ELEVATION — Building Information Modelling (BIM) for Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) Construction

Clare Sausen September 1, 2021

ELEVATION: Raising the Bar for CRTKL’s Digital Innovation

Elevation is a collection of stories, thought leadership, and unique experiences from CRTKL’s Design Technology Group (DTG) on the frontlines of architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC). Today, off the back of the MCAA (The Mechanical Contractors Association of America) MEP (Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing) Conference, we spoke with one of the panelists of the “Building Information Modelling – Boom or Bane?” panel, CRTKL’s Himani Shah, to find out how the technology affects the MEP stages of construction.

 Himani Shah is the BIM and Digital Information Manager at CRTKL with over seven years of experience in BIM implementation and management. Since joining CRTKL in 2017, Himani has been instrumental in the implementation and BIM management of some of the region’s most prominent and successful residential, retail, and hospitality projects. Himani’s work is concentrated in enabling advancements in BIM, computational design, and emerging technologies. Driven by her desire to generate faster and better solutions, Himani has enabled initiatives to improve and implement standards and processes, alongside leading research and development on Digital Twin Technology and Virtual Reality Gamification in architectural workflow for UAE projects.

What value does BIM add to the MEP stages of construction?

Himani Shah: BIM (Building Information Modelling) is a modern technical approach that goes beyond the use of traditional construction blueprints to represent a project. The construction of a building is a complex process in itself and takes a lot of coordination between different stakeholders to agree on the design of numerous building systems. BIM considerably speeds up this process —  it minimizes repetition and reduces the time necessary for design review. And these benefits are not just limited to MEP, but all the stakeholders involved in the project can now focus more on creating the optimal design solution instead of spending time on tedious and repetitive tasks.

The value of BIM mainly lies in collaboration, visualisation and availability of the information at the early stages of the project. Design is flexible during these stages, so, if clashes are detected, it allows architects and engineers to coordinate and make better design decisions. In the traditional design process, all the disciplines had to wait for architects to finalize their design before commencing their own work, which took more time to realise.

BIM allows us to create a smart 3D model of the building before it is built on-site. Thus, the delivery of a well-coordinated BIM model will help the client to get the most value out of it during not only the design stage but also the operational and maintenance stage. This BIM model can be developed further to build a digital twin model which is a virtual living breathing model of an operational building that BIM exists to create.

Putting the benefits of BIM into easily digestible figures, however, can be difficult. Construction projects are always incredibly complex undertakings, and understanding the impact that BIM makes in any single project can be complex. However, the Center for Integrated Facilities Engineering at Stanford University has found that projects using BIM enjoy: up to 40% reduction in unbudgeted project changes, contract value savings of up to 10%, time savings of up to 7% and cost estimation accuracy within 3%.

What challenges do we face in the current level of BIM application?

HS: One of the key challenges is the way firms and clients are approaching the implementation of BIM. They consider the BIM team as a support department rather than an integral part of the design process. This results in the BIM team working separately from the rest of the design team. In general, I believe that the top management needs to drive the implementation of BIM or any other technology solutions. The company needs to own it as an integral part of its business strategy for achieving optimum results. If a small group of people are taking this initiative and working in a silo to implement it, one of the major challenges will be to convince the top management. If they don’t believe in the value of BIM, they will not be able to provide the headspace to their team to have that learning curve and develop skills to adapt, innovate and even fail one or 2 times.

Another aspect of this is client awareness and contractual limitations. Firms will not be able to push it internally and make it part of the contract until the client is requiring it and are ready to invest. The current challenge is that clients today believe in the value of BIM, but have not fully planned on its end-use. So, the general requirements mentioned in EIR (Employee Information Requirement) change with the course of projects, and they allow some stakeholders on the projects to have that flexibility to follow their internal processes.

For BIM, reverse planning is very important to determine the requirements of a project, so if the end goals have not been clearly communicated to all the stakeholders, then the use of BIM can cause divergences which later have to be fixed — adding financial and time costs to the overall project.

