TECHnically Speaking

Explore the Innovation that Technology Brings to the Life of a Project – Before, During, and After Construction

Technology in Preconstruction

The Innovation and Technology team at Balfour Beatty Construction is building entire projects without ever lacing up their work boots and often times before the ground has even been broken.

Virtual construction of a project prior to physical construction allows the team to mimic and investigate potential complications that may occur before a shovel ever hits the dirt. The images that the team produce may look like an intricate and complicated product, but it is the clarity and transparency that those images provide that support decision-making and allow for innovative results. For a team that makes a living out of looking for problems, virtual walkthroughs, potential for prefabrication and quantity takeoff are just a few of the solutions they thrive on.

The improved coordination that is established through the use of technology benefits everyone involved on a project. Scopes of work can be isolated and defined diffusing the threat of limited or conflicting information that hinders so many projects. Virtual walkthroughs allow for a greater understanding of the scope of work for subcontractors, enabling them to virtually tour a jobsite before construction even begins. This feature was especially beneficial at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport Terminal I renovation project where every individual visitor needed to be badged to enter the site. With the dashboard, subcontractors knew exactly what they were walking into when they arrived at the site on Day One. Virtual construction means limiting surprises.

The use of virtual construction allows for identification of opportunities for prefabrication. Offsite construction mitigates onsite construction, creating schedule efficiencies and increasing quality as assemblies are fabricated in a controlled environment. In addition to reducing safety risks, virtual construction allows for efficiency in schedule by allowing work to begin sooner, teams can begin piecing together elements of a project prior to those components being needed onsite. The team identified the potential for prefabrication for pipe racks at The Hotel at Marion Square in Charleston, South Carolina. This modification means work can occur sooner and less welding will need to be completed onsite. Virtual construction means saving time.

Quantity Takeoff from 3D models allows cost estimators to gather design data and produce cost estimates in a reduced amount of time with a higher level of accuracy. With the ability to manipulate models, the team delivers a better visual representation of elements that need to be estimated and offers easier exploration of different design options and concepts within the Owner’s budget. The level of precision provided by way of virtual construction is conducive to a precise schedule and a precise budget. Virtual construction means precision.

Virtual construction has the capacity to save money, save time, reduce uncertainty, and improve safety. Technically speaking, that’s a success.

Technology During Construction

We sat down with Paola Dorantes Diguero, senior BIM technology specialist, for a rapid-fire round of Q&A during which we learned what BIM really stands for, how technology is keeping people safe and what it’s like to bridge the gap.

Let’s pretend I didn’t just Google BIM. Will you define it for me?

Building Information Technology, or BIM, is the collection of a building’s data, from architectural to structural, and MEP to sustainability. We are gathering the information from every element of a project, from the visual to the non-visual, and creating an accurate model that we can manipulate.

The non-visual elements of a project being…?

That’s going to be facets such as scheduling, equipment information for facilities management, manpower, cost and budget. We can build a model of a project, scrub back and forth in time and see the construction sequence take place right in front of us. If the owner wants to see where their project is going to be in six months, we can advance forward and they can see a visual representation of how the project will look. Often, a schedule is such an eye game. We see bars with start and stopping points, but if there is anything that we know to be true, it’s that people are ultra-visual! We are able to demonstrate exactly what schedule milestones will look like—and any moment in between—helping owners gain a better understanding of the construction plans.

What are some additional ways that we see virtual construction working for our benefit during construction?

It’s all about how we can increase value for a project. With virtual mockups, the first and most vital benefit we see is increased safety awareness. Safety and logistics plans are only made more efficient through the additional information that is provided through our coordination—working alongside our operations team we make technology work for the greater good of every individual in and around our jobsite.
Construction productivity is increased through our ability to forecast any potential constructability issues. Through clash detection, we are able to provide fully coordinated fabrication models that include all building systems. If an air duct is going to run into an existing beam, BIM has the ability to detect potential clashes between trades before construction, so that they can be planned for and avoided ahead of time, saving time and money simultaneously. This gives us the time and information we need to create an educated solution.
A few examples of the current processes we do on a daily basis impacting all areas of construction include: as-built collection of existing conditions for renovation projects and progressive project data collection for QA/QC purposes (comparing model components to collected point cloud), as-built models from point clouds and facilities management dashboards to close-out documentation.

Would you say “solutions” is the name of the game for the Innovation and Technology team?

Absolutely. When it comes down to it, we are here to process the information that we gather and that is provided to us, weave it all together to identify existing or potential issues and then work with project teams to solve those problems. While many projects share commonalities, every project I’ve ever worked on has delivered a new challenge. It’s a thrill to be a part of a team that is ever vigilant in finding answers. I walk away from every project with lessons-learned and am constantly progressing further into my potential.

What about the use of BIM coordination inspires you?

The Innovation and Technology team gets to be involved with so many different areas of a project. I get to wear a multitude of hats, and I’m constantly in a state of collaboration with other teammates across Balfour Beatty Construction. Often, you have a design team who is motivated by design and cost, and an operations team who is concerned with the reality of building the project. I get to be a part of bridging the gap that may exist between those two worlds – truly, making the dream a reality. With my background in architecture, I can put myself in the shoes of a designer who wants to see their vision realized and also work from an operations standpoint to generate solutions that align with that vision.

What do owners want from our Innovation and Technology team?

At the end of the day, owners want less expensive, quicker options. With our coordination efforts, we work as advocates for their dream and aid our teams in delivering success.

Technology After Construction

The benefits of integrating technology into project close-out can best be seen rather than described.

The paperless workflow that is maintained through preconstruction and construction phases culminates in the final element of the project close-out. In traditional project closeout, owners find themselves with stacks upon stacks of binders and endless loose papers. Even the most organized individual needs a room to store all of the information that is turned over at the end of a project. Through digital, paperless closeout, we not only eliminate the need for a rolodex system in the facilities office, we put any and all information right at the owner’s fingertips. We see value in simplicity and our owners experience confidence in understanding their building.

Through record modeling, all information pertaining to architectural, structural, and MEP elements are bundled together. Linking the maintenance, operation and asset data to the as-built model provided to the owner of facility manager. The improved documentation enables future renovation or expansions to be handled more seamlessly.

We’re always looking beyond Day One. Our efforts don’t end when the ribbon is cut or when the doors first fling open. We consider the months and years down the road, when owners and occupants have settled into their new surroundings—when lights begin to burn out, when filters need replacing. As Relentless Ally for our clients, we give owners the tools to keep their facility operating at its best for years to come. Through our asset management system, items are linked to a record model to assist in the maintenance and operation of a facility. For us, this looks like barcodes. Items in a building that will require maintenance over time receive barcodes that link directly to item data, such as ordering information, installation instructions, or warranty records.

We take pride in being a part of the life of the projects we build, and supporting the owners of those projects for years and years to come.