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.