Overall, BIM consists of multiple concepts, tools and workflows that need to be learned and adopted by all the stakeholders involved in the project and should not be implemented as an isolated afterthought. Companies right across the construction process must ensure that employees are skilled in using BIM. At CRTKL, we have invested heavily in our company-wide We have implemented BIM as a part of the company’s strategy and culture as well as on projects to deliver well-coordinated design to our clients.

How will better collaboration maximise BIM benefits?

HS: In the past, people in the AEC industry were used to working mostly in isolation. The collaboration aspect to BIM has the potential to mitigate most of these factors. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic where we had to work remotely, BIM worked as a collaboration platform that anyone can access from anywhere. It allowed transparency of work within the company, amongst different stakeholders and with project clients.

Regular collaboration will ensure that all the stakeholders are involved during the decision-making process and the information that is available to them at any given time is up-to-date. This will help them make better design decisions and get the most value out of the BIM model at any given stage.

What methods allow us to use BIM most efficiently?

HS: Driven by rapidly growing populations and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, consultants and designers have been placed under immense pressure and stretched beyond their capacity to provide transformative building functions and integrate digital technologies for healthier buildings. As designers, we are expected to make buildings that can be built by robots or can be 3D printed. This has accelerated the need for BIM & digital twins. But BIM, on its own, will not address these issues miraculously. The benefits of BIM are closely linked to its adoption — the more teams are encouraged to leverage its value, the more likely return on investment (ROI) will be seen.

While there is no step-by-step process on how to use BIM efficiently, there are few points that should be considered during its implementation to get the most value out of it:

  • 3D Modelling

The database of information that is embedded in a BIM model allows for different predictions and analyses at the initial stages of design like clash-detection, cost prediction, material quantities, environmental study etc. If utilized fully, this can help to take better design decisions before the construction begins, reducing in-site errors and sustainable design.

  • Development and Re-use

Modelling is a complex and time-consuming task, but with the availability of ISO 19650 standards and processes, this task can be planned from design initiation until handover and operational stage, so that a single model is developed throughout different stages instead of building it from scratch at the end of each stage.

  • Visualization

The same BIM model allows us to visualize how the building and the services as a whole will function together. This possibility of immersive visualization allows the client and stakeholders to get an accurate understanding of the building materials and space. They can explore more XR technologies and experience how the space will look at a given point of time in a day based on its geographical location much before the construction starts.

Still, more advancement is required for this kind of digital infrastructure. Not every software tool will work for everyone, and transitions between software must be planned in order for them to be effective. A long-term goal will be to create a universal software solution that provides a holistic offering for the sector – bypassing the issues by amalgamating different software and tools.

How can software vendors make way for BIM as a solution?

HS: BIM isn’t just software, but a workflow and process that relies on a combination of different software. There are many BIM software solutions available in the market, so narrowing it down a single solution is a real challenge.

A wide range of software vendors do provide training, but those are often tailored towards upselling their own solutions. When a company invests in software, they also invest money and time to provide training as a part of their existing workflow. So, rather than selling a long list of BIM software benefits, providing guidance and support to users for its adoption and taking their feedback on the challenges can be a great way to start with.

In the long run, if the software is not developed to be interoperable, the users have to juggle in between multiple software to get the required output resulting in loss of information due to interoperability. This gap still exists in the industry between the user feedback on the challenges and software development teams which should be proactively addressed or it will impact the collaboration between different teams moving forward slowing down the adoption rate for BIM.

CRTKL’s Design Technology Group (DTG) is a team dedicated to advancing every aspect of the firm’s technological and digital capabilities. This team is integral to the success of existing project work and client ventures, but they are also focused on future horizons. Not only does the DTG promote advanced methodologies and processes for traditional architecture services, but they are exploring what the future of our practice and profession will be.

Author Spotlight

Clare Sausen
Clare Sausen is a Content Writer for CallisonRTKL. Based in Washington, D.C., she leverages her personal and professional experience in journalism, radio, and nonprofit communication to serve as a valuable member of the global firmwide team. Since attaining her Bachelor of Arts degree from George Washington University in Communication and American Studies, she has honed her craft of architectural storytelling across multiple platforms.