When It’s Time to Get More ROI From 3D Models, Bring Them to the Field

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By Marcel Broekmaat

A survey of nearly 600 construction leaders about how teams spend their time on construction sites found that significant time and money go toward non-optimal activities. Fixing mistakes, looking for project data, managing conflict resolution, and more — these avoidable issues account for $177.5 billion in labor costs per year in the US alone.

So, while BIM is adding new efficiencies in the office, its value for improving productivity and accuracy isn’t making its way to the field. Experiencing the true value of BIM is realized when 3D models are leveraged throughout the construction workflow — offering accessible data, project visualization, actionable insights, and quality assurance to everyone on the project.

As the effects of COVID continue to affect the industry resulting in significant labor shortages, truncated timelines, and budget creep, it’s more important than ever to maximize efficiency and do more with less. Here are four proven ways field delivery teams can maximize the value of BIM.

4 Benefits of Bringing BIM Models Into the Field

1. Interpret data from the office with BIM in the field

Think about how much you could accomplish on the jobsite if you had two extra days a week.

That’s how much time construction workers lose solving avoidable problems and searching for project information. Two full days are gone because the information to get the job done was wrong, or just wasn’t accessible.

Any successful build is reliant on a clear understanding of project data or else the field team is susceptible to miscommunication and misunderstanding deriving from outdated designs. With this comes expensive and time-consuming rework.

Collaborative, data-driven workflows — meaning access to the same information across project phases — is key to getting it right the first time. When project data is included in BIM and accessible in the field, there are countless efficiencies to be found.

For example, consider the value of workflow tools that help organize large sets of data and how that’s applicable to day-to-day efficiency. These tools allow crews to display, group, and share product, location, or sequencing breakdown structures to easily find, define, and understand the work packages. Or, by associating data like object properties, field teams can see exactly who did what in the construction sequence, when it was done, and how much material was used per building section.

Trimble Connect image
Using Trimble Connect to run a sequencing breakdown based on pour numbers.

APIs make added property data immediately reportable, offering quick access to the right data, at the right time and place.

2. Use 3D models to visualize project status

It’s not always easy to get a complete, holistic picture of what is happening on a given project. In fact, miscommunication and bad data account for nearly half of all rework on US job sites. Even the most experienced on the team can get lost when trying to parse out results from disjointed Gantt charts, spreadsheets, and checklists.

There is inherent, immediate value in project visualization — it turns out a picture truly is worth a thousand words. Aided by BIM, downstream phases can access real-time data to visualize project status. Tied into ERP systems, stakeholders can link to any object to view progress, browse status history down to specific dates, and share real-time project data with clients.  

Tekla and Trimble Connect images
Sharing real-time project status with Tekla and Trimble Connect.

The same goes for building materials. Notify the team that a component is missing directly from the field and connect this status data automatically with linked fabrication systems.

3. Drive layout through up-to-date design information

So much time and effort are spent designing and fabricating a constructible model, but for teams still relying on manual processes for installation, all that important project data is never actualized in the real world.

construction project photos
Mistakes are easy to make without bringing a coordinated model into the field.

Mistakes happen despite all the great planning done upfront, so bring that coordinated model into the field and ensure everyone is on the same page. Using a total station capable of receiving and interpreting BIM, layout technicians can integrate all the data from the office in the field — significantly improving layout accuracy and efficiency.

Simply select the information that needs to be located within the model, set up on the site using control points, then the total station will guide you to the locations through a laser pointer or a prism poll to accurately mark locations. Since all layout is guided by a design-approved model, you can avoid clashes which will greatly reduce rework down the line. 

construction project photo
Hangers for all trades installed from the floor above.

Since layout works from the same model as everyone else, you can update the BIM in the field and use it to track progress of what’s been staked, what hasn’t yet, what’s in progress, etc. When coordinating within 3D modeling, layout points can help identify gaps, enable just-in-time construction, and can even inform what still needs to be prefabricated. This adds another level of ROI to all the hard work and resources put into creating a BIM model.

4. Speed up quality assurance

Time is money, and any extra process — no matter how much value it could potentially bring — may be sacrificed in favor of a quicker timeline. Scanning is one of these “nice to have” processes because, while it offers valuable QA information, it is time-consuming and doesn’t always make sense on projects stuck to a tight project timeline. Plus, it usually requires a dedicated scanning professional which means extra time and costs.

3D laser scanning
3D scanning in the field

Thanks to BIM, contractors can offer in-field, 3D scanning deliverables: scan the site, capture data for real-time analysis, and upload it to a 3D model for office and field teams to use immediately. This has become a standard tool for capturing, managing, and analyzing as-built data.

For example, concrete pours are now more efficient than ever thanks to advancements in 3D scanning data capture. Contractors can scan the deck ahead of time and document where rebar is placed, or document cable placement for post-tension slabs, and upload that information directly into the models. With this information readily available and integrated into the model where all other project data lives, you have all layout points at your fingertips and can use a total station to automatically mark or verify layout points. 

Floor flatness analysis
Running a floor flatness analysis in the field, using the 3D model + scan data.

For as-built conditions, contractors can use 3D scanning data to run analyses like checking for floor flatness. They can contribute this information on floor highs and lows to models — adding further layers of details to a BIM model. This makes scanning data accessible in the field and available to all applicable project stakeholders.

The successful GC’s best-kept secret: BIM models in the field

Offering new efficiencies for data interpretation, project visualization,  layout, and QA, BIM in the field promotes cross-discipline collaboration and offers the project transparency necessary to get the job done right the first time.

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