For anyone involved in the design and construction industry, it’s unlikely a day goes by without at least hearing a mention of Building Information Modeling (BIM). This project delivery tool has promised increased team collaboration, improved schedules, cost reliability, and a reduction in field rework. However, because it’s still a relatively new methodology, many owners and even some professional services providers neither understand how it works nor comprehend the benefits of incorporating BIM into the project delivery process. In fact, while everyone is talking about it, those who are truly proficient in it are scarce in all disciplines.

Piedmont Newnan Hospital was one such owner with limited familiarity with BIM. As preliminary planning began on Piedmont’s 136-bed, 350,000-square-foot facility, project manager KLMK Group introduced the idea of BIM as a cutting-edge technology that could assist the hospital in making better decisions earlier in the process. Specifically, the goals for utilizing BIM on the development of the new facility were to:

  • Help Piedmont make decisions during the design process through 3-D visualization of specific components in the facility, such as the building exterior and patient rooms;

  • Expedite the project schedule while controlling costs; and

  • Provide the hospital with a 3-D close-out document.

Assembling the team

While 3-D modeling techniques can be initiated at any stage of the project, Piedmont understood that they could fully maximize the benefits of BIM only if they made the decision to do so early. Once the decision was made to move forward using BIM, the hospital incorporated specific criteria into its selection process of the design and construction teams to make sure that the major players on the project team were experienced and comfortable with BIM implementation.

“Integrating BIM into the process was not meant to replace the traditional quality control process used by the project delivery team,” said Michael Bass, CEO at Piedmont Newnan Hospital. “Rather, it was meant to enhance the ability to visualize the design and detect interference between discipline components. Therefore, we needed a forward-thinking team that could collaborate with compatible technology.”

Through the selection process, it became evident that along with BIM’s advantages also came concerns. For instance:

  • A considerable amount of time is spent up front to develop early models. In some cases, the design team moves faster than the owner’s ability to make decisions.

  • For complicated facilities like hospitals, sharing files across disciplines is challenging and managing such complex files is difficult.

  • The more information that is put into the file, the more time-consuming it becomes to make changes. This can adversely affect the schedule.

With these facts in mind, the team analyzed all major building elements to determine which were most beneficial to model and which were better suited for conventional construction documents. Architectural, as well as major structural and MEP components would be modeled in BIM. Underground utilities, secondary and tertiary structural framing, reinforced steel, embedded items, connection angles, bolts, etc., would not be included

The benefits of utilizing BIM

No one can argue the obvious advantage to seeing a “picture” that illustrates facility details as they present in reality. It allows hospital executives and user groups to more accurately visualize the facility before it’s actually constructed. But the visualization aspect really only scratches the surface of BIM’s true intent. BIM is literally transforming project delivery.

For instance, when it comes to designing Piedmont’s structural system, the BIM-based approach being utilized employs a consistent digital representation that is used to directly generate the required drawings. So, the model and the drawings are linked, saving tremendous time and effort that would normally be spent changing the model to accurately reflect the drawings. This also improves accuracy across the board, as specific details such as quantities can be captured from the database rather than using the drawings.

Another significant benefit to using BIM is clash detection. Because the architectural, structural, and mechanical components are all included in the model, interferences with components such as structural steel and plumbing can be detected during design, when change and improvement can be made cost effectively. Traditionally, issues like this weren’t discovered until the facility was under construction, which would require costly requests for information and change orders.

Finally, BIM has the potential to improve the long-term management and operations processes of the facility long after the project delivery team is gone. Information such as valve locations, sizes, manufacturer information, warranty notices, and even service history can all be captured in the facility database used to create the model.

Benefits realized at Piedmont

Beyond the “what if” savings that BIM boasts, several benefits have already been realized at Piedmont, some as soon as a few weeks into conceptual modeling and site planning. Piedmont executives have been able to visualize the various elements of the project, which has allowed for better scope definition and eliminated the potential for undue costs later. For example, utilization of BIM has also allowed the nursing staff to have a “first view” of patient rooms and make adjustments prior to detailed design development. Although evidence-based design encourages outboard bathrooms, the Piedmont staff actually preferred the inboard option based on what they saw in the initial model. They were able to change their minds without it costing significant design hours and potentially thousands of dollars had this understanding occurred during construction.

The 3-D model for Piedmont has also given the team very specific quantities of materials for pricing the building exterior; this has assisted in the zoning application process. By sharing this information with the contractor early in the process, the team has detail at the conceptual stage that a project would not expect to see until the schematic level two months later. This has greatly aided in achieving the early milestones and in ensuring that the pricing estimates are much more accurate at this early stage of the project.

These are just a few instances illustrating the significant impact BIM can have on any given project, even at the conceptual planning and schematic design phase. Only time will tell just how effective BIM will be for the design and construction of Piedmont Newman Hospital, but based on experiences to date, all indications point to a positive outcome.

Is BIM hip or hype?

BIM is not a solution to a problem, but rather an effective tool in the hands of a collaborative project delivery team. It cannot prevent all unforeseen issues that arise during construction, nor can it replace the role of design professionals. As with any new technology, there’s still a long way to go. Results from a recent survey conducted by AECbytes indicate that at present, the need for drawing production is still the top concern for current BIM users. Other highly rated criteria include enhanced modeling capabilities with smart objects, the ready availability of object libraries so that effort is not wasted in recreating standard building components, support for distributed work processes, and the ability to efficiently work on large projects.

BIM experts caution design teams about implementing BIM for all components of a facility. Structural and architectural systems are easily modeled and updated, while detailed MEP systems are not as easily altered. The decision of how much of the building to model for clash detection should be carefully weighed against the associated risk of time required to make user-generated changes as the building model progresses.

BIM is most effective when the entire project delivery team agrees on its use; when it is incorporated as early as possible in the process; and when it’s used on the most critical components of the project. Then it can really live up to the hype. HD

Steve Higgs is Principal Consultant with KLMK Group, LLC, Atlanta. Contact him via e-mail at David Stokes is Senior Consultant with KLMK Group, Richmond, Virginia. Contact him via e-mail

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