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We knew it was coming-we just didn’t know when or to what extent.
Based on my recent experiences, Building Information Modeling (BIM) is now being required for some contractors performing certain services, namely utility construction. The contract documents are including specific requirements for the contractor’s handling of the overall project, other trades involved in the work and tests that must be run to see if the data meets standards.
BIM is traditionally driven by architecture for large facilities. Bentley Systems and Autodesk are two companies that offer software for architecture/engineering firms to accomplish this task. Interestingly, I have also found many construction firms are using BIM to find conflicts with the design plans, which in turn could become change orders, which in turn becomes additional revenue.
For example, about a year ago, I learned about a large federal facility that went into bid, was let and then went into construction. When the project was won by a major contractor, BIM was not required. However, the contractor took the drawings and sent them to China to have BIM plans completed at their own expense.
A few weeks later, the companies had a grand kickoff meeting where the design firms, the contractor and the client attended. The architect was on cloud nine because his vision was finally about to see the light of day. As he pontificated about this wonderful project, the contractor raised his hand and mentioned there were some conflicts in the west wing of the facility. The architect, a little surprised, brushed it off by saying the issues could be addressed later. As he tried to move forward in congratulating everyone involved, the contractor brought up another area where conflicts were quite serious. The architect suggested they have a meeting to discuss what items may have been missed, but he added that these types of conflicts were quite normal on a project of this size.
Acknowledging this, the contractor then placed a 2-foot pile of paperwork on the desk detailing all of the issues, conflicts and other problems he had located from the BIM analysis. The architect and the client were shocked at the extent of the issues found. From the contractor’s point of view, each item found was a potential change order, and all he could hear was ka-ching!
The moral of this story is, though it’s great BIM technology was being used for this project, the wrong party was using it. The contractor was using it to identify change orders. What should have happened was the architect using BIM as they were designing so they could have avoided these issues before they became issues.
Contract Language to Watch For
Currently, I am reviewing the subcontractor requirements for a project, and the first section deals with construction techniques. Here is a summary of some of the items within that section, with my opinions on each:
Subcontractor must agree to use BIM when the client determines it’s beneficial for trades coordination, project sequencing, milestone scheduling and as-built representations. (So if the subcontractor doesn’t agree, he doesn’t get the work.)
Subcontractor must provide digital submissions describing their work in a format that's compatible with BIM. (You must have this technology and be skilled in its use.)
Subcontractor must provide detailed, accurate submissions. (This means it must actually function in BIM analysis.)
Subcontractor must participate in BIM-related trades coordination and review meetings. The meetings may require the subcontractor’s digital submissions to be modified in order to coordinate with other elements of the project. The subcontractor must make the changes without increasing price or project completion. (Coordination issues and rectifying them should no longer produce as many change orders.)
Subcontractor acknowledges that meetings will require attendance of staff that are familiar with the data entry aspects of the BIM, the work to be performed and its relation to other elements of the project. (You must have BIM-capable staff on board.)
Subcontractor agrees that neither the BIM nor the use of the BIM is intended to relieve the subcontractor of its responsibilities under the subcontract. (BIM won’t exonerate you of responsibilities.)
Client will own all BIM submissions and work product. (All intellectual property is owned by the client.)
If the subcontractor provides deficient information or corrupted data that damages the BIM, the subcontractor will bear all costs associated with reconstructing the BIM. (No amateurs allowed.)
Subcontractor must update and provide revised submissions throughout the project so the BIM system at the end of the project accurately represents the work as actually performed and installed. (It must be correct, long-lived and updated in a timely basis. It will reflect an as-built of your participation.)
Each trade is required to run the “clash detection analysis” against the architectural/structural design models to ensure there are no conflicts. Certain trades may be required to perform timeline analyses. (You are responsible for identifying any conflicts between trades, conduit openings and other items that can affect the construction times and costs.)
Each trade must collaborate with each other digitally and in person to resolve clashes. (The client isn’t going to solve problems for you.)
Each trade must maintain and provide the 3D model for generating as-built drawings/models. (Again, no room for amateurs.)
All work on the coordination drawings must be performed by competent technicians using industry-standard conventions. (You need fairly high-skilled staff on hand to perform this work.)
All files must be in AutoDesk .dwg file format and be readable by other trades’ CAD system and Navisworks. (They want clean files where errors do not impact the work in any way.)
The trade contractors must provide 3D solid or surface models that represent the actual dimensions of the trade system features and the equipment that will be installed. (They are demanding 3D models, not simulations or shortcuts.)
It is rare for me to see requirements this stringent for contractors, but here you have it. So now it comes down to whether you have the right software, whether you have the skilled staff and whether you can actually comply with these edicts in full.
Finding the Tools to Use
In this contract, the software being used is Navisworks, an Autodesk product. It is a collaboration tool for trades that can bring everything together into a single graphical database. It offers integration, analysis and communication tools to assist project teams in coordinating disciplines, identifying conflicts between trades and performing timelines for construction sequences. This actually makes a lot of sense since we aren’t all going to be working in a single software solution. The idea of having a package that can read all of the different file formats out there, take advantage of any characteristics of those solutions and assemble them all into a coherent and intelligent graphical database is exactly the solution we need in sophisticated projects.
Autodesk offers several versions of Navisworks; the main one is called Manage. Manage allows for clash detection, which is a very powerful feature. The other versions of Navisworks are slimmed down and offer a more focused feature set depending on your needs. Navisworks’ Simulate and Freedom come in a variety of purchasing and bundling options. Freedom offers Visualization and Navigation, and collaborative review capabilities. Simulate offers Visualization and Navigation, collaboration, data assembly, animation and scheduling.
Navisworks assembles massive amounts of data that the trades have collected. This data includes architectural information from Revit or Triforma for the structures, civil engineering surfaces, storm and sanitary piping, and waterlines from a variety of civil engineering solutions. Once inside Navisworks, you can perform construction timelines, clash detections and tolerances checks, as well as assist in coordinating the trades on the job.
BIM has officially arrived at the construction level. In addition to analyzing the items noted above, it also performs many other functions, such as timelines and animations showing construction sequences. Contracting firms need to man up, learn the software and adjust workflows accordingly. It is becoming a 3D modeling world!