a challenge for most public-sector institutions, although this may be changing. For example, Arizona allows qualifications-based selection for all members of the project team in public-sector work, according to Gary L. Aller, director of the Alliance for Construction Excellence (ACE) at Arizona State University (ASU). ACE was instrumental in facilitating the change to the Arizona law that permits qualifications-based selection of subcontractors. In partnership with industry experts, ACE was formed to assist the construction industry in assimilating technological change and research innovations.
ACE is in the Del E. Webb School of Construction of the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering at ASU (http://construction.asu.edu/ace). This has paved the way for the use of “integrated project delivery,” which includes fully integrated BIM technology in ASU's education facility projects.
Coordinating a BIM project
In a typical BIM coordination process, a secure file transfer protocol (FTP) website is set up for the project, and each team member has a folder for uploading CAD drawings. One member of the project team generally is identified to take all CAD drawings and import them into the BIM system to prepare for periodic coordination meetings.
The BIM software maps all of the drawings off a common grid, showing every drawn element to scale. This allows the project teams to run the software's “clash-detection” application. Typically, the team will meet periodically, view the project on a large wall-mounted screen and discuss resolution of various design and construction issues, including system clashes.
After a coordination meeting, team members make changes and upload them to the FTP site. The team meets again to look at the revised composite. The team goes through the project floor by floor to minimize or eliminate clashes. Each floor may require four to six weeks of design coordination, depending on the size of the project.
Individual members of a project team can use BIM technology to enhance a project. On public projects that do not allow for the team to use a fully collaborative design process, an individual contractor that has the staff and technological capabilities can import A/E and other trade contractors' CAD drawings and use a BIM system to perform clash detection, amending its own distribution system and providing feedback to other members of the team.
Sidebar: BIM on the fast track
Arizona is a leader in allowing qualifications-based selection for all members of a project team in public-sector work. This enables design and construction teams to work together from day one using building information modeling (BIM). The Arizona State University Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and 8 KAET Public Broadcasting project shows how the collaborative use of BIM met a fixed budget and tight construction schedule.
A design-build project of Sundt Construction, Steven Ehrlich Architects (SEA) and HDR, Inc., the 220,000-square-foot facility that will house the Cronkite School is a prominent feature in the city of Phoenix' plan to improve downtown. The city is building the facility to suit the needs of ASU and 8 KAET, which will co-locate their educational and studio broadcasting facilities in the 110-foot-tall building.
Floors one to six include classrooms, retail space, administrative, office and public gathering spaces; broadcast studios of the Cronkite School and 8 KAET are situated on the high-bay sixth floor.
The project schedule allowed for only 20 months from the commencement of programming through completion of construction. An integrated project delivery collaborative BIM approach was necessary to meet this schedule.
For example, within the first month of design development, a decision had to be made as to the number and location of the mechanical rooms to house two air handlers. The design team initially proposed building two separate mechanical rooms on each floor on opposite sides of the building, but BIM helped the team decide to build a single, larger mechanical room on each floor, stacked vertically. This design simplified the installation and saved materials and labor. In another example, the team identified the need to lower ceiling heights by three to six inches in certain areas of the building to accommodate installation of the distribution ductwork.
The project is within budget and on schedule for completion this month.
Thornton is president and CEO of University Mechanical & Engineering Contractors, Inc. (UMEC), Ariz. Smalley, LEED AP, is vice president, Pre-Construction Services, for UMEC. UMEC is a subsidiary of EMCOR Group, Inc., a mechanical and electrical construction, energy infrastructure and facilities services firm. The company worked on the Arizona State University project in the sidebar.