Build Before You Build

It is true that building information modeling (BIM) is revolutionizing the design/build industry today, but it’s also true that BIM is far from a new concept. “BIM is a re-introduction of historical design-build practices with a twist of technological advancement,” says Adam Lega, BIM coordinator for KAI, a Texas-based design/build firm.

Lega likes to stress that despite the cutting-edge buzz around Building Information Modeling (BIM), BIM is really a reintroduction of traditional practices using current technology.

BIM software is used to produce working, 3D models of a facility during the planning or design phase, which contribute to enhancing communication and collaboration among the project team throughout all phases of the project. The models are also valuable for expediting construction, and for use in long-term facilities maintenance and operations. “KAI applies BIM best practices to all of its projects, including its substantial portfolio of multi-housing and affordable housing projects,” Lega adds.
Throughout the history of architecture, scale models of projects have always been valuable tools. Before beginning construction, great architects such as Michelangelo, Leonardo, Calatrava, Gherry and Wright all built mock-ups of their projects to uncover potential design issues and check for constructability.

Lega was part of a recent seminar in Dallas, Texas entitled, “Build Before You Build.” A panel of experts discussed how owners and general contractors can reap the cost, quality and scheduling benefits of using BIM without having to invest time or money trying to implement the software in-house.

“We began using BIM architecturally in 2003 and MEP BIM in 2006. In 2007 we made the commitment to produce all major projects in BIM, and we’ve invested well in excess of seven figures in software and training to get to where we are now,” says Darren L. James, AIA, KAI Texas’ president and COO. “Using our services saves many of our clients from having to make a similar investment.”

All Models are not Equal
While providing their clients with a 3D computer generated model along with their standard set of CAD drawings is common practice for most architects and building designers. Lega warns that most of these are just parametric renderings and not true BIM. Presenting a live demo of KAI’s BIM system on a large screen, Lega showed just how data-intensive the system is compared to a simple architectural rendering. He displayed a building’s fire protection system, then zoomed in and clicked on an air-separator to display a set of detailed specifications, the air-separator’s serial number, and its purchase date.

”The use of BIM is growing exponentially,” said Donald Koppy, AIA, CSI, and director of architecture for KAI. “Construction costs due to waste can run as high as 50 percent of total project cost. “Owners see this, and they are looking for a way to change how their projects are built. Detailed BIM models allow multi-housing developers to completely ‘build’ a project virtually before construction begins.”

The Value of BIM Caves
Koppy says the use of BIM Caves has been highly successful in spotting potential design or construction problems. BIM Caves are meetings that occur throughout a project, allowing owners, designers and contractors to review the 3D model to spot and address any potential issues.

Lega illustrated how BIM Caves can work to dramatically reduce costs. “We were providing BIM services for a large project already under construction. We integrated the MEP, HVAC and fire protection drawings into our BIM model and we detected a potential collision between the electrical cable raceways and the HVAC. We met in a BIM Cave with the owner, the designer and the affected contractors to work out the best solution. That meeting took about three hours, but it saved thousands of dollars in change orders and weeks of potential construction delays,” Lega said.

In addition to collision detection, Michael Kennedy, Jr., president of KAI Design & Build (KAI Texas’ sister company) spoke of the cost-saving power of reusability made possible by BIM. “For our affordable housing portfolio, we have developed about 60 housing unit types in our BIM system that we continuously reuse. This allows our designers to focus on tying units to a particular site, and on each unit’s exterior design. Standard components like wall layouts, bathroom design, MEP, etc. are already in our BIM system, so we do not have to reinvent the wheel each time. This allows us to build quickly and keep our costs competitive,” Kennedy said. In response to questions about the cost to owners of using BIM, James said that costs vary according to how extensively BIM is used on the project.

“Costs for using BIM typically run from 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent of total project cost, but resultant project savings are many times that. Since most contractors include at least 1 percent of total project cost for contingency costs in their overall budget, typically there is no additional cost associated with using BIM during design and construction,” James says.

Kennedy noted that some designers and contractors include BIM in their bids as an alternate service, giving potential clients the option of including it in their contract. “Since we can confidently project that using BIM will save at least 2-3 percent in overall project costs, most clients choose to include BIM,” Kennedy said.

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(Robert Brown is a Dallas-based writer who covers the real estate and architecture & design industries.)

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