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Computer Simulated Modeling Offers Potential in Construction

A developer using a VR headset to see a city skyline

Digested from Multifamily Executive

Computer-simulated, building information modeling (BIM) and virtual-reality (VR) technologies have made a big impact on the building industry. With programs like AutoCAD, Revit, SketchUp and BIM, software designers can bring traditional 2-D building plan sketches to life, writes Lauren Shanesy for Multifamily Executive.

Apartment builders who use these technologies are committed to them. “We loved it from the very beginning because you can build things off-site and coordinate the work well ahead of time, which helps your schedule,” Mark Weisner, Senior Vice President of Pre-Construction at Greenbelt, Md.–based Bozzuto Construction told Shanesy.

Despite this tremendous potential, apartment construction firms have been slow to catch on. Shanesy cites a 2013 McGraw-Hill Construction report that says 66 percent of commercial and 77 percent of institutional contractors were using BIM on projects in the U.S. But only 18 percent of U.S. multifamily residential contractors reported using the technology for apartment builds.

Mike Schlegel, President of Bozzuto Construction Company tells NAA that it’s typical for the completed building to differ from the original designs. He says changes are made to the design of the building due to the lack of precise coordination of all the various design disciplines.

“Those less ingrained in the industry often have the perception that the Architect designs the entire project but in fact, there are as many as a dozen different design firms involved,” he says. “These would include the Architect, MEP Engineer, Structural Engineer, Geotechnical Engineer, Fire Protection Engineer, Low voltage engineer, Interior designer, Landscape Architect, not to mention the subcontractor’s engineers and designers.

Schlegel says these design clashes can be lessened, if not prevented completely, with the use of BIM technology. “BIM isn’t being used to its fullest capacity because there are still hesitations around sharing the evolving BIM models with the various design disciplines and subcontractors,” Schlegel says. “While full BIM integration would be ideal, it will only be possible with the collaboration of all those involved in designing and building the project.”  

There is a potential for BIM to help with modular construction right now – prefabrication of certain building components off-site with assembly occurring at the construction site. “Using BIM allows for more precise and detailed construction drawings that contractors and subcontractors can rely upon,” he says. “They can be confident that the off-site, prefabricated materials will properly connect with the on-site structure.”    

Since productivity gains have remained virtually flat in the construction industry in recent years, Schlegel argues that contractors will eventually need to adapt more sophisticated building technologies to combat the inevitable shortage in the construction labor supply. “The construction industry is so fragmented,” Schlegel says, “There are so many different players yet, there is no one with the capital to invest in technology in order to make a difference in how housing is built or delivered. But long term, contractors will need to invest to solve for labor challenges.”

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