Canvas Project Site. Image courtesy of Windover Construction
Demand for individuals with an expertise in Building Information Modeling (BIM) is increasing throughout the job market. A modeling platform that has changed the the building industry, many firms have transitioned to using BIM over the last decade to take advantage of the inherent potential for collaboration and coordination the technology offers, both in the studio and on the job site. (For a nuts-and-bolts view of what it’s like to work as a BIM Specialist, see Archinect’s recent story unpacking the ins and outs of the job title)
Due to BIM’s multi-disciplinary scope, construction firms like Windover Construction use the BIM framework and other visual design technologies to bring efficiency to complex construction projects, like those that utilize modular and prefab building components.
To learn more about the implementations of BIM and virtual design within this realm, Archinect spoke with Windover Construction Director of Virtual Design and Construction Amr Raafat and Senior Project Manager Derrick Seitz. Together, they unpack the misconceptions some might have about modular construction, shed light on the influence of virtual design within the building industry, talk about their difficulty finding qualified BIM specialists, and illuminate what students can do to explore a career in BIM.
Windover Construction is a full service construction management firm based in Beverly, Massachusetts. Keen on providing innovative approaches to projects, their in-house Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) team uses BIM solutions with virtual reality technologies to deliver 3D drone mapping and 4D animations with integrated scheduling modules while also using augmented reality on construction sites with Microsoft HoloLens technology.
How have construction practices changed on building sites thanks to visualization software and 3D renderings?
Amr Raafat (AR): It’s an accumulated process. At the beginning we used to show clients/teams 3D drawings of these projects. Now we’ve taken it a step further to enable clients an immersive experience. We use the Microsoft HoloLens to show our clients overlaying 3D holograms that allow them to see what the work site looks like.
Derrick Seitz (DS): Virtual design capabilities are a huge part of construction now. Even from 10 years ago, so many things have changed and improved. Many of us in the office are trained to read construction documents and plans, but what people forget is that owners and clients are not. Most city council members and planners don’t know what they’re looking at when you show them a drawn plan in 2D. With this, it’s hard for people outside of the profession to fully understand what you’re trying to help them build. Visualization tools help bridge this gap.
AR: We want to support the teams affiliated with these projects. Clients are not as experienced as we are in visualizing things in 2D and 3D. With VR/AR softwares and BIM solutions, we can help our clients appreciate the process. We can show clients how a wall will actually look, how thick it will be, and it’s great seeing their response.
Many of us in the office are trained to read construction documents and plans, but what people forget is that owners and clients are not […] With this it’s hard for people outside of the profession to fully understand what you’re trying to help them build. Visualization tools help bridge this gap.
Can you provide us with an example of when this type of visualization was used with a client?
AR: With a recent YMCA project we were able to witness an “aha moment” with the clients. We did an entire virtual experience for the donors to see how the project is being built. These images provide a much different experience versus looking at the drawings or rendered images. These visualization tools change the perspective of the people involved. Virtual reality is helping us communicate experiences that would almost be impossible to see through a rendering.
How does BIM affect project management within firms?
DS: Once you have a 3D visualization of what you need to build, it makes it easier to talk and plan for labour and scheduling. It’s easier to see the scope of what needs to be built. Field management has become a more streamlined process. Workers on the site get a better idea of what they’re up against. It’s important to understand that your team in the field may not necessarily be great plan readers, but in 3D, they can see walls and soffits and exactly where pipes need to go.
Why do you think more firms haven’t switched to BIM solutions? Is there hesitation?
AR: From my understanding, what is delaying the process is the time and dedication it takes to learn the new technology. For firms, they’ll need someone who can spend time practicing and experimenting with it. It’s important that they’re critical about learning the software. It takes artistic techniques in addition to becoming a good building modeler. For me, I have to stay up to date and learn new versions of the software regularly. It is very time consuming, needing to learn new software every six months, but it’s the future of construction and these are steps you need to make in order to appreciate it.
DS: One easy answer is that they haven’t experienced it. A lot of it has to do with education and how useful it is. It’s probably 50/50 at this point for people who BIM and the those who don’t. Some may say it’s the cost of the software.
As professionals in the field, where do you see things going with regards to modular construction?
DS: It’s a push-pull effect. There’s always an interesting path in how you build a certain building. For the Canvas project in Beverly it actually started as a panelized building, but the owners needed to hit a specific delivery date. We realized we wouldn’t be able to accomplish that due date if we build it panelized. The only way to gain more time is if you’re doing one thing on site and doing another thing elsewhere. That’s how we came into building this project modularly, in order to meet a deliver date.
AR: We have supers on site who are eager to learn new things and learn new solutions. With systems like BIM applied to modular construction, it’s important to support the teams and provide solutions on and off-site. It’s key that we, as management, listen, learn, and respond. It’s important for teams to learn how to ask for help.
What’s a misconception people may have about modular construction?
DS: One common misconception is usually cost. Many will say that building modularly doesn’t save money. However, it’s quite the opposite. The way you save money is by accessing construction solutions and knowing what can be done to build things by a certain date, similar to our 211 project.
More and more firms are attempting to construct greener and more sustainable buildings. How important are these sustainable practices for you and your team? How does modular construction help?
DS: Building modular creates much less waste because everything is essentially made to fit in the factory. I can’t stress enough how much less waste there is. A good example is if I think about dumpster costs from a panel construction project versus a modular job. Thinking about a modular job for a 100-unit building requires about 60 dumpsters, versus a panel job that would require about 120 dumpsters.
It also takes less energy to build modularly. You’re building in a controlled environment within a large building. If you build panelized, you’re trying to temporary heat the site with huge diesel or gas tanks that burn a lot of energy.
What should students do if they want to specialize in BIM?
AR: BIM isn’t being taught everywhere. The best way for students to learn about BIM is to learn building basics first before stepping into heavy digitized programs. It’s important for students to learn how the hand and brain work together when designing. It’s important for them to experience that first, and then they can dive into the technical aspects of it. If they go into the software right away, there is often a disconnect. Another important thing is internships. It’s important to intern at construction companies to learn new ways of thinking and seeing these case studies. Practice in the summertime. Learn new software and experiment.
DS: For students who have this understanding of BIM, they’ll definitely have a job when they finish school. They’re in a very high demand. It’s great to have people that want to get into the thick of how things go together and students are great at that. The industry needs more of those types of students.
It’s important for students to learn how the hand and brain work together when designing. It’s important for them to experience that first and then they can dive into the technical aspects of it.
What’s it like hiring a BIM specialist?
AR: Finding BIM specialists can be tricky, I agree, especially with younger trained professionals who are just coming out of school. They are very visual and computer oriented but if you show them a 3D model of how you need a to run a pipe or show them duct work, that’s where skills and expectations are different.
DS: The industry needs more of these eager types of students. We just spent a year trying to find a new BIM expert for our office. It’s tricky because I think a lot of students coming out of school, they’re either interested or architecture motivated, but not motivated to understand how parts go together. It’s tough to find BIM folks to work at a construction company. But we need builders. It’s important.