Building Information Modeling, commonly known by its acronym ‘BIM‘, is a process that provides a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility.  Much has been written about the promise of BIM technology and its potential benefits to the construction industry.  Many of us in the industry have read articles that explain how BIM will take us all past  three dimensional representations of building design information, with time (4-D) and cost (5-D) adding even more opportunities to utilize the information for scheduling, estimating and facility management purposes (6-D).  Even at its most basic, 3-D BIM greatly enhances constructability and reduces clashes between building systems. 

Significant savings to the construction process can be achieved by using even a basic level of 3-D BIM in a modified design build process.   However, many smaller and even mid-sized consulting engineering firms have still been reluctant to make the investment in hardware, software and training.  As with many new trends and software,  it is frequently necessary to provide concrete examples of successes that can show that an incremental program of BIM development can bring quick results.

The Saint Peter’s University BIM Case Study

A recent higher education project provides just such an example.  Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City (New Jersey) decided to undertake a project to build a dramatic new Student Center.  This center would bring into one location many diverse functions that serve the students of the University, including a bookstore, several food service options, student lounge spaces, student organization offices and a fifth floor multi-purpose space with dramatic views of the Jersey City and New York City skylines.

The Owner’s representative, Strategic Development Group, decided early on to implement Design Assist in the development of the project, with a special emphasis on the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) and plumbing systems.  Design Assist is a project procurement method that brings together contractors and design professionals to provide coordinated and cost effective engineering solutions.  Strategic Development Group identified the HVAC and plumbing systems as presenting significant potential variables in the design and construction process affecting schedule and cost.  The Design Assist process was used to minimize these variables.

Key to the success of any Design Assist initiative is the assembly of a team of professionals and contractors that respect and trust each other and work together mutually for the success of the project.  Our firm served as the MEP design consultants, working with the architectural firm of Shepley Bulfinch Richardson & Abbott and the mechanical contracting firm of Air Con, Inc.

The Strategic Development Group chaired frequent meetings of the team to review and distribute the latest design information and to coordinate design issues as they developed. Shepley Bulfinch created the BIM models which all the trades used as a base. Air Con provided valuable input on constructability and equipment selections.  Our firm used all of this information to provide BIM models with up to date MEP information, such as equipment locations, ductwork and piping, modeled in three dimensions.

Together, we worked through complicated coordination issues that involved the limited space allocated to the rooftop HVAC equipment and routing of ductwork and electrical and lighting systems through the building.  The BIM models were vital to providing this coordination.

The benefits of BIM 

We’ve worked with BIM for quite a few years now, working on numerous projects and with many different architectural firms.  We’ve found that just about every firm has its own way of working with BIM and that there is no single right way to create the models.  Regardless of the approach, the primary benefit of BIM been in enhancing constructability and reducing clashes between building systems. 

While we recognize that these benefits aren’t tapping the full potential of BIM, they certainly provided tangible benefits to the Saint Peter’s project, such as:

  1. Reduction of change orders – early coordination and resolution of potential issues in the 3-D model leads to smoother construction and fewer issues that could potentially result in costly change orders.  Many issues that traditionally do not turn up until construction is well underway are now dealt with during the design process, which helps to hold down cost and improves adherence to the schedule.
  2. Improved budget review and control – detailed construction cost estimates are available far earlier in the design process which allows better informed financial decisions to be made throughout the project.
  3. Better team communication – early involvement of the owner, design professionals and contractors leads to a more cohesive team and a less adversarial relationship than the usual design-bid-build project delivery process. Early contractor involvement can lead to valid suggestions to improve the process through the application of real world experience.  
  4. Enhanced development of LEED strategies – the collaborative Design Assist team can utilize the experience of all parties to coordinate LEED strategies in a cooperative manner, which often leads to the achievement of more LEED points than if the process were to be undertaken by the individual parties.

Overall, BIM helped to improve project coordination, teamwork and budget control, thereby minimizing project risk.  As the Saint Peter’s University project showed, the combination of building information modeling and Design Assist greatly contributes to the success of collaborative design and construction projects, helping you get the most bang for your construction buck!