We’ve probably all heard the phrase, “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.” I often think of this phrase in conversations about the future and technology. It’s fun to talk about AI, clones, robots, and time machines. The distant future seems harmless enough. The problem is that we don’t always know just how far off “the future” is, and when it arrives unexpectedly, it can be a rude awakening. One day AI (artificial intelligence) is the stuff of movies, the next day your kid is using it to write papers for school, and before you know it your job or even your industry has been replaced. Ouch. No more fun and games. It’s critical that we pay attention to what is coming and anticipate the arrival of change before it catches us with our guard down.
Up to this point, you may have thought of BIM (building information modeling) as an interesting development that hasn’t impacted your work – yet. But for several mason contractors over the past few years, it has arrived unexpectedly and hurt their bottom line. The purpose of this article is to make sure that doesn’t happen to you. BIM requirements are quickly spreading into the masonry scope of work and it’s important that you know what to look for so your first BIM project can be a success.
Over the last decade, highly detailed 3D models have been used, primarily by mechanical trades, to simulate construction, solve interference and routing problems, and then order components from these models. You can think of this process as an exact digital copy of what will be built. Each trade is required to model the full scope of their work and share this model with the other trades. These models are managed by a VDC team (virtual design and construction) normally at the GC level. The VDC team merges all the models, looks for problems using clash detection, then works with each trade’s modeling team to adjust the models until they are satisfied they have the best solution. At this point, the models are said to be clash free and are often archived. These models become the basis of shop drawings and often supersede the contract documents as the legal standard for construction.
The breakthrough with BIM is understanding the entire building assembly at the highest level of detail prior to installing or better yet prior to even ordering materials. BIM is delivering better information much earlier than traditional methods and for that reason, it is rapidly spreading to smaller and smaller scale projects. It’s a fascinating and powerful process that has proven its value over and over. If you haven’t seen it yet, it probably won’t be long before you’re required to participate.
With so much riding on this process, I hope you can see how important it is for masonry to participate. Imagine the frustration when mechanical trades work through VDC to become clash free, then order and even prefabricate assemblies only to find that they penetrate masonry walls through a bond beam or lintel. Without a masonry model, the whole process can come up short and guess who looks like the bad guy? Very often the mason can offer low cost or even no cost solutions to these problems. As a mason contractor, you are a great problem solver, but the problems in a BIM project are being discussed long before construction begins by people in a VDC team. Your presence is needed in that conversation.
So how can you be ready for your first BIM project? The VDC process is governed by a contract called a BEP (BIM execution plan). This document is part of the bid package, and it outlines the requirements each trade must fulfil to participate in preconstruction modeling and coordination. BEPs were initially only part of very large projects, but the success of VDC has driven the BIM process into increasingly smaller jobs. The day could soon arrive when all but the smallest jobs will have some BIM requirement for all trades. If I could underscore a single action point for this article it would be this, look for BEPs on everything you bid from today forward.
With that said, let’s take a look at what to expect from a BEP. While BEPs are unique to each contractor and project, there are some common features of most BEPs that you should know about. All BEPs address the who, what, when, where, and how of the VDC process.
WHO – The first thing you should look for when reviewing a BEP is the subcontractors’ modelling requirements. Check to see if masonry is specifically addressed. If it is, you have more digging to do. If not, you may consider the value to yourself or even the project by optional participation. We have seen this work out well for all parties. There are often cost savings to you that exceed the cost of participation. If other trades are modelling, you should be able to gain access to those models and use them to coordinate wall penetrations. It’s better to think of this as an opportunity that will benefit you than a cost you should avoid.
WHAT – The next step is to determine exactly what is required in your model. Some BEPs will reference LOD (level of development) which governs exactly what content is required at a specified level. You can learn more about LOD by checking out BIM Forum www.bimforum.org If it’s not clearly spelled out, you should be thinking of questions like the following: Do I need to coordinate veneer? Do I need to model vertical rebar? Will embeds and miscellaneous steel models be provided by others? Will sleeve models be provided by others at all wall penetrations? Sometimes you will see unreasonable requirements, and other times there is content you should model or request from others.
WHEN – Think of the VDC process as a full construction simulation that happens quickly and early. VDC has its own schedule and deliverables. A good BEP will publish a start date for coordination. It will indicate when initial models are due from each trade as well as when weekly updates are due throughout the process. It should outline a schedule of clash detection and delivery of clash free models. Often this will be based on areas of the building for larger projects. Many times, there is a schedule of weekly coordination meetings that require representation from each trade. All of this has an impact on your participation cost.
WHERE – VDC coordination almost always accommodates remote participation these days via a web conferencing platform. The VDC coordinator will have a federated model that merges all the trade models into a single master model. Each trade is given a cloud location to upload their content along with specific naming conventions for models and revisions.
HOW – The how question is a technical dive into specific platform requirements, clash resolution procedures, and various roles and responsibilities. It’s been addressed briefly already in this article and is otherwise beyond our scope.
There are a few other items in BEPs worth mentioning. The VDC process is the primary value proposition in BIM, but a byproduct of the process is a highly detailed 3D model of the final structure. These models are sometimes referred to as the “virtual twin” of the building. The value of this model outlives the coordination process, and a few examples are now appearing in BEPs.
As-Built models are a fairly common deliverable in BEPs. An as-built model is intended to capture any changes that may come during construction after the clash free archives are complete. If coordination is effective, then there should be little to no changes in the as-built model, but you should make an allowance for this request when bidding.
Facility maintenance models can also be included in BEPs. This model is essentially the as-built model, but it serves a different purpose. These models are handed over to the owner and used by building managers to perform scheduled maintenance, understand hidden systems, plan future additions and other related tasks. There is not a significant bidding allowance required here beyond the as-built.
Some BEPs have requirements for a construction progress model. This is an additional service that begins after coordination is complete. A construction progress model is intended to mirror the current as-built state of the ongoing project. If walls are only complete to a certain height, then this model would also reflect walls to that height. Maintenance of this model requires weekly conversations with the jobsite to properly reflect the current state of construction. These models are used by various overseers as well as by bank auditors to approve draws on loans.
Construction progress models are an emerging solution, but one that we have seen and delivered already in the market for masonry. If you keep up with construction technology, you can see where this is going. Job site scans from drones or roving products like Spot from Boston Dynamics can easily monitor daily progress. These scans have various forms which accurately capture the surface extent of installed products. Merging these surface maps with the BIM models creates a parts list of what has been installed. Remote monitoring of installed components on a daily basis is in the near future.
Hopefully you have a better understanding of what to look for in a BEP and why it’s worth your time to embrace BIM early. It’s a fast-moving and technical space but also a very exciting time with real value today with great promise for tomorrow. If you love technology, there are some platforms that allow you to bring these services in-house. There are also service providers that work exclusively to support your needs for BIM in masonry. Either way, you should have a plan for how to tackle your first BIM project before it arrives. Knowing the lingo and what is being asked of you will give you a great start when bidding projects with BIM requirements. It’s normal to be anxious about change, but you don’t have to go forward alone. Masonry works very well in the BIM environment and I’m confident your first experiences can also be very positive.