The evolution of work and performance in every industry is tightly related to technology and its application. Centralization (when the skills are needed in one location for finishing the products), decentralization (when the technology allows parts and products to be produced away from the point of installation), and recentralization (when communication between decentralized production locations needs to become stronger and data-driven to reduce interface, tolerance, and quality issues) are phases that industries go through for scalability and mass production. Humans, technology, and data all play a role in the transition through each stage.
In construction’s current state, technology can play a key role of enabling decentralization — resequencing the operations by modeling and optimizing the work, effort, and time for the minimum amount of rework and waste.
This article provides examples of how technologies such as building information modeling (BIM) can be used effectively when the work, effort, and time requirements of the project are managed between decentralized teams (BIM, prefabrication, material suppliers) and the onsite project team as well as models and examples of how you can use Integrated Project Scheduling™ to manage this synchronization.
Challenges With BIM
The more work that is done away from the jobsite, the stronger the need to manage information, ultimately replacing human exchanges that no longer happen at the point of installation. Prefabrication allows more work to happen in parallel, replacing the traditional sequential approach to construction. But increasing the volume of prefabrication requires a strong process and DCI Construction® — and the recently published NEIS 5-20221 (construction’s first standard for prefabrication written by MCA, Inc.) was developed to address this need. The same is true with BIM — the more layout, measurement, and coordination that happens on a job, the more important that information becomes to incorporate BIM’s role in project planning, scheduling, and tracking.
BIM is often done by modelers who are not physically on the jobsite. They may be experts in the modeling techniques and software tools but lack the experience and knowledge of integration risk2 in the field. Keeping them in-sync with the ongoing, ever-changing field conditions and needs is a challenge.
It is also tough for the field to stay current on what is being modeled, when, and to what level of quality as well as deal with all the changes that will impact the modeling efforts.
Although BIM may be a project requirement, the cost to model and coordinate should be seen as a means of Externalizing Work® from what would typically be done in the field; otherwise, BIM is an extra burden to the job, which can cost even more when not done well or correctly (in sync with the field).
BIM Starts With B
Three-dimensional modeling in construction is nothing new; over the past couple of decades, software has helped with digital models that carry more information and allow for more virtual collaboration to speed up the process.
With these advancements in technology, it is important to recognize what is being modeled — the building. The model includes the physical elements that are going to be installed, with coordination theoretically done in the model rather than onsite such that the installed items end up “clash free.” However, a model with zero physical clashes can still result in a costly, late, and poor-quality product onsite.
Exhibit 1 is an example of a project that required BIM from the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing trades. The electricians were spending unplanned time notching out the cable tray “to match the model,” which ultimately led to a sprinkler main running directly through the electrical cable tray. The sprinkler installer didn’t have an issue, but electrical productivity suffered, as work took extra time and caused delays on the project schedule.
Simply stated, building is not just a noun; it’s also a verb. Both what is built and how it is built needs to be considered within the model. The work, effort, and time are all part of project risk (or reward) and must be incorporated.
With the fourth step of Industrialization as Modeling and Simulation,3 modeling as translated into construction by Dr. Perry Daneshgari is described well beyond the product itself.
For example, future Modeling and Simulation in construction would help drive informed decisions (with data) in response to the following questions:
- What are the optimal elements to assemble off-site?
- What materials should show up when and where to minimize manipulations by field installers?
- What is the optimal crew workflow in each space and time to maximize productivity?
This level of modeling and simulation requires early and structured involvement of the modelers in the project planning, scheduling, and tracking processes. In other words, synchronous modeling requires the on-site and off-site steps involved with modeling to happen in lockstep, which requires strict adherence to a process rather than constant back and forth via phone calls, emails, texts, etc. It requires using information that can manage that process (such as DCI Construction®) rather than ad hoc or spreadsheet-based tracking, etc.
The following are some steps that can be taken to make this happen:
- Include designers from BIM in your project startup meetings.
- Review the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)4 with the BIM team so they can understand the project team’s plan.
- Have BIM develop their own WBS for the approach to modeling on the project.
- Involve BIM in any means of information management of work, effort, and time (more examples to come).
Another difference between current- state BIM in construction and step 4 of Industrialization is the reason for modeling. The following are purposes for modeling, as translated from outside of construction by Dr. Perry.
Note that all of these are aimed at using modeling technology to provide a visible and common understanding to enable decentralization of work.
- Customer requirement
- Design: for assembly, production, and installation
- Quantification and specification
- Packaging and logistics
- Data-driven decision-making
In construction, BIM is often done to satisfy a customer requirement or provide a design to support assembly, production, and/or installation. In this case, the model is used to replace field work (layout and measurements) and decisions (what to prefabricate and coordination with other trades). These types of models are rigid, derived from the specifications, and conforming to the time required for installation. There is little to no consideration for optimizing the overall work, effort, and time for BIM, prefabrication, vendors, and the installation team. In other words, as long as the parts and pieces fit together, the model is used like a blueprint as a reference for installation and, in some cases, prefabrication.
Beyond satisfying customer requirements, how modeling was used in the Toyota Production System was translated to construction by Dr. Perry.5 With this approach, a project or company would choose from predefined WBS-driven assembly and logistics packages. The model would then be used to inform decisions about who should do what, when, and where to optimize the work, effort, and time both on-site and off-site, enabling decentralization.
And, what goes in the model is not just decided by the building/component fit; it is decided based on risk and cost of poor quality in terms of either error or failure by using known designs and common assemblies. Continued use of the model allows learning and testing to optimize what happens in the field, as opposed to replacing what happens in the field with a program and modelers.
Synchronous Modeling Through Integrated Project Scheduling™
Connecting work, effort, and time in some form of a project model is not an industry norm for on-site/installation work, let alone BIM. The GC creates a project schedule that focuses on time without much consideration of the trade contractor’s workforce or productivity. On the other hand, the trades focus on their work and may have a plan for the effort but never link that to the time in the schedule in which the work is to be performed.