Can 3D Design Finally Deliver Cost Certainty to Construction?

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The construction industry has long been imperiled by what is known as the unique snowflake conundrum. Every building is different both designers and construction professionals say.

Buildings = data

Early in design, data represents steel, copper and other building components.

You can’t apply the process efficiencies used in industries such as shipbuilding or factory aircraft production because the workers and robots building those machines, while at a similar scale, are repeating processes over and over and every building project is different. This has allowed waste and process inefficiency to flourish in what construction attorney Barry B. LePatner calls America’s sole remaining “mom and pop” industry—although it is still an industry that consumes $1.23 trillion and wastes at least $120 billion each year.

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Yet at the BIM Forum I attended last week, real hope of organizing, datafying and professionalizing the American construction industry seemed not only possible, but was already being performed at high level on gigantic projects with both building owners and construction companies saving tens of millions in cost overruns thanks to innovative use of data. BIM is Building Information Modeling, the process of creating a 3D, parametric model of a construction project before the construction team even breaks the ground. It requires architects, engineers and construction professionals to work more closely together earlier in the process, but as adoption has eclipsed 65% in the US the process efficiencies are obvious.

Tyler Goss, director of construction and manufacturing services at Case explained how his consultancy is measuring performance of processes instead of just delivery and creating quantifiable measurements that can be applied to all jobs. One example of this was using a software bug-tracking system to track two key variables in a coordination project for Turner Construction. Another was using a node-based programming language to build a search algorithm so every line of building geometry created in the model is searchable and, with 55,000 assemblies, can still be fit into the bigger picture of the building.

What Does This Have To Do With Metals?
Having this level of detail available to procurement professionals means cost certainty that was considered impossible as recently as 10 years ago. It means being able to order structural steel earlier, beat price increases with the knowledge that your estimators know exactly how much raw materials will be necessary to finish the project. Less waste and less rework equal better projects through data. The possibilities for the industry are endless.


Comments (2)

  1. Steve Schultz says:

    “Professionalizing the American construction industry”!

    So, amateurs have created the built environment, so far? And they did it for fun, never becoming professionals, like doctors and lawyers?

    I think I know what you mean to say – but can’t help objecting!

    1. Jeff Yoders says:

      Hey Steve,

      I understand your objection and they are and have been, of course, professionals for a very long time, but what’s hindered ALL of the AEC industries over most of the last fifty years is the general smallness of all three industries and narrow scopes of work for each. Collaboration and working together toward shared goals, rather than working in silos toward individual goals, is the real promise of BIM. It’s better work and delivery methods that are being “professionalized,” not the people, themselves.


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