Mortenson Construction has used building information modeling, or BIM, in conjunction with virtual design and construction since 1998 when it started work on the Walt Disney Concert Hall project, a multi-award winning structure with a curved steel frame in Los Angeles. The project team found that BIM/VDC was essential in the project, in large part because it helped them visualize complex sequences of work that before had only been listed in an Excel worksheet or on a Gantt chart.
Since then, the company has worked on a multitude of BIM/VDC projects beginning with the pre-planning process, through the design and construction. It found that the process and technology enhances communication among project stakeholders, increases productivity, improves safety, reduces time and cuts costs. A team at Mortenson studied 18 of its projects and created an infographic that shows their quantifiable results, including the cost savings enjoyed by its clients.
Ricardo Khan is the director of integrated construction at Mortenson. He offers his perspective on the uses, benefits and challenges of BIM/VDC in this edited Q&A — and refers readers to the company’s whitepaper on BIM and VDC.
What do you find are the major advantages and challenges of BIM?
The major advantage is improved communication through a 3D visual medium. Through improving communication, people can be more effective at collaboration, which then drives enhanced decision making. BIM/VDC are tools and processes that enable design and construction to be optimized so that cost can be reduced, schedules shortened, rework minimized, and productivity, quality and safety enhanced. Use of a virtual prototype helps identify conflicts and resolve them virtually before they’re encountered on the jobsite. BIM allows project teams to better control risk by enhancing agility through the virtual process.
The biggest challenge is that using BIM requires a change in behavior, not just in process. The transition from 2D hand drafting to CAD was essentially converting to the same process on an electronic platform; BIM requires a departure from the traditional 2D plan/elevation/section process, which allowed for acceptable interpretation. The 3D BIM environment requires more thought as the elements are parametric and host information and more importantly, the third dimension.
In order for BIM/VDC to be successful, it has to be driven into the field so that it will support the operational needs of the team. In order for the field to be successful, BIM/VDC must be used during the design process to drive early decisions that will avoid issues in the field. Construction optimization starts in design and is realized in the field.
What is the biggest challenge in using BIM through the supply chain, from owners to architects to the general contractor and subcontractors?
Adoption of BIM is still not standard practice even though its adoption has increased dramatically over the last four years. But the various levels of adoption can pose challenges. We have noticed that projects where all those in the supply chain are high BIM/VDC adopters have more collaboration and higher performance during design and construction, in the end driving higher value to our customers.
The other hurdle is technology. There is just so much of it and there is a lack of software/hardware interoperability.
Have you found that the use of digital tools enhance jobsite communication and increase productivity (or decrease non-productive time)?
Absolutely! Digital tools like BIM and VDC, mobile technology and cloud solutions are transforming the way we plan and manage our work.
How do you effectively communicate digital tools to those on the jobsite?
BIM/VDC has become the central medium in which we visualize the design, integrate into planning, and leverage to validate in the field. We use 4D Phase planning to visually communicate the schedule to project stakeholders. We use 3D Coordination to help visually resolve conflicts with building systems. The project team leverages the output of BIM/VDC to plan, verify, execute and manage work.
Everyone on a jobsite will have access to BIM/VDC outputs — project managers, execs, engineers, everyone. The project members who generate the information provide that data to the team. Project engineers then leverage the outputs for their workflow to track scopes of work. Supers have the output so they can use it as part of their planning to develop the work schedule. Project managers use it to help communication with trade partners and customers. And we use it in the office, too, at our team meetings among stakeholders to explain where we are and where we’re going and issues that the model has identified.
The visual side really allows the team to transparently track progress, and its helps us make informed and timely decisions, which results in the project team then deliver higher-quality work on budget.
BIM/VDC is great but we must to tie it back to business case and values. It helps us optimize design and construction and control time, cost and productivity to meet customer requirements.