November 16, 2006

Build a better building with 3-D modeling

  • Error-detection program shaved hundreds of hours off Swedish Medical Center project



    NBBJ is one of several early adopters of building information modeling, and for the past decade has been implementing BIM in projects throughout the firm.

    NBBJ has used BIM in several health care projects at various stages of design and construction. The firm’s most recent BIM project, the Swedish Orthopedic Institute, used BIM from the early stages of design and is the firm’s most integrated example to date.

    An expansion on a 15-year-old concept called “object-based design,” BIM uses 3-D modeling to build intelligence into the visual products that communicate design ideas and guide construction.

    BIM is a new approach to building delivery that integrates design, construction and the owner’s enterprise operations in a collaborative framework, as opposed to traditional delivery methods that create contention.

    The result is improved quality, safety and operations, and reduction in errors, cost and time of project delivery. Most important, it offers a shift away from the traditional error-tracking approach to an approach focused on value-added design.

    Image courtesy of NBBJ
    The project team used building information modeling to shape the Swedish Orthopedic Institute, starting early in the design process. The seven-story building is slated for Broadway and Cherry Street on First Hill.

    In the health care market, BIM is especially relevant because health care environments are some of the most complex on Earth.

    Such projects require more time for design and construction than most other building types, and involve collaboration with multiple stakeholders (including doctors, nurses, technicians, administration and facilities management). The market is an essential service dealing with life-and-death issues and situations.

    Three-dimensional modeling versus traditional 2-D drawings has sparked several debates over the past 10 years about the future of the design-build industry and where BIM will find its place.

    Recently, discussions have expanded as pilot projects have been implemented, and other firms have adopted BIM on real-world projects. While debates over BIM will continue, Swedish is one real-world example that is starting to see results and is shaping the direction of BIM in this industry.

    Encouraging cooperation

    One of the biggest challenges with BIM is sharing and coordinating information across disciplines. For BIM to be most effective, everyone from the architect, owner, general contractor and consultants have to be on board understanding how the process works.

    NBBJ addressed this hurdle by challenging project engineers on the Swedish project to learn and incorporate 3-D modeling into their process. This allowed for early identification of conflicts in order to error-proof the design. Although it is hard to attain zero defects, that is one of the main intended goals of BIM.

    Investment into an integrated team process involved a learning curve for the consultants and the design team, but the long-term time savings are expected to greatly outweigh the short-term time commitment.

    The collaborative process of model integration began in early design, allowing the team to coordinate, review and design in real time. The general contractor and subcontractor have blended into the process as well, and have hosted several of the integrated team BIM sessions.

    Early cooperation between disciplines created a much stronger team that worked together more efficiently from the beginning stages. This is much different from traditional projects where the teams are disintegrated and can be adversarial.

    Detecting errors

    Combined 3-D modeling from the consultants and architect allows a collision-detection program to be run often and quickly, easily detecting errors and miscalculations within the model. By virtually pre-building the project, the Swedish team was able to spot conflicts in the model and resolve them quickly throughout design. This early digital coordination has saved hundreds of hours of time that would have otherwise been spent backtracking to solve problems discovered later in the field during construction.

    Sharing models allows for a more efficient design process. For example, having a structural steel model provided by the structural engineer allowed the design team as well as the contractor to reduce the amount of time spent reworking the structural design — typically done in an iterative and independent way — by using real-time integrated 3-D visualization of all building systems.

    With model integration and collision detection in place prior to construction, the team was able to take the time spent tracking errors and refocus on adding value to the project through quality assurance.

    Managing change

    Three-dimensional modeling provides long-term benefits after design and construction has been completed.

    BIM has allowed the doctors, nurses, administration and facility managers at Swedish to view the building three dimensionally and take virtual walk-throughs as it is being designed. This experience has given them a better understanding of what they are getting and will make their transition easier when they move into the new building.

    When the project is completed, the team will pass along a copy of the 3-D model to the client to use as a living record of the building for operations and maintenance throughout its lifecycle.

    After they have moved in, the facilities manager can reference the 3-D model to help resolve any unforeseen building issues. The client will also be able to use the model for staff training and orientation, fundraising and promotional activities.

    To date, NBBJ has found BIM to be a value-added approach for all parties in the design and construction process.

    It requires commitment and active involvement through the process by the owner, architect and builder. NBBJ will continue to use BIM on future projects and is integrating this method before schematic design on current health care projects.

    There is still much discussion to be had over the effective use of BIM, but there is also great opportunity to shape this debate and play a hand in defining the role of BIM in the future of the design-build industry.

    Richard Dallam is partner-in-charge of NBBJ’s health care practice. Todd Buchanan is a designer with NBBJ and the BIM lead for the Swedish Orthopedic Institute project.

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