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Modern networking tools have changed the way managers approach construction projects. Online project management and communication tools make it easier to ensure everyone involved in a project—from architects and engineers to contractors and project owners—is on the same page.

BIM is one tool that ensures everyone is working from a consistent source of information. It provides an intelligent, 3-D model based process that delivers insight for creating and managing projects faster, more economically and with less environmental impact. In addition to improving workflow, BIM techniques reduce the likelihood of error and faulty planning, especially as the number of stakeholders and complexity start to increase.

For example, if the team responsible for plumbing is unaware of planned structural beams or electrical components as they map out piping routes, there is a high likelihood these designs will clash at some point during the construction process. A BIM engineer, responsible for overseeing the project and communicating with multiple teams, helps ensure this does not happen. Identifying these conflicts long before construction even begins helps mitigate project risk, dramatically reduces materials waste and diminishes the likelihood of costly delays associated with potential rework.

However, even with the most modern communication and BIM tools, it is still possible for troublesome situations to arise. For one, redundant computer files or multiple versions can easily exist when disparate systems and software packages do not communicate properly with one another.

Developing Synergies and Identifying Tools Across the Project Lifespan
Before implementing new solutions, it is important to understand and discuss who is involved and what information actually needs to be shared. The goal should always be to define a unified process that eliminates the potential for errors, ensures the project continues moving forward as quickly and safely as possible, and uses resources—both human and financial—most effectively.

A typical project involves many different team members, including mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) engineers. Each of these engineer teams is typically responsible for a variety of tasks. The following steps can be used to keep everyone on task and better ensure project coordination.
  • Design. The design phase is where MEP engineers set the stage for the entire project. Project planning, estimations (time, resources and budget), team coordination and even some prefabrication begin at this stage. Today, these engineers use a wide range of tools to collect and share data that needs to synergize with the data and plans developed by everyone else on the project. Software packages such as AutoCAD®, Revit, BIM 360 Glue™ and others make it easy for this synergy to take place while also helping generate the files and programs needed throughout the life of the project.
  • Detail. During the detail phase, everything is brought together and the manufacturing actually begins. This is typically where a shared database of plans and software programs are integrated.
  • Fabricate. This is the stage where the design comes to life. MEP engineers and construction managers in the field—or in a plant environment—construct the individual components and infrastructure needed to move on to installation.
  • Install. It is often during the installation stage that poorly planned projects first encounter physical clashes among elements such as electrical wiring and infrastructure or plumbing routes. Software solutions can prevent some of that, but only if managed properly. All of the coordinated design is accessible in the field via a tablet. More importantly, field personnel can update the project with real-time information, such as photos, markups, forms and potential issues.
  • Handover. The project cycle concludes when the handover is made and the construction project comes to fruition. What was a lengthy and tedious process of compiling information at the end of a project is now done in a simple export. 
Identifying Pitfalls and Potential Issues Before Project Ignition
Technology has changed how engineers coordinate projects. However, significant pitfalls can still halt fabrication or installation, and cost projects huge amounts of money and lost time.

Many design and fabrication programs today are considered staples of the industry, and they are definitely worth the investment. However, most use a “cost-per-seat” business model, meaning companies have to buy the software for every employee using it.
This model means that most companies restrict access to these programs to a small group of engineers and BIM managers at each point in the project life cycle. Site workers and other engineers who would benefit from easy access to information are often left with second-hand diagrams and data, increasing the likelihood of clashes and project delays. Additionally, accessing these programs requires extensive training and support, further limiting who can use information at each level.

Because multiple copies of these programs are used throughout the project, they rely on access to the most up-to-date version of a plan or data file. The use of traditional desktop-based applications might mean one user has a set of information that may be completely different from that of another user. If a user is accessing an old or inaccurate copy, clashes are not only possible, but also very likely.

However, cloud-based applications allow everyone to access and work from the same set of data.

These cloud-based offerings have revolutionized the way construction projects are managed; yet, they are only as effective as the implementation of the solution.

Getting Everyone on the Same Page
BIM management is adapting to new advances in mobile and networking technologies in ways that directly benefit the construction industry. Tools such as AutoCAD and BIM360 no longer require companies and engineers to buy software copies for every member of their team—or pay for the expensive training needed to use the software.

By moving the software to the cloud—a secure Internet location that can be accessed and altered from anywhere in the world BIM managers can implement a system that gives everyone instant access to the most recent version of a data file or plan. This helps improve every step of the process. Technicians mapping areas of a plant or site with a 3-D scanner during design can instantly upload virtual representations to a central location, which can then mesh directly with other scans, diagrams and projections from other engineers, thus simplifying the detailing process and moving the project to fabrication and assembly faster and with less chance of error.

By moving BIM software and processes to a central online resource, construction managers are making significant advances in the ways they are doing business.

Zack Brust is director of field technologies in Applied Software’s Construction Technology Group. For more information, email zbrust@asti.com or visit asti.com.

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