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Georgia Institute of Technology’s new capital improvements project at its main campus in Midtown Atlanta represents yet another example of technological disruption in the commercial construction sector, an industry that has been historically slow to adopt innovation. 

To avoid costly design errors and scheduling delays, Georgia Tech has mandated its project team to use a 5D Business Information Modeling strategy for the design and construction of an expansion of the school’s student center, an office building, parking deck and for all future capital improvement projects on the school’s 60-acre campus. Recognized for its innovation in the design and construction industry, the fact that Georgia Tech made 5D a prerequisite further establishes its reputation as a pioneer in technological advances.

Georgia Tech’s $100 million-plus Campus Center project, scheduled for completion in late 2022, signifies how 5D BIM is increasingly used for large commercial projects. The 5D BIM process goes beyond the conventional building design of two- and three-dimensional designs with the added dimensions of time (4D) and cost (5D).

The Georgia Tech building project, which is believed to be one of the first higher-education institution projects to require 5D in its delivery method, is expected to significantly drive further development of 5D workflows because of the project’s unique design and construction.

This project is best-suited for a 5D approach because of its design complexity. Its multi-faceted program elements, such as the planned campus center, which will house meeting rooms, kitchen and dining areas, and office and recreational space, require a process like 5D because it enables changes to be made easily and quickly without incurring substantial cost overruns and scheduling delays. The design is constantly being monitored from a cost and schedule impact starting at the programming stage of design, which means the thought process surrounding design and construction delivery had to change. Implementing 5D is not just about the use of proper technology; there is also a massive cultural shift required to allow the 5D process to thrive.

John Barnes, a principal at BDR Partners, a consultant on the project, acknowledged that the project is an ideal platform for the application of 5D process. “The Georgia Tech project is pushing the industry to enhance the capabilities of 5D tools so they can be applied to more complex projects in the future.”

The school’s 5D strategy is based on a process in which the owner, architect, engineer, contractor, project manager and other team members develop a model and virtually build a project before a shovel hits the ground. This process uses industry-leading software for BIM, digital rendering, cost estimationand project scheduling management.

A 5D strategy will appreciably raise the level of productivity and quality of a project, while avoiding unforeseen cost overruns that plagued large-scale building projects in the past. That often occurs when a project team creates designs for a building or buildings, only to discover later that the project is over budget. The goal is to remove the despised “value engineering” process, where certain design elements then must be removed to reduce costs after design is complete, which can be detrimental to the overall project. 

Another critical component of implementing a successful 5D strategy is that it needs to be an integrated process. This requires the project team to work under one roof, allowing for regular collaboration and communication with each other during the earliest stages of planning and design. This is absolutely essential for early detection and correction of design errors and keeps scheduling on track.

BIM strategies have been gaining momentum among AEC companies in recent years. According to a Zion Market Research report, the global BIM market was valued at $3.52 billion in 2016 and is expected to reach $10.3 billion by 2022, growing nearly 20 percent at a compound annual growth rate over the next five years. 

But many firms are still clinging to antiquated and costly practices. According to a report from consulting firm McKinsey on the construction industry, cost and scheduling overruns are common in this sector, with most large projects taking 20 percent longer to finish and ending up to 80 percent over budget. This is not an entirely surprising statistic for an industry that is said to be the second-least digitized of all industries. 

The report also stated that “project planning remains uncoordinated between the office and the field and is often done on paper, contracts do not include incentives for risk-sharing and innovation, performance management is inadequate and supply chain practices are still unsophisticated.” 

While technology plays a big role in implementing a 5D strategy, that alone will not ensure its success. Developing the right kind of culture and the appropriate process must take precedence over technology when creating a 5D framework for a project. Software and other technology tools are virtually worthless if team members fail to work together, don’t use the same language in communicating with each other or ignore a process mapped out for the 5D strategy.

It’s also important for owners of building projects to be highly supportive of the team and its work on the project every step along the way. This will build their confidence in the strategy and a greater desire to meet the project’s goals.

Owners must also do their homework in selecting a firm or firms when using a 5D strategy for building projects. While many firms claim they use this tool, it would be prudent for owners to learn which firms have just begun to apply 5D to projects and those that have been doing it for a while. 

Utilizing 5D and a highly integrated team approach from early design to building delivery will enable Georgia Tech to reduce costs and maximize efficiency for its current and future construction projects. Although 5D is still considered an emerging technology and process, Georgia Tech and this project serve as a powerful testament that 5D has a bright future ahead as a disruptive force in commercial construction.

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