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Recently, our friends at Superior Mechanical were kind enough to give me a tour the new half-billion dollar Children’s Hospital expansion here Birmingham. I was interested to see how they are integrating Lean construction initiatives with their BIM work to be more efficient, and save their ultimate customer time and money.

As background, Lean is a system that seeks to streamline practices and eliminate wasted effort. The idea is to create more value with fewer resources. The system is process-oriented, with the goal of entirely eliminating excess—be it physical or in the form of time.

While Lean technology has been applied to manufacturing for several decades, Superior is using it to make them be more efficient in construction. Rodney King, their Lean Coordinator, explained the efforts.

Superior has made perfecting processes their goal. Errors are identified and the procedure is refined until mistakes evolve out. The emphasis is on the series of tasks rather than the individuals performing them, systematizing delivery.

No more creating a new mold with every project. The system becomes the skill.

Rodney gave me the example of their pre-fab shop. It was created so that many standard assemblies–like plumbing systems–can be put together in a warehouse before installing on site. The benefits are multiple:

Speed. All the tools needed are at arm’s reach. Also, with repetition, the labor becomes more time and cost efficient.

Safety. While plumbers onsite might have to work on a ladder, the tasks are at chest-level in the prefab shop.

Lower waste. Excess product that might get thrown out on the job site is set aside for another use. This is better for landfills and the bottom line.

We are evaluating lean ourselves. In fact, we’re planning a post later this week about our CFO’s visit to Basic Lean. For us, I can see the potential. While it’s not always easy to change mindsets and habits, I believe there are some wins out there in the construction industry. As Rodney said, it’s about small incremental successes over time. I agree.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email


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A while back, I mentioned our desire to explore Building Information Modeling (BIM), a database which catalogs a structure throughout its life cycle in real time 3D. We felt the system would provide a value-add large enough to merit hiring someone to manage our efforts. I’m pleased to say we found the right fit.

William Byrd, a graduate of Auburn University’s Building Science program, has a long history with modeling technology. His father, the manager of a steel manufacturing company, brought home drawings of machine parts that his shop was building.

William learned the basics on their home computer, and found a passion that led him to complete his senior thesis in Construction Information Technology using BIM.

I asked him to put together a list of what BIM can do for a construction company in terms of customer benefits. Here are the areas he thinks will be most useful:

Presentation. Owners, investors and contractors can see their building taken from a 2-dimensional plane to a model. They can now “walk through” a structure that has yet to be built.

Collaboration. For architects, general contractors and owners, working together on a model gets a conversation flowing. Through BIM, all parties can begin their partnership earlier. This saves time in the long run by avoiding costly changes or mistakes.

Forecasting problems. Constructing the building virtually can aid in finding problems in the design or the constructability of a project.

Record Keeping. With a complete model, an owner can see what exactly is hidden behind a wall or a concrete slab. In renovations or repairs, this can be invaluable.

It is our belief that BIM will drive efficiency in the construction industry in the same way that AutoCAD (and equivalents) revolutionized how drawings are completed by architects and engineers.  We’re confident it will give us the edge in both negotiated and hard bid work. We’re pleased to be early adopters.

I will ask William to check in occasionally, sharing thoughts on BIM upgrades and tips from along the trail. We look forward to sharing our experience.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email


There is comfort in the known. That’s why most of us enjoy having a steady routine at work. But if you’re not careful, getting lost in habit and familiarity can become too comfortable. You’ll end up stuck in a rut while the ever-changing business landscape passes by. As former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said,

“He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.”

The construction industry is no different. The economy is forcing many companies to carefully examine shifting demands in the business and ensure their technological capabilities and skill sets meet those demands. Here are a few things I am doing to evaluate new means and methods:

Social Media. I suppose the very existence of this blog gives you evidence that I decided to embrace the social world. Beyond Planting Acorns, we’ve jumped in there and gotten active on FlickR, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Not only has this formed some wonderful new relationships, it has given me another avenue to stay up to date on the latest and greatest industry news.

RSS. I use Google Reader for two main reasons:

  • For social media strategy. I receive updates from Chris Brogan and Mashable. In the interest of time, I believe these are overarching and provide a concise heads up on the latest ways to stay connected.
  • To scan latest articles on advancements in construction technology. I use the word search tool to narrow my reading, and find advancements that allow us to do more with less, increasing productivity. BIM would be an example.

LEED. Marketplace emphasis on sustainable construction and renewable energy continues to increase. I sought LEED accreditation before we constructed our building and it’s led to multiple jobs we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

To sum up, I think the construction industry has not taken full advantage of change. Numerous opportunities are waiting; we just have to open the door. Change is often the catalyst for success.


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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.