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When a hospital owner in Chicago demanded that designers and builders on its roughly $1-billion project use building-information modeling (BIM), few of the firms involved doubted that the digital technology would help save costs and speed delivery.

And so BIM has, according to sources I spoke with in this week’s story I wrote about the hospital. The 1.25-million-sq-ft building, which broke ground last year, is already more than 50% complete.

As I mention in the story, engineers modeled an incredible amount of detail, producing more than 50 primary models that include things at least one inch in diameter or larger—in addition to mechanical hangers such as steel struts and threaded rods.

Engineers also are going one step further to try to measure the value of BIM in the virtual world versus real-world construction.

Using laser scanners, construction managers are looking at what was built and superimposing it over their BIMs, as in the above photo, which represents mechanical systems on the hospital’s third floor. The images in color are the BIM, and the little white dots are what the laser “sees” in reality.

Why go to all this trouble? For one, builders would like to put a value on tools like BIM. Also, they are eager to know why discrepancies still show up in the field.

“This sort of analysis is essentially R&D,” says Peter Rumpf, senior integrated construction coordinator for Mortenson Construction. “That’s analysis we are doing to benefit ourselves as builders.”

Another factor is simply the maturity of the technology. Several years ago, firms were quick to talk up the value of BIM, integrated project delivery (IPD) and other familiar industry acronyms. Now that engineers have gained more experience with these tools, experts are raising questions over the true value of the integrated jobsite.

Clearly, the industry still has a long way to go before it is truly integrated, but the discussions that are emerging from the integration debate show just how far it has come.

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