By Bob Hutchinson
Lightning has struck, the clouds have parted, and the prophets have come down from the mount and proudly proclaimed, “BIM is the paperless solution that shall be the savior of the construction industry!” Hmmmmm, … really? Well, … kinda?! Is there a need for BIM? ABSOLUTELY!
Just as in other types of manufacturing operations, BIM can prove invaluable for the early detection of conflicts and provide volumes of information when it comes to all of the pieces and parts. But when it comes to putting work in place, are we killing an ant with a 10-ton wrecking ball? In theory, BIM is a great solution that should bridge the gap to paperless construction. But as my old college law professor used to spout, “Theory is great right up until it gets bit in the butt by reality.” Feel free to replace the word “reality” with “stupidity” as you see fit.
There are a couple things to be considered as we progress in this discussion, most important among them being an understanding of the reality of the lowest common denominator in the equation -- not project managers and superintendents, but the field foreman and layout man. These people are neither rocket scientists nor computer wizards. They rely on the simple basics of a tape measure, a square, a pencil, and probably the only bit of algebra they remember -- the 3-4-5 triangle -- day-in and day-out, to get their jobs done. Simplicity is key here. The KISS (“Keep it simple, Stupid!”) principle was founded with these workers in mind. While certain prophets will proclaim that the masses can be trained, there is a reason that not everyone goes to MIT.
Secondarily in this reality, we’re constructing the model itself. If there was the luxury of time in a project for the model to be created and all of the conflicts to be resolved prior to the first shovel of dirt being moved, success would have a high probability. But what about when the model is being created in real time as the walls go up? Or after the fact, as the as-built? How likely is it that the right information will be available when and where it is needed? In addition, the model does not deal with assembly issues, only that no two objects occupy the same place.
For any solution to be effective, it needs to be simple and accurate. Only then are we really making great strides in risk management via a true paperless solution. Some of the basic questions at this point are how easily and quickly can we deliver updates to those who need them, and how quickly can the layout man be trained AND become more productive? At this point, we haven’t even delved into the benefits of putting an ENTIRE project team on the same page with current and accurate information. Depending on the size of a project, this could easily run into the millions.
Let’s digress for just a moment and review some basics that easily can be neglected. The information that is actually needed to “build the building” is really very basic, which is why simple 2-D plans have been used for so many hundreds of years. The plans themselves have never been the problem. The problem that a paperless solution is supposed to solve is how to get everyone on the same page with the correct information. This wasn’t as great a concern before the proliferation of computer-aided design and email, which have accelerated the flow of information to a rate that can make your head spin. When drawings had to be done by hand, there was inherently more quality control in the process than today’s cut and paste from the last project. When updates came out once a week, it was easy for everyone to post their plans and stay up to date.
There are plenty of studies that have been proffered, but they all seem to agree that a considerable amount of waste in construction results solely from having the wrong information. The Economist reported that up to 30 percent of a construction budget is wasted due to inaccurate information. Given that this is not currently something most companies track, what does it cost you? Should the worst happen and a project head to litigation, how much will that cost with inaccurate information?
There are plenty of products on the market today that, to one degree or another, allow for the paperless use of basic 2-D plans. When going paperless is the goal, there is more than just software to think about. While any solution will require some operational changes, the best solution is one that minimizes them. Again, think KISS. Equally important is buy-in. Starting at the top and filtering to all levels, a solution needs to have the complete support of an organization to be effective. Depending on the organization, it may make the most sense to launch a paperless initiative within a pilot project where things can be closely monitored or to launch it company-wide because this change is inevitable.