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Further Down the Merry Road to BIM

3D modeling is changing the design and construction industry, but collaborative project management is needed to manage that change.

November 01, 2007 |

The design firm heading the $200 million Doha International Airport project in Qatar is also in charge of coordinating a Building Team that includes a construction manager from Greece, an Italian structural engineer, and scores of local workers and subcontractors. The massive project includes design and construction of the world's largest airplane maintenance hangar, a 1.2-million-sf behemoth designed to service Airbus A380s.

All in a day's work for Ghafari Associates, a multidisciplinary firm that provides architecture, design, and engineering services to a global client base in the aviation, automotive, corporate, industrial, healthcare, education, and government sectors. Ghafari is the building information modeling integrator as well as the architect and engineer (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) on the project. The Dearborn, Mich., firm won the job thanks to its record of getting superscale projects such as GM's 442,000-sf addition to a Global V6 engine plant in Flint, Mich., pre-planned in BIM and delivered on time—less than 40 weeks—and under budget.

Ghafari is saving time and money by using BIM programs to discover interferences and other fairly routine problems in the design stage. But coordinating the entire project takes more than just a model. That's where online collaborative project management programs come in. In addition to Autodesk's Expedition and Buzzsaw programs, Ghafari's main collaboration program for the Doha project is Bentley's Projectwise, which allows architects and engineers to manage, find, share, and visualize CAD and geospatial content, project data, and Microsoft Office documents.

“I can't imagine doing something like this any other way,” said Robert Stevenson, PE, SVP of Ghafari and partner-in-charge of the Qatar project. “What gets us these projects is a proven ability to coordinate this type of team. We're doing all the integration and Projectwise allows us to be that middle guy.”

With AEC firms doing more work in less time than ever before, eliminating costly errors and change orders at the design stage is imperative for big projects. BIM programs such as Revit and Bentley BIM alone can't entirely deliver on that promise without online project collaboration keeping the whole Building Team on the same page throughout the process, especially on international projects at the scale of Doha International Airport. In today's climate, BIM integrators and owner representatives are dealing with a dozen or more specialized consultants on a project that 10 or 15 years ago would have had only five or six.

“The lament we often hear from the client community is that the building industry is so fragmented,” said Stanis Smith, SVP of Stantec, a multidisciplinary A/E and planning firm based in Edmonton, Alb. “The level of coordination is simply not what they would like and that's reflected in change orders and so forth. We're determined to change that mindset.”

This project model was used by Ghafari to inform other team members of the Building Team how BIM will be used to show interior and exterior detail in the design stage, and not just flat 2D drawings. Rendering: Ghafari Associates

Stantec is coordinating major projects such as the 82,300-sf Westin Kelowna Hotel in British Columbia using the MEP and Architecture versions of Revit. Both Stantec and Ghafari use collaboration programs to communicate with international team members. While the architects, engineers, and contractors interviewed for this article said that Microsoft's Netmeeting conferencing program can serve as a tool for project meetings, industry-specific programs such as Bentley's Projectwise and Autodesk's Buzzsaw were said to be crucial for document sharing and approvals.

Streamlining the whole process

Broccolini Construction is a third-generation family-owned company in Montreal that provides general contracting, construction management, and real estate development services. They began using Buzzsaw in 2005 to speed up delivery and efficiency of their projects.

“E-mail was becoming more and more important to our project managers,” says senior project manager Anthony Broccolini. “Sharing of documents and plans could be put up on an FTP site, but you can't see the drawings or the dimensions without a tool like Buzzsaw. I'd say that only today are we completely comfortable with that demand.”

Buzzsaw allows quick access to plan information and changes with real-time updating and tracking. Broccolini said approval of shop drawings has become much more efficient since his firm began using its collaboration tool. Shop drawings that used to take 2-3 weeks for approval through the mail can now be approved and sent to suppliers in as little as four hours using Buzzsaw.

“It's easier to manage for the professionals involved,” Broccolini said. “Many of the subcontractors you work with on a regular basis are a one-man show. They're not going to be going out and buying and learning AutoCAD, so you need things like Buzzsaw and DWF to get the information to them in a way that's useful.” DWF refers to an Autodesk file format that enables sharing and viewing of 2D and 3D files without their native programs.

P.J. Dick, a preconstruction services firm, general contractor, design-builder, and construction manager based in West Mifflin, Pa., used the program to complete complex projects such as the Collaborative Innovation Center at Carnegie Mellon University. The CIC is a four-story, $27.9-million, 136,000-sf, dry-lab research facility built in 2005 to provide office and lab space for technology companies wishing to collaborate with Carnegie Mellon to create innovative new concepts and products for the marketplace. The building sits on a tight site on a steep hillside on CMU's campus in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood.

According to a survey of all the CIC's Building Team members, if P.J. Dick didn't have its Buzzsaw system in place, they would lose their decision-making advantage, the ability to fast-track information in and out between contractors and subcontractors, and the means to get the information in front of the right people immediately.

“We had a lot of subcontractors ask us if they could work in the system on all the other projects that we do together,” said Kathy Templeton, an executive assistant at P.J. Dick who manages contracts with Buzzsaw. “It works for them and us because we can see where we're at with their contracts, how close we are to needing them and on which days as the construction process is going on. I post all their contracts, our insurance bonds, everything in Buzzsaw. This allows the system to automatically generate event letters to subs across all projects. In turn, this allows project managers the ability to review contract documents.”

Key ingredient: ease of use

The Qatar Airways terminal is one of many buildings being planned by Ghafari and shared via Projectwise to the far-flung Building Team on the Doha International Airport. Rendering: Ghafari Associates

The leaders in online collaborative project management interviewed for this story stressed that the tools need to be easy to use—much more so than BIM programs—to get the level of efficiency they've achieved.

“We use Projectwise so much because it's relatively intuitive and simple to use,” said Ghafari's Stevenson. “It has an interface that's just like using a Windows directory tree. It has no sign-out issues and easy check-in and check-out.”

Both construction firms, P.J. Dick and Broccolini, use custom versions of Buzzsaw built for them. Both stressed that many of the subcontractors they work with are not familiar with collaborative project management, but have no problems with Buzzsaw. “The trades are getting there,” Broccolini said. “We're moving in the right direction.”

Combined with BIM, collaboration software provides an opportunity for AEC firms to deliver more efficient and better final products, on time. Stantec's Smith says that the AEC industry has been slow to change for many, many years. “3D concepts have been reduced to 2D drawings from which 3D buildings have been made—something's wrong with that picture,” he says. “A 3D model by its very nature is integrated and coordinated when all the disciplines collaborate on the model.”

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