On January 21, 2008 the stock markets around the world tumbled. No one has felt the effects of the recession more than here in the United States. Many have compared these events to as the worst economical events since the great drepression. Thousands of companies have had to close doors because of the lapse in the economy. Construction type companies are some of those companies that have struggled emensly during the recession. Construction companies have had to do many things they would normally not do just to keep the doors open. Many cconstruction companies have had to look at inovaitive stratagies just to stay ahead of the competition. Companies such as J.F. Ahern Co., have began to use one strategy that that has cost them both time and money. Innovative stratigies are risky, they don’t always work. However in this case the J.F.Ahern Co. has use this stategy to not only improve the product side of there product, but has also used this strategy to help inprove the experience for the customer. J.F.Ahern Co. has introduce the use of building information modeling as a strategy to keep them ahead of the rest.
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The use of BIM (building information modeling) has started to become very popular in the construction industry. It is being utilized by all parties involved in current building projects including architects, engineers, contractors, and even owners. BIM started out as a design tool as preliminary ideas but is now implemented into all the project phases from initial design to final completion. The questions about BIM in today’s industry is, are contractors utilizing BIM to its full potential and is it worth the cost of implementing BIM? Its seems that larger contractors will be able to make the transition to BIM more easily than smaller subcontractors or specialty contractors. J.F. Ahern Co. is a mechanical and fire protection contractor that has been using BIM since 2003.
What caused J.F. Ahern Co. to start using and continue using BIM during these challenging and tough economic times? They were using BIM before contractors were taking fewer profit margins on projects and prior to the building industry slowing down. J.F. Ahern Co. described the implementation of BIM in their company by saying “we will continue to use it because it is the way the industry is going. Embrace it or be passed up by the competition.” (Eichers) This shows that the industry is evolving into one that will be dependent on BIM in the near future. As a company if your competitors are utilizing BIM it will cause you to adapt in the same way. This means that small and large contractors will be caused to shift to using BIM practices sooner or later. The case study is to determine how contractors are affected by BIM and the cost to benefit. J.F. Ahern Co. has decided to be a leader in the industry regarding BIM so they can use it as a marketing tool to acquire more work. This would be worth the cost of implementing BIM because they are obtaining more work as a result of its use. They have continued to invest time and money to become knowledgeable and trained in order to better utilize BIM.
J.F. Ahern Co. explained that many architectural and engineering firms are using 3-D modeling software like Autodesk Revit to model buildings and systems or equipment. The challenge is using the Revit models and converting them into usable models for design fabrication without having to completely redraw everything. Some contractors are hiring design technicians to work with 3-D model s and make them functional. This requires extra labor and is a cost of BIM that some contractors are willing to pay while others are not. J.F. Ahern Co. has not needed to hire staff for this position but they are keeping up with training due to changing technology and software. Another cost of using BIM technology for a contractor is the equipment needed to run the software. In their case they had to invest in computers capable running multiple 3-D programs at one time, RAM space, video cards and more. In their company not everyone needs to be BIM technology savvy. Only the CAD mangers of each discipline are the people directly working on BIM and the 3-D models.
It seems the future of BIM is already here in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry. In the summer or 2009 Wisconsin became the first state to require architect and engineers to use BIM on large public buildings explained by Jeff Brown in the article “Wisconsin Bets on BIM”. The Wisconsin Division of State Facilities (DSF) is the authorities who issued the requirements and guidelines on public projects. BIM will be required in all phases of design and up to date models will be provided throughout the construction process. The owner will receive a finished model at project completion. This shows that contractors of all disciplines and size will need to adapt to the changing industry. Companies like J.F. Ahern Co. are already ahead of the curve and seeing the benefits of using BIM. When asked about their company being ahead or behind the curve in the use of BIM they said “Just ahead but everyone is catching up. At least everyone that wants to be a player in the industry.” (Eichers) They see that BIM is a vital part in the industry and will soon be a must. Large Contractors like Barton Malow Co. has been one of the leaders in the industry coordinating subs to work with BIM. They have seen some disciplines in the industry adapt to using BIM but others are behind. Alex Ivanikiw of Barton Malow Co. says “The steel fabricators are clearly out in front of all other trades. The mechanical and electrical specialty contractors are getting on board, particularly the HVAC and their shop drawing guys. The ones behind the curve are the architectural trades. The concrete, curtain-wall and interiors people are well behind in adopting and implementing BIM” stated in the article “Subcontractors Take Their Time Adoption Follows Uneven Paths” by Tom Sawyer. BIM has been utilized in the most costly part of construction projects.
3-D modeling software can be expensive and using the software can be difficult and timely. J.F. Ahern Co. uses several softwares including Autocad, Bentley Autoplant (industrial piping), Cad Mech (HVAC piping and plumbing), Cad Duct (HVAC Ductwork), Revit, and Navisworks. They use these 3-D modeling tools every day in many aspects. Each project is unique and requires different practices in utilizing BIM. They represent HCAV systems for design, coordination, and fabrication. BIM is a commonly used term in the industry and may refer to different things as contractors will use it for various benefits. J.F. Ahern Co. uses Building Information Modeling as a process of embedding information in the model that will be useful at a later date such as shop drawings, manufacturer data, service manuals and more. Contractors have only begun to use BIM as a project tool. When used effectively contractors can visualize and track other project data such as submittals. With better collaboration and communication among party members in the project change orders and requests for information may be reduced.
