Virtual Design Analysis Group is a division of NVentum, LLC.

This unique collaborative endeavor; to utilize the latest reality capture technology to document the artifacts, buildings and campus of History San Jose, provides opportunities for private sector, non-profits and institutions of higher education to work together to solve some of today's most pressing engineering issues. The protocol for retrofitting as-built historic facilities and the use of new technologies to preserve our most prized historic treasures are vital to the continued success and expanded influence of our museums.
This blog will document the challenges and successes of this ambitious, one of a kind project.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Evolution of the Construction Industry

 “Construction is a team sport, and BIM is dramatically reshaping the way project teams work together to increase productivity and improve outcomes for all. This is driving the most transformative evolution the construction industry has ever experienced.”…McGraw-Hill Construction SmartMarket Report, Design and Construction Intelligence, National Institute of Building Sciences

If you look at the construction and operation of facilities you can't help but realize that the techniques used today are virtually the same techniques that have been in use for centuries. Blueprints, floor plans and schematics have been the technology of choice for building homes, public facilities, schools and churches since the recording of history. Whether you are designing a home, selecting a hotel room, renting office space or building an addition to your current facility, the process begins with a basic 2D floor plan drawn on a piece of paper. Of course, innovations like CAD have made life easier but the basic format for designing or illustrating the dimensions, layout and design of a residential or public facility have remained unchanged.
While this process has been in use for centuries all over the world, it is not without it's problems. The construction field is synonymous with cost overruns, last minute changes in design and financial hurdles. Much of the cost are due to fragmentation during the construction phase. If you look at the construction process from start to finish, the gaps in the flow of information are obvious. Even so, there has been little effort to change the inefficiency has become embedded in the construction process. A typical construction project can have dozens of blueprints; each with different information specifically designed for different person/department. This fragmentation translates into cost that are eventually passed on to building owners. With these types of issues, why is the industry so slow to change?
"FIATECH" is an international community of passionate stakeholders working together to lead global development and adoption of innovative practices and technologies to realize the highest business value throughout the life cycle of capital assets...from the FIATECH website,
SJ City Hall
When our city leaders decided to build the new City Hall, the original cost estimates were approximately $214 million. Soon after, the cost estimate went to over $340 million; the final cost was approximately $382 million for the 55,000 square foot facility. The cost overruns can be attributed to several sources however a major factor in the increase in cost is labor; labor required to re-design, re-engineer, remove, re-deliver or re-order  parts or equipment that had to be changed at the construction site due to insufficient information. The electrician's blueprints don't have the plumber's schematic, notes or information. The plumber's blueprints don't have the HVAC plans. The carpenter's blueprints don't include the electrician's plans and so there are breaks in communication; the fragmentation within the process continues.
 Here's a typical example of what sometimes happens at construction sites; the HVAC contractor arrives at the construction site of a new office building to install a section of conduit on the third floor. Once on site, the HVAC contractor realizes there is an electrical tray in the path where the conduit was supposed to be installed. The HVAC contractor doesn't have this tray on his/her blueprints, so works stops while the contractor calls the office. After an hour of discussion(s), the contractor takes the pre-fab conduit back to the warehouse and the contractor re-designs the conduit to compensate for the electrical tray that was not included on their plans. Meanwhile, the HVAC installer, through no fault of their own, didn't accomplish the task scheduled for that day. The process of re-designing the HVAC system could set them back several days. Of course, the building owner is absorbing the cost for the entire process. This is just part of the business. There is nothing "shady" or unethical about this. No one is out to purposely run up the cost for owners and certainly no one wants to alienate a client. These things happen when you have several sub-contractors who each have a singular focus.
"The global capital projects industry, despite years of effort, is not achieving a level of interoperability exchanging models and data, or in process systems and tools that captures near the value opportunity to the industry stakeholders. Fiatech’s Vision Paper presents an overview of current industry activities for advancing interoperability, and puts forward building blocks with calls for action to accelerate advancement of interoperability to achieve step change value gains in the industry."...Comments on Interoperability From FIATECH website.
 However, it's not only the contractor and sub-contractors that contribute to the information gap. Owners and architects will sometimes make changes during project that require subcontractors re-design or re-work a given assignment. This creates more delays in work flow, which creates higher cost, which are passed on to the building owner.
 So, what can be done to correct these types of costly delays? Could a shared platform, accessible on a database or server, that provides all parties with real-time information, time-lines and updates be the answer? This is the role of the 3D model in the design and construction of buildings. 
 While I've written about the merits of this technology, the need for workforce development in the field(s) of BIM and VDC, the merging of BIM and GIS technology and so on, I am not the only person shouting about the importance of this technology nor am I the leading authority on these topics. This is not science fiction or a planned concept for the near future.This is today's technology. Some of the leading organizations and scholars and institutions of higher learning are deeply involved in 3D, BIM Technology and Virtual Design Construction.
Stanford University
Center For Integrated Facility Engineering- Stanford, CA.
The CIFE mission is to be the world's premier academic research center for Virtual Design and Construction of Architecture - Engineering - Construction (AEC) industry projects ... to support exceptionally reliable engineering and management practices to plan, design, construct and operate sustainable facilities...from the Stanford University CIFE website
 The question is, if this technology is such a major step in the evolution of construction, facility maintenance and operations, why aren't more industry leaders jumping on the bandwagon for 3D Modeling and BIM? The answer to that question isn't as easy as one might think. 
 The first thing that comes to mind today is the poor economic climate. This is always the quick and easy answer but in this case it doesn't apply. Apple Computer has recently began designing a $500 million campus. Apple  purchased an additional 98 acres in Cupertino for $300 million that used to be the old HP campus. A local hospital recently paid over $100 million dollars to create a 3D Model of their facility expansion. There is a new stadium under construction in Santa Clara. There are plans being made for an $800 million dollar stadium on the SF waterfront for the Warriors. There are many more large projects underway in and around Silicon Valley. Money is a problem for some but certainly not all and not among the big general contractors and architectural firms.
Green Building of the future
 Given the various projects underway in this region, why aren't more projects incorporating this cutting edge technology in the construction, maintenance and operations plan? I can tell you from our experience at NVentum, the challenges with introducing this particular technology has been a difficult but very interesting process. The real question we keep asking ourselves is, who will drive the need for BIM and 3D technology?

