AUSTIN, Texas—Building information modeling allows construction professionals to establish a single source of truth on their projects and to collaborate with trades and stakeholders more efficiently than they could before. But adding this tool to the arsenal takes a calculated approach to securing management buy-in, training talent and offsetting investments, said BIM experts on a panel at Procore’s Groundbreak Construction Conference last week.
Construction professionals know all too well the pain of working from old or incorrect data. McCarthy Building Cos. is combating this by handing the same teams who will be building the structure the responsibility of coordinating it.
“Build it right virtually and then you’ll build it right in the field,” according to VDC Manager Jordan Moffett. Instead of a centralized VDC department that hands down models to project teams, these teams “work through the decision-making virtually,” he said, without having to reinvent the wheel from a coordination that has already been done.
Many companies looking to implement BIM or other technologies are at a fork in the road, between choosing construction professionals to do the work or bringing in technical experts without construction experience. According to Nick Kurth, virtual construction manager at PCL Construction, the latter takes approach “exponentially longer” than tapping construction talent, particularly younger individuals, who combine tech savvy with an understanding of the field.
Millennial newcomers “know how to use software, they’re not intimidated by the technology and they may have already had semesters using Navisworks or using Revit,” he said. “Just putting it in their hands is what they want, it’s not just what we want them to do.”
Plus, Kurth added, giving young talent the reins on BIM software quickly teaches them the process of coordination with the trades and various stakeholders within the VDC environment.
But it’s not just the rookies who are learning construction best practices from BIM — engineers are also honing their engagement with both the trades and the “suits” while using VDC methods, he said. And the superintendents who observe this “are our biggest advocates for pushing VDC to the engineering staff,” said Kurth.
Building out VDC capabilities
But some infrastructure needs to be in place before a VDC program can successfully launch. Companies need people who can provide training, reference materials for employees who have completed training and standardized processes in place, Kurth said.
Sometimes the language of VDC instruction is actually too simple to effectively convey what needs to happen in a coordination process, according to Josh DeStefano, who leads the technology and innovation team for DPR Construction’s Southern California region.
Spell out what needs to be done in full detail, he said, like populating the model, checking it, coordinating it, working through schedule and kicking off. Workers “need to be engaged,” rather than just checking boxes, and to understand the many tasks involved in BIM coordination, DeStefano continued.
It’s equally important that executives be exposed to all BIM capabilities, panelists noted, to break down any misconceptions that they might have and make informed decisions on whether or not to invest in a VDC program. In addition to roles-based training, the McCarthy VDC team provided its operations VPs and directors with hands-on experience in modeling software, for example.
Touting an investment in people is an easy sell, DeStefano added, but VDC advocates also have to make the case to management that key performance indicators will be surpassed, by “showing them that if they can get better information, they can make better decisions faster.”
Plus, building out VDC capabilities gives companies the opportunity to add a few extra revenue streams. McCarthy rented out some of its hardware, for example, including laser scanners, robotic total stations and drones. A little experimentation with reality capture can also pay off in a big way, according to DeStefano. “If we can figure this out, we can not only buy this scanner and pretty much pay for it by keeping this service in house, we can also lead the industry."
Getting stakeholders on the same page
Construction companies using VDC are evolving faster than the “archaic” contract types that are in use, said Moffett. And one of the unfortunate results is that owners aren’t holding design accountable to participate in the process the way construction stakeholders would like. Their goal is to crank out a permanent set of documents and be done with it, he said.
For this reason, McCarthy has sharpened it focus on partnering with the architect of records early in the project, and before modeling begins, if possible.
Regardless of the delivery method, the conversation typically involves an explanation of how the construction team will quantify from the model, Moffett said, and an offer to support the design team during coordination so that requested changes can be made as smoothly as possible for both teams.
Another common challenge involved in contracting VDC projects, according to DeStefano, are excessive BIM requirements from clients who don’t understand what level of detail is appropriate. Sometimes you have to flesh out for them the cost implications of what they’re requesting, he said, and challenge them on their standard to ask, “what are you going to do with that information?”
If that LOD isn’t necessary for builders, then it’s not needed by the owner. “If it’s just going to sit on the hard drive or on the cloud, then you’ve paid a lot of money for some data,” DeStefano joked.
Some of their anxiety stems from not understanding reality capture techniques, he continued. Clients are seeking huge amounts of information from their models but it’s already in their grasp — “it’s just in the real world," DeStefano concluded, "and we can capture it at pretty much any time now."