It is generally accepted that the construction industry has lagged behind the general economy in productivity gains in that last half century. It has been reported that as much as 30% of the cost of construction is wasted in the field due to coordination errors, wasted material, labor inefficiencies and other problems in the current construction approach. This waste and inefficiency is not readily discernable or tracked in project cost data. But over time, the price of this waste has been accepted as a part of the cost of doing business and is built into every estimate, budget, subcontractor bid, contractor markup, contingency, allowance, and the like.
The Construction Users Roundtable, an association of executives representing some of the largest consumers of the construction industry, reports that its members regularly experience cost and schedule overruns. These losses are in excess of the built-in inefficiency and waste referenced above. Therefore, when considering the construction industry’s share of the US gross domestic product (GDP), the significance of productivity and waste statistics in the industry becomes starkly evident.
A major contributor to inefficiency in the delivery of capital projects is the horizontal and fragmented supply chain of the A/E/C industry. A unique combination of designers, consultants, subcontractors, and vendors is assembled to deliver each project in an increasingly accelerated time frame and is promptly dismantled, only to reassemble in a different combination for the next project. Each entity has unique interests which, over time, have been protected through defensive and complex contractual mechanisms. These interests and the business structure that has developed to accommodate these diverse and misaligned interests have become impediments to collaboration and innovation in the design and construction process. Exceptions to this rule are observed, on occasion, when forward thinking owners modify the risk model and enable design and construction teams to work outside of the norm and extend their traditional comfort zones.
In the last two decades, a number of new project delivery approaches have been developed to address the inherent problems in the traditional building supply chain typified by the design-bid-build process, including construction management (CM), CM-at-risk, design-build, and a number of other hybrids. Although these new approaches have enhanced the delivery process, primarily in reducing the total project duration, improved scope management, quality control, and risk allocation, they have not significantly reduced the cost of waste and inefficiency in the design, procurement, and construction process. The use of critical path method (CPM) scheduling was another attempt by the industry to introduce some level of predictability, but scheduling techniques only address the time dimension of the process without the necessary visual link to the geometric elements of the facility.
The BIM Approach
To significantly improve efficiency in project delivery, the building design and construction process must, through better integration of information and process optimization, achieve levels of coordination far in excess of the current norm. This desired level of optimization is similar to that achieved by the manufacturing industry through prototype development and product refinement prior the start of production. Within the last two decades, large manufacturers have converted from the costly exercise of physical prototype development for iterative testing and optimization to virtual prototyping where the same process is duplicated faster and far more cost effectively. Today the manufacturing industry enjoys the benefits from this conversion by speeding a product’s time to market, increasing product quality, and reducing engineering change orders once production begins. These improvements became possible only after the development of the same technology that now forms the backbone of the building information modeling (BIM) applications now being adopted by the A/E/C industry. This technology holds the promise for the building industry to achieve significant improvements and reduce waste through simulating the building process in a virtual environment. The potential advantages span a wide range of outcomes including a better tool for design and engineering documentation and analysis, more robust cost estimating, improved trade coordination, optimized means and sequence of work, a powerful communication tool for design intent and construction plan, and an information rich as-built model for facilities management.