To take in the many presentations about building information modeling tools at the recent BIMForum conference in Dallas is to see first-hand the velocity of change arriving on construction jobsites, along with the upward move of the BIM adoption curve each year.
Chris Heger, a superintendent with Turner Construction, talked through how BIM tools are changing the pace of construction with some keynote examples among many. Modeling tools give his team the ability to create construction patterns and then mine for repeatable patterns, or to look for interchangeable parts from one job's similarity to another. Teams then put those parts to re-use on other projects.
What we're seeing in the construction trades, many attendees said, is that BIM is making information a bigger part of the project's supply chain in order to build at faster rates. Big Data is about thinking of the model as the database to mine, other attendees said.
BIM gives Heger's teams the ability to put work in place in much tighter areas, because they're "synchronizing men and machines faster than ever. We're pushing the edge of fatigue," he added. On some jobs with BIM integration, the firm is erecting steel at twice the normal rate. Project teams are also saving more information that was once tossed away, creating information supply chains that compress time.
Contrast the quickening pace with larger gains in networking speeds, sensors and processors that can render files on a jobsite and it's easy to see why paradigm shift is a hot term again, along with Gigabit Ethernet. ENR breaks down some of the big ideas from the event:
Networking, Sensors and AR
Three big trends will make Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality tools more common with collaboration, says James Benham, founder of software development and consulting firm JBKnowledge (which specializes in AR and VR with apps such as SmartReality).
First, pay attention to the growth in fiber to the home, which promises to bring upstream and downstream speeds of 1 gigabit per second to homes via gigabit ethernet and gigabit internet. From there, it's not a big leap to add speeds like that to a jobsite. But it is early in the rollout of gigabit internet networking speeds.
Still, South Korea, a leader in wireless networking technology, has succesfully tested 5G networks, he continued, and "that's a really big deal." Benham cited estimates that 5G (and by that he means true 5G) will be in North America by 2018. The ability to deploy gigabit speeds of data transfer on a smart phone will transform how workers use them on jobsites.
Second, processors are evolving rapidly, bringing major power to ipads and other tablets that will help them render ever bigger models on a tablet, "and big ones, with mechanical stuff in them," he quipped. Third, cheap sensors are here, here, here," he contined. With each sensor embedded in computing systems, the internet of things grows exponentially, giving models much more to interact with on projects. In Benham's view, that really matters with AR and VR tools because sensors increase how much an AR app can render.
Finally, keep an eye on quasi-secret projects with AR technology, such as Google's Genie project, details of which leaked about a year ago, and Google's Project Tango, which, the site says, is about incorporating 3D motion and depth sensing to applications.
According to the website: "Project Tango devices contain customized hardware and software designed to track the full 3D motion of the device, while simultaneously creating a map of the environment. These sensors allow the device to make over a quarter million 3D measurements every second, updating its position and orientation in real-time, combining that data into a single 3D model of the space around you."
Design Intent as a Declining Term
During a Q&A session with attendees, Turner's Heger noted that, as BIM adoption spreads, Design Intent is not a term that he hears as often as he once did. "And I think it's s indicative of what BIM is doing and transforming."
After all, prior to contractors' adoption of BIM, their job was to take a designer's 3D idea and use a 2D medium to create that 3D object. "There's a lot that gets lost in translation," he said. A Design Intent discussion between a designer and a contractor is usually a moment of deep distress. "It's a conversation that often leads to increases costs. With BIM, that term [Design Intent] goes away."
Trade Contractors, BIM Know-How and RFPs
During a panel discussion, one specialty contractor asked: What makes a trade contractor attractive? Many specialty firms do not have their own BIM departments. How do general contractors wade through this when selecting trade contractors?
Heger noted that he currently only takes RFP responses from trade contractors who work with BIM tools "because it's got to be fair."
Ricardo Khan, director of integrated construction for Mortensen Construction, said the firm gives a high priority to specialty contractors who can do fabrication work off of a BIM model because it gives the firm certainty about the coordinates of the work. "It's also about trust, teamwork and experience with that trade partner," he added.
Time Has Come
Mortensen's Khan noted that the firm has been working through the BIM puzzle of adoption for some 16 years, and is only now seeing a generational shift play out with BIM and collaboration tools across projects. Project managers that reluctantly worked with the tools years ago are now superintendents, while at the same time, he added, "we're starting to see a shift in the culture because institutions are training their students to come out into the workforce and be ready [for BIM]."
Added Heger: "Once you've done it and it works, you'll never go back."
Erin Joyce is managing editor of ENR and covers technology for the enterprise. Her Twitter handle is @erinjoyce. To read more Twitter coverage of the BIM Forum, check out the #BIMForumED hashtag.