"The buildingSMART alliance™ is a unique organization helping to make the North American real property industry more efficient by leading the creation of tools and standards that allow projects to be built electronically before they are built physically using Building Information Modeling."..from the Building Smart Alliance websitea council of the National institute of Building Sciences.
 Many of the architects we've met and worked with have an interest in 3D modeling and BIM technology. Most use VDC to create models for their presentations. However, the creating a 3D model of an as-built facility or of a facility under construction is something done in the field. Though there is tremendous benefit to have a 3D model of a facility, this is not something architects do. This makes it unlikely that architects would be the driving force behind this new technology.

From my perspective, labor unions were the obvious answer to this question; who better to drive this new technology? Unions are responsible for keeping their members informed and educated in the latest skills and techniques in their area of expertise. Training their members would assist in insuring future employment for the coming economic wave. This is a no-brainer, right? Not so fast, we spent years trying to get local unions to look into this technology and create training curriculum and opportunities for members. In most cases, senior membership struggled with the concept of moving away from techniques they've been practicing their entire careers. One long-time union member said it best, "I'm retiring in three years. Why would I want to relearn how to do my job now?" This wasn't the sentiment of all unions, however. Others were supportive of the concept but reluctant to spend money on expensive equipment and training cost when union dues are down due to the economy. It is unlikely that a push for new technology in the construction field(s) will come from labor unions.
Centuries Old Technique
 Many of the big general contractors are fully aware of the technology and the various applications. Several have BIM coordinators/managers on staff or under contract for specific projects. However, general contractors are in the business of providing bids for jobs. Anything is not deemed critical yet adds to the cost of a bid is a liability. While most Bay Area cities have green building ordinances, none require 3D/BIM technology Most green building codes refer to LEED standards and none address as-built building unless the facility(s) being re-modeled. It is unlikely that general contractors will become the driving force behind this push for technology.
According to the U.S. Green Building Council, CO2 emissions from commercial buildings are predicted to grow at about 1.8 percent annually through 2030, faster than any other sector of the economy. If 50% of new commercial buildings are built to use 50% less energy, more than 6 million metric tons of C)2 would be saved annually for the life of the facility, 50 to 100 years.
 Though the cost of construction can be very high, it is the cost of maintaining and operating a facility through it's life cycle that is most costly. The cost of power, water, maintenance and upkeep is where the majority of the owner's investment lays. Having the ability to monitor and adjust energy consumption, reduce maintenance cost through prevention and scheduling,  to reduce the carbon footprint of the facility, increase employee health and productivity by monitoring and correcting air quality and contaminant, increase overall productivity by reducing response and repair times by contractors; these are the real benefits to 3D/BIM technology. The real key to the widespread implementation of these innovative technologies is the education of building owners. It is the building owners who will set the demand for this new technology. The building owners who will begin the revolution in workforce development and set in motion the evolution of the construction industry. When building owners start to require 3D Models and BIM technology in the bid process, that's when you will see architects, contractors and unions rushing to recruit people with BIM experience and  looking for training opportunities for employees and members. It all starts with the building owners, the people who bare the cost and therefore have the most at stake. 
"Proper Building Information Management (BIM) technology can have a major impact on the health and productivity of our community. Existing SMART technologies and procedures can improve Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) in a manner that significantly increases employee productivity and health According to an August 2000 report from the Environmental Energy Technologies Division of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the estimated potential savings and productivity gains in the U.S. alone are $6 Billion to $14 Billion from reduced respiratory disease, $2 to $4 billion from reduced allergies and $20 to $160 Billion from direct improvement in worker performance related to health."...

Today's "Blueprints"
Laser Scan of HSJ Trolley Barn
by Ken Hanna, NVentum, LLC.


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