Virtual Construction

It’s often tough to get the right people on the MEP project team when it comes to BIM. We’re all used to the typical Engineer, Designer, Drafter lineup but teams often neglect to consider design technology expertise.

It’s generally expected that drafters are the ones with modeling experience. They already know CAD… now teach them BIM and we’re good to go. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy. It’s critical that members of the project team at all levels are well versed in BIM and have at least a minimum level of design knowledge.

Often (too often) I hear Engineers and Designers complain about not knowing what’s in the model. If a client calls with a question or concern, they open the model (or have a Drafter do it for them) and try to figure out what’s there and whether it needs to be fixed. The Drafters typically don’t have much, if any, design knowledge and therefore what was modeled may not be accurate. This is highly inefficient and prone to error. When modeling, the person is effectively building the system in virtual space. This requires knowledge of how the system goes together. Still, the excuses are given that the Engineers and Designers don’t have time to learn BIM or mentor the drafters in design.

To help our project teams understand why this is so important, I’ve started relating design methodology to the construction world. After all, what we are creating virtually is what the contractors will be physically building. For each trade in construction, there’s a superintendent, a foreman, and installers. Now let’s align that to the project team.

First, we need a Model Design Lead (Virtual Construction Superintendent). This person is accountable for the accuracy of the design information within the model. They’re not doing the modeling, they just need to be able to review the information for accuracy from a design/engineering standpoint so that when the project is issued to the client, they’re comfortable with the information contained within the model. Next, we need a Model Gatekeeper (Virtual Construction Foreman). This person provides active oversight for each discipline, is accountable for the accuracy of the modeling, and ensures the company best practices are being followed. Finally, we need Modelers (Virtual Construction Installers). This group is accountable for the modeling itself and following the company best practices.

When I describe the team organization in this way, there’s more acceptance and understanding as to why BIM expertise is necessary at each level. You wouldn’t hire a superintendent or foreman who has no experience in construction right? When all members of the team have knowledge of both design and technology they can watch each other’s backs, which yields higher quality and more efficient results. The team becomes much more collaborative as everyone is engaged at all stages of the project.

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