Evolution of Construction: Using BIM and Power BI to Eliminate Waste and Save Time
June 5, 2024
Charles de Andrade

Evolution of Construction: Using BIM and Power BI to Eliminate Waste and Save Time

We have all heard about waste in the AEC industry. Reports claim that up to 30% or more of the costs in our industry come from inefficiencies, mistakes, and corrections that could have been avoided.

I started my career in the industry over fifty years ago, just before the advent of the computer. Design was still done with a ruler, compass, and pencil. On the contractor side, it was the time of blue lines, rolled plans, plan rooms, blue chalk, and time-consuming estimates. I learned firsthand about system conflicts in the field by participating in discussions and arguments about how we were going to remedy issues and who was going to pay for the necessary changes and additional costs.

I witnessed one of the few times that the Master Electrician who trained me lost his cool. Two months earlier, we had painstakingly measured and dug a deep trench to bring the 4" PVC pipe from the transformer outside the building into the main panel/switch gear area within the building. That PVC pipe, buried under the concrete pad, and the upturned angle of the pipe in the room were partially covered by the load-bearing masonry wall where the switchgear was supposed to hang. Measurements showed the wall was several inches off from where it was supposed to be constructed. The Foreman, Master Electrician, and Masonry Leader were not happy campers. (But I was extremely relieved, as our measurements were correct, and we were not the cause of the problem.)

Years later, when I had graduated from being an apprentice electrician, I learned firsthand the cost of miscounting major pieces of equipment. In an earlier article (Helping Electrical Contractors Advance from 2D to 3D BIM for Estimating), I shared my estimate related to costly light standards that circled a development and the anger of an electrical company that thought we had miscounted the number of light standards. These were not inexpensive lights, costing more than $25,000 each even back then. Our count was six more standards than what the electrical firm had counted. "You would have cost us the job if we had quoted what you said was the count."

When I took the set of plans out with that estimator from that firm and slowly recounted the standards, the estimator paled when he saw that he had missed a whole section of standards that had yet to appear on the normal plan page. I never learned whether that firm had won the bid because of the undercount, but I knew that we had both worked from the same set of plans, and I had seen something he had not. The number of instances where "undercounting" or "miscounting" has led to low bidders deciding between forfeiture of their bid bond and a rise in their bonding insurance rates versus eating the mistake or trying to use "Value Engineering" to make up the cost of the mistake are too numerous to mention.

The conflicts, miscounts, and waste continue

When CAD and then BIM came into being, I was convinced that, finally, the tools were in place that would eliminate many of the earlier issues. But here it is, thirty-five years later, and many of the same problems continue to plague our industry. CAD and BIM are being used to create new "paper" versions of the plans, called PDFs, instead of being used to reduce or eliminate the problems.

The 2008–2010 economic downturn forced much of the design community to finally adopt the Revit design technology. The ability to design faster with fewer designers saved many design firms during that crash. But parametric advances have now spawned hosts of other software, all trying to address the various issues that continue to plague the industry.

VIM (VIM Build, my firm) saw the issues and decided to address some major problems in one piece of software. We recognized that different departments in a single firm needed different views of the model to fulfill their particular responsibilities. Our goal was to finally provide a toolset that would allow the architect, engineer, contractor, subcontractor, and even the owner to begin to claw back the waste that has continued to this day.

The need to check, count, and connect BIM

BIM managers needed a rapid way to confirm the quality of the model they were charged with curating. CHECK permits the review of the parameters within models and potential conflicts within the models, permitting rapid identification and correction of those conflicts.

Estimators in the firm needed the ability to identify all of the materials required and the context of the installation of those materials. COUNT provides the tools necessary to instantly see all of the materials in the project sorted by their identity, both to count all models within the project and with the ability to check the context of where those materials would be installed. After all, estimation is a combination of materials needed and labor involved.

The pricing of the materials, the review of carbon content for participation in LEED certification, the phasing of material delivery, and construction scheduling require integrating other data with the project data. Sometimes, the estimator is charged with this task, but often, different departments are challenged to bring all the data together for analysis. CONNECT uses the strength of the Microsoft Power BI database (SQL) to permit the joining together of all the data involved in a project.

Now, insight and decisions related to the project are available faster and more accurately than ever before. I wish I had these tools when I was leading the team in the electrical subcontracting world, but now they are available to you. I am interested in how you are utilizing your BIM data for estimation workflows. Leave a comment or connect with me if you're interested in discussing this or following more.

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