Readers of technology trends in construction are well aware that building information modeling software tools are moving from 3D to 4D in terms of merging project schedule data with a 3D model to create a 4D schedule with animation. These tools are becoming more common on mid-sized and even smaller projects of $25 million or less, experts and BIM providers say.

It's also gaining in dispute claims and claims resolution, according to an expert in scheduling and construction litigation.

"In 35 years of construction work, I have not seen change happen so rapidly and [a technology] adopted so quickly as I have with the adoption of 4D" for claims resolution, says Ben Nolan, a director with forensic analysis consulting firm Berkeley Research Group of Florida.

Speaking at the recent Construction CPM Conference, held in Orlando Jan. 20-24th, Nolan told an audience of expert schedulers, software vendors and students to prepare for more 4D BIM to come into use on projects—and in construction delay claims. "It's truly evolutionary. It changes how projects are managed," he adds.

Nolan, whose experience includes stints as a project engineer for the US Army Corps of Engineers, project manager for a major general contractor, marine contracting and a mechanical/utility contracting, was among the many experts in critical path method (CPM) scheduling and CPM software who traded notes on trends to watch in construction management during the conference.

Why the Growth in 4D Now?

I later asked Nolan to explain why he thinks 4D BIM is taking off now. After all, the steady growth in use of 4D BIM tools for site layout, project planning and clash detection is not exactly a new trend. Many groups and experts, such as the International Cost Engineering Council, have published case studies of the benefits of 4D scheduling and animation tools for construction planning. And yet, Nolan's surveys of attendees at the CPM Conference, as well as the ABA Forum on the Construction Industry, showed that fewer than 1% of attendees have even heard of 4D scheduling.

Still, he says it's the quickening pace of adoption that is the trend to note, especially as younger engineering and construction professionals expect to use it on projects.

First off, 4D software is a very practical tool that makes the superintendent, foremen and subcontractor’s jobs easier, and is getting easier for the end-user, he adds. Nolan, who has testified or consulted on major construction litigation cases throughout his work in the industry, says he has seen how much time and effort it took for the industry to adapt to CPM scheduling, project risk analysis and LEED, for example.

"But, within the last year, many of the ENR Top contractors/construction managers have hired or appointed someone responsible for Virtual Design and Construction," Nolan adds. " What the VDC leaders told me confirms my own experience: Once 4D is used on the project, there’s no going back to the old way.  And universities are adding 4D to the curriculum in the building programs. Those graduates will expect to use 4D. As a forensic claim expert, I’m using 4D and expect to see construction disputes involving 4D issues eventually. I’m definitely keeping myself apprised of the rapid evolution of 4D technology and am excited to see what these visionaries come up with next."

Fred Plotnick, a CPM expert who organizes the Construction CPM conference, also posted some takeaways about 4D BIM after the event. In a blog post for ENR, Plotnick did something he rarely does: endorse vendor products by giving a shout-out about Synchro Software, one of the better-known vendors of 4D scheduling and animation tools (and also an exhibiting vendor at his conference).

"While I am not known for open endorsement in this blog, this is huge and is going to be a game changer," Plotnick wrote. "The Synchro model is of equal stature to the advance from the TODO list to the Gantt Chart (1910), and from hand drafted and hand re-drafted updated bar-charts to CPM (1956)."

While Synchro has won over fans among contractors who deply 4D schedules integrated with BIM models and major scheduling providers such as Oracle's Primavera and Microsoft Project, other vendors are gaining new fans too, such as Deltek, which acquired schedule analysis and business intelligence provider Acumen last year. Other vendors offering project scheduling software integration are Asta Powerproject, RevelPoint and cost estimate integrator HardDollar, to name just a few. Vico Software, a division of Trimble and also a 4D software provider, has staked out thought-leadership on the topic:

"There is a question in the market, however, about the role of 4D BIM," notes Vico Software's blog website devoted to 4D BIM. "Should 4D BIM represent the sequencing of the project or should it be the derivation of the schedule? Pioneers in construction scheduling assert that 4D BIM should be both sequencing and scheduling, plus on-site production control with the Superintendent and the Subs, even going as far as invoice reconciliation with work complete on-site. These progressive GCs further assert that 4D BIM integrates quantity takeoff, location-based quantities, resources, productivity rates, and labor costs into the 3D model."

Nolan calls the increasing use of visualization with 4D scheduling models a "technological gold rush" — not just for use on jobs but on construction delay claims. These days, he adds, an animation that provides visualization of the as-built building's timeline next to the timeline from the original design can make a delay claim quite clear to all the parties. Adds Nolan: "It's how you win."

Erin Joyce is managing editor of ENR and also covers technology and trends for the ENR enterprise. Her Twitter handle is @erinjoyce.