‘BIM for all’ platform pays off for contractor

Construction giant JE Dunn is saving millions in cost avoidances by implementing a custom, cloud-based BIM/VDC collaboration platform.

JE Dunn uses pop-up WiFi stations and weatherproof computer kiosks (pictured) to
JE Dunn uses pop-up WiFi stations and weatherproof computer kiosks (pictured) to bring the Dunn Dashboard to the job site. All project team members have real-time access to the updated project documents, including the BIM model. PHOTO: COURTESY JE DUNN
December 03, 2013

Designing and building laboratories is complicated enough. Imagine having to answer to 40 owner representatives on a single project, at every step of the design development and preconstruction phases. Oh, by the way, most of those clients have a PhD and know as much, if not more, about building science and energy efficiency than almost anyone on your staff.  

This was the scenario that JE Dunn Construction and SmithGroupJJR faced when they collaborated with a fastidious team of scientists and researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to create the 182,500-sf Energy System Integration Facility in Golden, Colo. The lab’s advanced computer modeling and simulation capabilities—used to study clean energy technologies on a megawatt scale—are powered by a petaflop-scale computer system and data center that is rated as one of the most energy efficient in the world, with an average power usage effectiveness of 1.05. 

Every inch of the facility, from the high-bay lab spaces to the data center server racks, was the result of close collaboration with the facility’s eventual occupants and O&M team. For both JE Dunn and SmithGroupJJR, who have been using BIM/VDC tools to drive construction projects for nearly a decade, the NREL project raised two primary concerns.

First, how could the Building Team intimately involve so many stakeholders in an iterative design and preconstruction process without getting bogged down by the paperwork and communication? Second, how could project participants (clients as well as subcontractors) who are not fluent in BIM/VDC software engage with a complex parametric model in a meaningful way? 

Dunn Dashboard: Functions and benefits

• Cloud-based collaboration. All information is accessible via mobile devices through a mobile-scaled dashboard interface. Building Team members in different locations can collaborate on design documents, BIM models, and 3D laser scans in real time.
• Electronic submittals and invoicing. Bids can be submitted electronically; invoices and pay functions also are managed in a single location.
• Customizable security options. The Dashboard offers role-based permissions for all project stakeholders, including architects, subcontractors, owners, and construction partners.
• Instant owner’s manual at project conclusion. Entire dashboard of documents is handed over at project close out in Web-based form.
• Real-time updates. Data is updated in real-time, ensuring all construction partners are working with consistent documentation.
• BIM access for all. Mobile job site kiosks provide construction field workers with access to the Dunn Dashboard.

JE Dunn’s solution was to provide each scientist, researcher, and facility team member with a custom, restricted view of the BIM model, based on his or her area of concern. Using any computer device with an Internet connection, the clients could quickly open their assigned views of the model and conduct virtual walkthroughs of the spaces and provide feedback directly in the model. JE Dunn and SmithGroupJJR incorporated the suggested changes in the next round of design drawings and posted updated model views for stakeholders to review. This cloud-based collaboration drastically compressed the overall design schedule, saving weeks of preconstruction planning time.

“Rather than having to pass a set of documents around sequentially, elongating the review process, we let them go directly into the model, which drastically reduced the schedule,” says John Jacobs, LEED AP, JE Dunn’s Chief Information Officer. “They didn’t have to pull the model down from the cloud onto their machine or need BIM knowledge to view it. We created an easy-to-use interface where they could access the views with a click of a button.”

JE Dunn’s solution for the NREL project, which incorporated third-party software tools like Horizontal Glue (now part of Autodesk’s BIM 360 suite) and Microsoft SharePoint, served as the basis for its highly successful Dunn Dashboard cloud-based project collaboration and digital sharing platform. In less than two years since its launch, more than 425 of the firm’s project teams have adopted the platform to share real-time BIM model data—and other project documents, such as bid submittals, RFIs, and warranty information—with the clients and Building Team. More than 20 projects are being added to the platform every month, and the total number of external users just surpassed the 11,000 mark: 8,400 subcontractors, 1,600 architects, and 1,100 owner’s reps.

JE Dunn and other large construction firms, including McCarthy Building Cos. and Mortenson Construction, are investing in custom-built, cloud-based project collaboration and digital sharing platforms that greatly increase the accessibility and usefulness of BIM/VDC models for a large number of stakeholders. On the table are hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions, in potential cost avoidances by minimizing the number of change orders and compressing the design development and preconstruction schedules. 

“BIM in the cloud is a huge leap forward for the construction industry,” says Jacobs. “We as contractors and architects can look at a 2D document and envision what it’s going to look like; some of our clients can’t. The Dunn Dashboard gives them the ability to visualize their space and make crucial decisions during preconstruction without being BIM specialists. We can avoid all the costly, last-minute changes.”

Scalability, adaptability yield new capabilities

A distinguishing characteristic of the Dunn Dashboard, says Jacobs, is its scalability. “The IT department built it and then got out of the way,” he says. “As a result, our project teams are using it in ways we never thought of.”

On the recently completed CyrusOne data center in Chandler, Ariz., the JE Dunn team and the project’s architect, Corgan Associates, used Dunn Dashboard as a repository for questions and answers from subcontractors bidding on the work. All questions were submitted anonymously, and the team received alerts when questions were submitted. 

“All information was logged and publicly available, so anyone bidding on the job could log in and see the questions and answers in real time,” says Kevin Sears, LEED AP, JE Dunn’s Project Manager on the CyrusOne project. “This process created an equal playing field for the subs and greatly reduced the time and effort that goes into answering the many questions during preconstruction. Corgan only had to answer questions once, and they didn’t have to waste time distributing the answers to the subs.” 

In similar fashion, the team utilized the platform to share high-resolution construction photos and webcam feeds with the project’s client representatives, who were based in different parts of the country.   

Taking the Dashboard right to the field

As projects move into the construction phase, the firm brings the Dunn Dashboard to the job site through pop-up WiFi stations and weatherproof computer kiosks placed strategically throughout the site. Jacobs says the kiosks are especially important since many laborers and tradespeople are not equipped with the mobile devices to access the BIM model and other project documents. 

“If you’re going to put all of this data into a model and the laborer or the carpenter can’t consume it, then it’s useless,” he says. “We regularly see lines forming at these kiosks. People walk up and quickly access what they need, whether it be a cut sheet or a detail view. They can move the model around and view an intersection of materials, like a window jamb or flashing detail, so they are sure to build it right the first time.”

Once the project is complete, the Dunn Dashboard offers instantaneous turnover of the project documents to the owner—there’s no two- or three-month waiting period for training videos, warranty claims, insurance policies, design documents, and the as-built BIM model. With the push of a button, the facilities management team is given access to all finalized project documents. 

“Literally, the day they move in the facilities team has complete access—via smartphone, tablet, or computer—to all the documents and information they need to run the building,” says Jacobs.

         
 

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