BIM for principal contractors

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BIMproject is a brand new information management tool that uses BIM models to help manage and control procurement workflows all the way to construction.

In the AEC sector, taking a project from design through to construction is invariably a very fragmented process across many contracting companies. Even if a co-ordinated Building Information Modelling (BIM) model is used during design, once a project reaches the tendering and procurement stage, the BIM model is often discarded.

BIM-based processes may be used for estimating and project management, but principal contractors tend to rely on more traditional database and spreadsheet-driven workflows to track deliverables from suppliers through to the construction site.

BIMreview can utilise data from a variety of BIM authoring tools, including Autodesk Revit via a dedicated plug-in.

Managing the vast amount of information that flows between principal contractor and sub contractors in the tendering, procurement and delivery stages can cause a major headache.

“Traditionally there’s a lot of paperwork involved,” explains Paul Daynes, BIM solutions business manager, AceCad. “There’s often a breakdown in communicating design intent into construction deliverables, compounded by how to manage change, and how to procure things in an efficient way. Ultimately, it’s about managing deliverables from multiple contractors and suppliers, so everything comes together on site, on schedule, on budget and at a reduced risk.”

AceCad, as a company, is well qualified to comment on workflow inefficiencies on the path to construction. Its StruM.I.S product has been used for many years to manage the flow of information in the steel fabrication sector — from estimate tendering, through procurement, stock control and production and into construction.

Now, the Derby-based firm is looking to spread its wings and bring its knowledge to the wider AEC market.

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“We’ve looked at the AEC market and believe our platform technology is very appropriate to resolving some of the workflow issues and enabling BIM to be taken forward from the design cycle through the tendering and procurement cycles and into construction,” says Mr Daynes.

“There’s lots of estimating tools and project management tools but nothing that’s managing the whole process. So that everybody can take information that’s appropriate to their part of delivery in supply.”

Holistic thinking

AceCad takes a holistic approach to managing AEC projects, meaning design, purchasing, suppliers and construction teams all need to be linked in, with data and information shared throughout the entire process.

“[Our approach is to] consolidate the [BIM] design data, extract information that’s relevant, and break that down into the individual work packages that need to go out to the individual sub-contractors,” explains Mr Daynes.

“We then manage the costs and budgets relating to the tendering and procurement process. This involves sending out information, RFQ (request for quotations) or ITT (Invitation To Tender), receiving and managing that information back, including managing RFIs (Request For Information) from the suppliers. The purchasing process can then be progressed on a sound cost versus budget basis, all within the same environment.

“[This type of managed workflow] happens in the design cycle but, managing that in the procurement cycle, is not happening today — it’s more of a spreadsheets, pick up the phone type of process. I’m not trying to oversimplify it, but there’s a lot of that going on.

“As it goes through the procurement cycle we also offer the ability to track and schedule appropriately, as the delivery of those goods goes to the construction site.”

AceCad is supporting this end-to-end workflow through two initial new products, BIMProject and BIMReview.

BIMProject is designed to act as the data hub for an AEC project and is used to manage the supply chain from tendering through procurement to construction. Budgets can be monitored and tracked against initially projected costs, contract details and revisions managed.

“We have simplified the whole user interface and workflows,” says Mr Daynes. “Widgets and wizards enable the user, based on role, to be progressed through the steps as appropriate to where he wants to dive in and look at the data and process that data.

“Importantly, there is complete traceability,” he adds. “Contractors are able to track the content from their suppliers through to the construction site in real time, utilising the BIM model in this environment, which we feel is a first.”

The BIM model has a huge role to play throughout, providing a 3D context for the vast database of information that sits behind it. It can give visual feedback on the status of individual procurement objects, planning and tracking different phases all the way to site, rather than having to interpret entries in a database or spreadsheet.

RFQs and RFIs are handled and tracked directly by BIMProject’s document manager. The system can keep track of which requests are outstanding and every step of the workflow is logged, so there is a complete audit trail.

“The whole process of RFI is fully automated,” says Mr Daynes. “Once you’ve broken the packages down you can send them out in a controlled way to multiple suppliers. This information can then be fed back and judgments made on cost analysis – typically a Quantity Surveyor (QS) would do that to make a judgment as to who you will procure from.”

