Sutter Health’s Digby Christian is dead serious about delivering the $320-million replacement for Sutter Medical Center Castro Valley on time and on budget in 2013. But he also is not kidding, and sees no contradiction, when he refers to the 223,500-sq-ft job as a living laboratory. In its most ambitious experiment yet, Sutter is going beyond building information modeling’s low hanging fruit—clash detection—and exploring BIM-based estimating, automated code checking and direct digital-model exchange for detailing, coordination, automated fabrication and scheduling. The nonprofit hospital owner wants to prove it is possible to reduce waste and risk while delivering a better facility, 30% faster.

Leading-Edge Collaboration Hurt ByLots of Software Workarounds
Image: Sutter Healthcare
To avoid domino effect, team resisted modeling until the owner set the clinical program.
Image: Sutter Healthcare
To avoid domino effect, team resisted modeling until the owner set the clinical program.

Sutter thinks this unprecedented journey to the center of VDC is only possible through the use of lean construction principles, collaborative virtual design and construction and extreme integrated project delivery (IPD), under a whopping 10-party contract. There is no field guide for this so Sutter and its Castro Valley, Calif., hospital team are writing one, documenting every plan and replan, every step and misstep. “No one has done this to this extreme before so, rather than following a complete road map, we are creating one for others,” says Christian, senior project manager for the Sacramento-based health-care system.

The job is organized so that Sutter’s 10 partners work on a cost-plus-fee basis. They only make a profit if the 130-bed facility’s actual cost is less than its target cost.

IPD, under which partners sink or swim together, creates team jitters. Christian describes this as healthy “creative tension.” Partners on the design side include Devenney Group Ltd. Architects, Phoenix; structural engineer TMAD Taylor & Gaines, Pasadena, Calif.; mechanical firm Capital Engineering Consultants Inc., Sacramento; and electrical firm The Engineering Enterprise, Alameda, Calif. For contractors, partners are the Redwood City, Calif., office of general contractor DPR Construction Inc.; the San Francisco office of Superior Air Handling Co.; plumber J.W. McClenahan Co., San Mateo, Calif.; electrician Morrow-Meadows Corp., Industry City, Calif.; and Transbay Fire Protection Inc., Pleasanton, Calif.

That’s nine of 10. Christian decided to add one more. In a first, he invited the project’s lean and VDC integrator, Ghafari Associates, Dearborn, Mich., to sign on, to afford it more authority.

Collaboration is not limited to the signatories. Other trade contractors and consultants were still involved early in design, paid for their time by Sutter. “You don’t necessarily need to take responsibility for other people’s mistakes” to work collaboratively, says Robert Hazleton, vice president of steel contractor Herrick Corp., Stockton, Calif.

The job, which started in summer 2007, is in its VDC and 2D-drawing permitting stage, yet the team has already developed tips for other collaborative efforts: It is imperative to redesign the design process, they say. For this project, that took nearly six months of biweekly, three-day meetings of the team’s heavy hitters in Castro Valley. In a low-tech beginning to a high-tech job, as many as 30 people placed and replaced dozens of sticky notes on the wall for hours on end, mapping out the workflow based on what was best for the project, not the particular discipline.

Team members must learn to be completely comfortable sharing incomplete information early in the process, says Christian. Different disciplines need to talk to each other directly and, even though the clock is ticking, people have to resist the urge to design and especially to model until the last possible moment. That’s because in modeling, a minor change cascades through many systems, causing major upheaval. “It’s a frustrating time,” but worth it, says James Mobley, Devenney’s principal.

For any facility, but especially a hospital, modeling in earnest should not begin until the owner nails down the program, says Christian. After that point, changes will likely result in more cost, he adds.

Lack of 3D models’ interoperability reduces the efficiencies of collaborative, integrated project delivery.

During the project, all team members need to have immediate, controlled and continuous access to all project information, says Samir Emdanat, Ghafari’s VDC director. The team is currently using ProjectWise from Bentley Systems, which is a distributed client-server document-control system. Currently there are over 14,000 files and over 21 GB of accessible data distributed.

During the redesign phase, much thought was given to model creation and maintenance strategies so other discipline details could be added for coordination, says Emdanat. Still, there have been various compromises because of software limitations. Many mainstream BIM systems, including Revit—which is used by the architect and structural engineer—are not designed to support the level of detail required to implement BIM workflows that will allow seamless transition from design to detailing to fabrication. “If digitally aligned with the architect, I can’t be as digitally aligned with my contractor,” says Bryan Johnson, Capital’s principal.

Generally, a decision was made for each subteam to use the best 3D package for its discipline and coordinate models in Navisworks. That means updates are done manually, which is not efficient.

The mechanical-plumbing team is still exploring workarounds so the architectural team, which is designing in Revit, can see MP models, which are AutoCAD-based. The MP models are so large, they bring the Revit model to its knees, say sources.

The MP team set a goal to design, detail, estimate, coordinate and fabricate systems using the 3D model, with as little use of 2D drawings as possible. Though the MP software from TSI is compatible with the TSI software the trade partner uses for detailing and to drive its cutting equipment, Sutter still had to send a team to TSI in Austin to work out interoperability glitches. “Software vendors have a number of different packages that are theoretically seamlessly integrable,” says James Pitre-Williams, Superior’s project manager. “We’re the first test case for using the software as billed.”

The team collaborated with TSI’s technical team to align the setups, software libraries and configuration options so the design models could be directly imported and edited by detailers and converted back to simplified design models. After coordination, the design team incorporates the models into final drawings without having to recreate anything.

The MP team has not yet achieved direct model-based estimating. The problem is partly a cultural shift along with limitations in the technology, says Emdanat. Despite successes in pulling architectural and structural quantities from the model, the estimating team performs manual takeoffs to validate model-based quantities. “TSI lets you go straight to estimating but it wasn’t around when we established our estimating program,” says Clint Blomberg, McClenahan’s project manager-estimator. “We weren’t going to invest in TSI for one project,” he adds.

Herrick also grapples with software. Transfers from Tekla detailing software to Revit come through with 100% integrity but not vice versa, says Hazleton. Grids transfer but columns will change orientation by 90°. “I hear a lot of our competitors say ‘we download directly from Revit,’ and it makes me cringe” he says.

Herrick’s workaround is to support Revit so it can begin detailing using the structural engineer’s Revit model. “It’s easier than keeping parallel models for estimating, designing and materials selection,” says Hazleton. Herrick also is working through connection detailing in 2D in Revit because Revit does not have the capability of 3D connection detailing, he says.

Herrick did use Tekla for the braced frame’s gussets, which often get in the way of ductwork and piping. That means there are two structural models.

“We look at them in Navisworks,” says Hazleton. “It’s a lot of trouble,” because all revisions are made manually, he says. When the big changes are out of the way, Herrick will abandon Revit and complete the Tekla model.

The project is tracking at about 86% of the original overall preconstruction budget, says Emdanat. Sutter expects to pull major building permits in late June, after it gets regulatory approval.

Kristina Martin, Engineering Enterprise’s principal, calls IPD “an interesting process and in theory, a good idea.” But she cautions that the outcome of Sutter’s grand, 10-party experiment remains unknown until the project is complete.