While most faculty at Texas A&M University’s College of Architecture would probably agree on the educational value of building information modeling (BIM), many construction industry professionals remain unconvinced. In an attempt to address these qualms, two construction science professors have received an industry grant to apply the technology to a real-world project.
Julian Kang and James Smith, both of the Department of Construction Science, have received the $25,000 William A. Klinger Research Award from the Associated General Contractors Education and Research Foundation. They plan to use the funds to apply BIM to a hotel project in San Antonio, being built by Zachry Construction. Smith and Kang have already begun their research, building an initial BIM model of the high-rise that will be the test-case for their research.
“I expect the outcome of this investigation will produce empirical evidence for the benefits of BIM in construction,” Kang says. “Lack of confidence in BIM’s merits make general contractors reluctant to use virtual construction technology for their projects. Many construction projects that have pioneered the use of new technologies have ended up with cost overruns and schedule slips, so few general contractors want to place their projects at such risk.
“Right now, most construction firms use BIM’s 4-D capabilities — 3-D construction simulations over time — to help land a contract. Few construction firms use BIM to follow up on project progress. We hope the results of our research will help them gain the confidence they need to incorporate BIM in their day-to-day project operations.”
Kang explains that while architects use BIM software to expedite building design, construction science professionals have different needs. He believes 4-D construction simulation with BIM could be used to better plan the construction sequence on the job site.
“Many project stakeholders, such as owners, government officials and prospective tenants, may not necessarily understand construction blueprints, so it is less likely they can visualize the construction sequence needed to bring a project in on time and under budget,” Kang says. “BIM simulations could help such stakeholders reach consensus with construction professionals on what needs to be done to bring a particular project to completion.
“BIM software allows us to build a virtual building that tells us our materials needs, allowing us to then estimate construction costs. Such information could be very helpful to construction materials supply chain managers. Then 4-D construction simulations can be used over time to track a project’s progress.”
Kang says he believes construction professionals potentially want to use BIM software for many construction-related needs, but their questions about the programs have not been adequately answered by software vendors or by academic researchers, creating the crisis of confidence about using BIM for real projects.
“Jim Smith and I, as educators and researchers, want to provide individuals involved in the construction industry with tangible empirical evidence as to how using BIM could benefit them,” he adds.
Before returning to school to earn his doctorate in construction engineering and management, Kang, a civil engineer, worked for ten years designing nuclear power plants. “In my work, I used 3-D CAD products to provide integrated plant management information systems,” he says. “3-D CAD combined with information from the engineering disciplines, which is theoretically identical to BIM, helped us improve the overall design process and detect collisions.
“But with BIM, we would be able to track design and construction information across the entire lifecycle of the facility, building a simulation that integrates knowledge from engineering with construction and maintenance information all the way through the de-commissioning process.”
Kang points out that current practices do not deliver all the knowledge acquired in the design process to general contractors. His goal is to use BIM to continue building knowledge across the entire lifecycle of a facility. Construction schedules are dynamic, changing almost weekly based on the progress of a job. So, BIM simulations must be constantly updated to reflect real-world site progress. Kang is concerned about providing construction firms with enough experts to handle on-going BIM
“Texas A&M is one of the few architecture colleges teaching students construction visualization,” Kang notes. “We are positioned to become the leader in supplying such experts.”