Another reason why contractors will need to transition into using BIM is the utilization in all construction phases. J. F. Ahern Co. uses BIM in design, pre-construction, coordination, fabrication, and installation. As a mechanical and fire protection contractor J.F Ahern Co. uses BIM for fabrication purposes. Prefabrication is the process of assembling systems and equipment in the shop and transporting them to the site for installation. BIM can be a great tool for prefabricated components in construction. There are many advantages of prefabrication including quality control, less construction waste, reduced labor in the field, and construction time is reduced. All these advantages can drive project costs down and lower the contract price. J.F Ahern Co. does a lot of prefabrication on the plumbing side that issued directly from the fabrication shop from the 3-D coordinated drawings. They do some prefabricated work on the duct side when it is possible to logistically get prefabricated items into the building. Their goal is to greatly increase the amount of prefabrication in the future. Using BIM and 3-D modeling enables J.F. Ahern Co. to make the installation of their systems and equipment go more smoothly. This is one of the aspects where BIM offers a great advantage over contractors who don’t have the same technology.
BIM offers various advantages throughout a construction project form initial design to final completion. The use of BIM allows J.F Ahern Co. to identify problems much earlier in the project and hopefully get the issues worked out before anything goes to fabrication and causes costs impacts due to changes that have to be made. The use of BIM also allows them to identify areas where architectural changes may have to be made to accommodate the mechanical systems. The earlier these changes can be made the less of a cost impact they have for the owner. J.F Ahern utilizes BIM as a quality control issue to make sure there are no mistakes that drive up costs in the end. This will increase the cost to benefit ratio because it will help keep clients and obtain work in the future. This requires coordination between multiple members on a project to ensure the entire project as a whole is problem free. Dave Morris is director of virtual construction for EMCOR Construction Services and on the Associated General Contractors BIM forum subcommittee. In an article by Tom Sawyer “Subcontractors Take Their Time Adoption Follows Uneven Paths”, Morris explains that risk and liability to all parties can be eliminated by brining all trades early in the project phases to ensure constructability. Problems exist when underperforming subcontractors don’t implement BIM when all other parties on the project do. This is when special coordination and collision problems arise causing delays and inefficiencies in projects. Morris explains that these types of problems “have led to a recommendation by the AGC’s BIM subcommittee to add protocol to contracts in an appendix or instruction to bidders that anything a subcontractor decides not to model cannot be installed until all modeled components have been”. This is a sign that BIM will be mandatory on future projects. Companies like J.F. Ahern Co. are already ahead of the curve using BIM technology and will only benefit more as the industry changes. They already have the infrastructure in their company and will keep seeing the benefits in the future.
BIM can be used as a project management tool among other purposes. The question is how effective is it in a project being completed more smoothly with better coordination and communication among project participants. BIM is intended for everyone’s use from the general contractor to the smaller subcontractors. With better collaboration on a project there would be a lower number of requests for information and change orders. J.F. Ahern Co. hasn’t seen a reduction in change orders or request for information but issues are identified much earlier in the project and reducing cost impacts. They feel in the future when BIM becomes more common in the industry they will see a reduction in change orders and requests for information when implemented as its intended use initial concept and design stages. BIM also offers much improved communication between the owner and project participants. Communication between subcontractors and general contractors is more efficient on BIM utilized projects. J.F Ahern Co. thinks it helps communicate a lot of the information in a much clearer venue. The information was always available but there was never a good way to convey it unless you were dealing with someone that understands the industry and construction. BIM is a great visual representation and easy to understand. It is a great tool to present to owners because they can understand how the construction process will work very easily. This is a great benefit of BIM and makes it worth the costs and time used to implement it. J.F Ahern Co.is maximizing its use for profit.
The real question behind BIM is the cost to benefit ratio. J.F Ahern Co. wasn’t able to quantify this in a number but the perception is that it does save money. Their process of design and installation gets done sooner, smoother with fewer problems so one would think that cost savings have occurred. They have seen savings in field labor on previous projects with the upfront work done correctly. Other subcontractors and specialty contractors do report savings in regards to BIM. Form the source of Ghafari/Barton Malow subcontractors report BIM savings in these categories: fabrication cost (3%), overall schedule (21%), shop drawing time (14%), installation cost (12%), material cost (11%), field supervision (10%). These are all substantial costs on a project and the argument would be that investing in BIM is worth its costs.
Return on Investment Between Project Participants
Return on BIM Investment
Less than 10%
Source: ENR: Engineering News Record
The above table shows the perceived return on overall BIM investment. The numbers in the table represent the percentage of respondents from the various disciplines of the construction industry. The information in the table was taken from the article “Market Study Finds Engineers Get Lowered Return From BIM” by Nadine Post. This information shows that contractors and owners benefit the most by using BIM. This is evident with J.F. Ahern Co. that they do save money and generate profits because of BIM. Larger contractors are able to invest more in BIM while medium size and smaller contractors have to make a financial decision based off of the return on investment. According to the market report, “The Business Value of BIM” issued by ENR showed that nearly 50% of the contractors who responded say BIM utilization increased profits. On another positive note about BIM is that 63% of participants say they see a positive return on BIM investment. Contractors of all disciplines and sizes should invest in BIM and there are numbers to back it up. Even in the tough economic times contractors are finding ways to gain an advantage over competition. BIM and 3-D modeling is a great way to acquire future work and stay profitable. It’s worth the cost to use BIM because even owners see a return on investment.
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Even though the economy and the times have been tough, companies like J.F. Ahern Co. have used innovative strategies to help grow their business. They have seen quantitative benefits to their efforts of introducing strategies such as BIM. The widespread use of programs such as BIM can be seen throughout the construction industry and the results seem to vary. However, companies that are using BIM and using it well seem to be a cut above the rest. Its not easy for companies to begin new and expensive strategies during hard time, but J.F. Ahern Co. have seemed to have made the most of the opportunity. In the end, innovate strategies very well might be the piece of the puzzle that keeps midsized construction companies alive. The economy and construction industry might not see the immediate end to their struggles, however companies that are willing to adapt to new innovate strategies continually place themselves in positions to succeed.
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