By Christopher Kramer, CIO, Brasfield & Gorrie
The construction industry is steadily embracing new technologies as a means to ensure continued delivery of successful projects to our clients. Historically, our industry has lagged behind others in innovation and in the adoption of new technology and processes. We were able to rely on traditional construction methods and the experience of our teams to deliver projects that were successful for our clients and ourselves. However, the lingering financial impacts of the economic downturn, an aging workforce, tighter schedules, complex projects and other similar issues are making it more difficult to ensure these project successes through grit and determination. Therefore, we are increasingly focused on identifying innovative ways to increase productivity, eliminate waste and foster collaboration.
One key emerging technology is Building Information Modeling (BIM), a process that allows us to “build” our projects virtually before the first shovel hits the ground. This new process allows our project teams to solve problems, develop schedules and collaborate in a 3D digital model rather than working with traditional 2D paper drawings. Opening an entirely new realm of possibilities, BIM allows us to utilize the model during the construction process to embed and extract information in real-time situations in the office and the field. BIM has proven effective in enhancing communication and improving coordination among the numerous parties involved in the design and construction process, which reduces risk and ensures quicker, more accurate decision-making.
BIM helps us visualize critical schedule sequences and identify potential conflicts between systems, reducing costly delays
We have found this leads to lower costs, higher quality, shorter schedules and improved safety on our projects.
BIM is forcing us to ask new questions and challenge existing workflows on our projects. When facilitated properly, a 3D model can have a lifespan throughout the project while fostering collaboration and communication among all the companies and individuals involved. When used to its maximum benefit, the 3D models can be used to create simulations that help team members and user groups fully understand design concepts. They can aid in constructability reviews that help eliminate costly redesigns and schedule delays and they also provide valuable data and insights that improve our ability to plan site logistics and identify safety concerns.
BIM helps us visualize critical schedule sequences and identify potential conflicts between systems, reducing costly delays. Data from these models aid in estimating, evaluating, and analyzing subcontractor bids. As the project progresses, the model is refined using data related to the architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing elements of the project.
Once construction is complete, the as-built virtual model then becomes a valuable tool for the owner during their operation of the building.
While the broader use of BIM holds the potential for incredible benefits to our industry, it presents challenges as well.
These new technology systems require us to recruit and retain people with different technical skills, backgrounds and aptitudes than those we have recruited in the past. This applies not only to our operational workforce, but also to unique skill positions needed to support these new systems.
Check This Out: Top Modular Construction Services Companies
Given our industry’s past struggles to recruit a younger, more tech-savvy generation of workers, our adoption of technologies like BIM may prove to be a competitive advantage in recruiting this new generation as we move forward.
Another challenge is the development of new training and support systems for our existing personnel to ensure they are using BIM in a manner that maximizes its effectiveness. Likewise, we have a great need to work collaboratively with our construction and design partners to assist them in using and understanding the benefits and value that BIM and other technologies bring to our projects. Due to resource constraints and other challenges, some of our smaller construction partners have yet to adopt this technology, presenting challenges in coordination, but creating opportunities for us to add value through training and education.
Finally, the adoption of BIM and similar new technologies creates demands on our existing information systems and infrastructure. Whether these systems utilize traditional client-server or Software-as-a-Service delivery methods, they add an increased load on our existing network infrastructure. These increased demands require us to review our existing software and hardware capabilities to ensure we can efficiently deliver and operate these new systems. With the accelerating pace of BIM adoption we are seeing on our projects, we are having to conduct such reviews and develop strategies for quickly deploying, implementing and supporting enterprise-wide use of these systems.
Despite these challenges, it is clear to us that the benefits far outweigh the obstacles. As more of our existing personnel and construction and design partners begin to embrace and understand the technology, it will become a precondition for work, bringing a new level of accuracy, quality, safety and sophistication to the construction industry. With the potential to increase productivity, eliminate waste and foster collaboration, we believe BIM will be the key to ensuring continued delivery of successful projects in the future.