Building information modeling has evolved into a number of different forms, all of which focus primarily on downstream data sharing once a project gets into detailed construction. A newer, complementary approach, where the building is modeled and costed in the programming stage, has debuted to the industry.
Offered by the Dallas-based Beck Group's subsidiary Beck Technologies, this new type of BIM tool is called Destini Profiler, or DProfiler. DProfiler differs from other BIM systems in that it integrates a continually updated cost database and a 3-D modeling system for quick, conceptual project planning. Using a combination of object-oriented 3-D CAD and cost databases from RSMeans (a Reed Business Information company), users are able to create reliable project cost figures from early drawings. The product was unveiled at the 2006 Design/Build conference in October.
“We are focused on answering a fundamentally different question than the tools out there are being used for,” says Stewart Carroll, COO with Beck Technologies. “Inside our parent company, we use Revit, ArchiCAD, and Microstation. We're big fans of them, and they are moving the industry forward. But we believe in answering the questions of how do you come up with a design and, most importantly, how do you document that design without losing design intent when you communicate it to the general contractor. It's really eliminating the amount of guesswork at the front end of the project to make a go/no-go decision.”
As the model is created, a project budget is developed by associating accurate quantities with unit costs. This enables users to develop and communicate project scope, estimate the project budget based on a specific scope, and optimize the value of the project by studying design and cost alternatives.
The integration of design and cost allows the control of the scope of the project. Actual costs of building components can be evaluated in real time. And while projects can take weeks or months before a go/no-go decision is made, Beck says that DProfiler's ability to rapidly assemble a model and perform cost estimation lets users get to that decision in hours.
“To make a go/no-go decision, people typically use a combination of things,” says Carroll. “They may use an RSMeans cost book or the numbers they got from a project they did three years ago, a SketchUp model to convey their design intent. And then based on the size of the building, they'll come up with a rough estimate on how long it's going to take to build. They're all related but disconnected pieces. Ours is much more integrated.”
During the typically ambiguous conceptual phase, DProfiler's 3-D capabilities graphically depict project assumptions for all Building Team members. If an initial design concept is over budget, users can change the model and receive instant cost and visual feedback.
Participants in the conceptual phase of a project often work for free (sometimes for months), expecting to win a portion of the project. DProfiler allows scope, design, and price to be quickly and accurately created much quicker.
“Today the architect gets hired to dream big, while the general contractor gets hired to bring it in at a low cost,” says Carroll. “Those two things don't match, so you don't really know what it costs to build until you get much further downstream. Our view is that you have to coordinate the two to be realistic.”
BIM, past and present
Ten years ago, Beck purchased a 3-D modeling product called Pro/Reflex from Parametric Technology Corp., the developer of the groundbreaking mechanical design program Pro/Engineer. About the same time, some of the Reflex developers left PTC to create Revit Technology. Meanwhile, Beck began to evolve the Relex system into a technology named DESTINI, an acronym for Design ESTimating INtegration Initiative.
According to Beck, the initial version integrated the modeling, engineering, and costing for a two- to five-story office building. “Simply speaking, we encoded traditional rules into algorithms which would define, engineer, and price a prototype,” says Carroll. “For example, if you pulled the wall of a building out, increasing the difference between two columns, the beam would instantaneously re-engineer itself and automatically generate new quantities of steel, concrete, and formwork for pricing purposes.”
Several years ago, Beck decided to simplify the technology to model a broad range of building types with less detail. It named the new product Destini Profiler. Since then, the company has been using it internally and offering it externally as a tool used by Beck Technologies consultants.
In 2005, the product was integrated with Google Earth for simpler planning. In September 2006, an early adopter program was launched. Purchasers included architect SOM, the American Institute of Steel Construction, and contractor M.A. Mortenson.
Beck Technologies is currently working on an integrated bridge built into Revit. “We're also in discussions with Graphisoft and Bentley,” says Carroll. “We're trying to be BIM neutral.”