BIMproject can manage the progress of all types of objects through the procurement process and beyond.

BIMReview is an evolution of AceCad’s now defunct StruWalker application for project review and collaboration. It can bring in BIM data from a variety of sources and carry out clash verification, mark-up and enquiries with additional capabilities for 4D construction sequencing and planning. All the usual review tools are included such as measuring, annotation and display of model attributes in data grids. Walkthroughs, 4D construction sequences and general animations can be created. Models can also be sliced through with clipping planes or made translucent or hidden to help pinpoint specific areas for review.

BIMReview is tightly integrated and included within BIMProject. The same level of integration is also available in a standalone tool.

The software can bring in data from all the major BIM authoring tools and does so via IFC, STEP, CIS/2, or SDNF and other standards. However, the best support is provided via a direct one-to-one interface and AceCad offers dedicated plug-ins for Autodesk Revit (Architecture, Structure and MEP) and Tekla Structures — with Graphisoft ArchiCAD and Bentley MicroStation coming soon.

Of course the real value in BIM data comes from its rich information. BIMProject can utilise the catalogues of design data being made increasingly available by all the major manufacturers — from doors and cladding to light fittings and plumbing components — though availability of quality data is still patchy.

“In the design stage they can take objects down [from manufacturers’ website] and utilise them in the design process,” says Mr Daynes. “We want to fulfill that in terms of the manufacturing content specification and maintenance requirements and being able to take that through the procurement packages.”

The real power of BIMproject comes into play when there are late stage design changes. Edits made in the authoring BIM tool can be automatically updated inside BIMproject and the implications on cost and delivery managed and tracked in the system. Furthermore, the direct links that exist between the BIM authoring tools and BIMProject are bi-directional, so any status information can be brought back into the modelling environment for easy reference.

Construction and beyond

Though AceCad sees initial benefit in using BIMProject for controlling costs and budgets around the procurement cycles, arguably the biggest value for the software comes when moving beyond procurement into construction and on handover to the client for operations and maintenance.

Here, the structured collation of all post design documentation and detailed models can be used to help manage real-time status information throughout the supply chain.

Sharing this information between contractors can have a positive impact on timely delivery of materials to site. However, to truly embrace this collaborative workflow the industry will need to adapt the way contracts are formulated.

Complementary technologies, such as RFID tagging in association with GPS tracking, of which AceCad has extensive experience, can help provide complete visibility and traceability of materials.

“We see opportunities for the construction teams to also have a contract login to the BIMProject environment, so they can see what is coming to site and when it’s coming to site,” says Mr Daynes.

AceCad has some dedicated construction planning tools in the software, but by Mr Daynes’ own admission the depth is not quite there yet. “We want to improve that — but in a short space of time we feel we’re going to have that capability — to import the Primavera types of data or provide the same sort of capability that those systems do,” he says.

“Finally we are working to facilitate the data that goes into the facility management systems, such as Archibus, for example. Today this is largely a retrospective collection, post construction, of data and information. We see the information that we manage could be of significant benefit to operations. But that is for another day.”

Conclusion

When AceCad sold its StruCad business to Tekla at the beginning of the year, many wondered what the future had in store for the steel fabrication software specialist. Bringing its platform technology to the wider AEC market is certainly a bold move — not least because AceCad is relatively unknown outside of the steel industry — but with plans to work closely with the Revit reseller channel awareness will grow.

While BIMProject is a new product, the underlying technology has been tried and tested in the steel fabrication for many years. The procurement objects may be different, but the established workflows remain the same.

Using a BIM model as the front end to what is essentially a highly capable document management system makes perfect sense, and being able to track the progress of a project from procurement all the way to construction is a powerful idea.

Software development for BIM first concentrated on the design stage but in recent years there has been a big growth in BIM tools for construction with many of the leading BIM software developers looking to grow in this area.

While there are tools that touch parts of the tender to construction workflow, BIMProject is the only tool we can think of that looks to connect everything up to a single BIM model. It is certainly an exciting development.

acecadsoftware.com

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