Before Xavier University started construction on a 450,000-square-foot expansion project in Cincinnati, Ohio, experts from all project entities gathered to discuss potential problems. To help all entities visualize and understand the plan, the university used Building Information Modeling (BIM), a three-dimensional design model program, to demonstrate their vision.
During that meeting, Greg Meyer, Xavier University’s assistant director for facilities assessment, realized what makes BIM so unique is its ability to aggregate information from all project entities into one system that can be constantly updated in real time. Even though it was Meyer’s first time using the program, he knew the scale of readily accessible information would help streamline the data needed to sustain building operations after the expansion was complete. “This was the kind of information I needed to get,” Meyer says.
Although architects and designers have used BIM for years, some facilities managers are just beginning to explore the technology. The information built into BIM can provide many advantages in building operations, including minimizing costly change orders during construction projects, reducing time spent gathering a building’s asset information, improving budget projections for repair expenses and expediting maintenance repairs through an online database.
Here are some ways facilities managers are using BIM to make their jobs easier.
Diminish Change Orders
Most people have trouble envisioning what a two-dimensional plan will look like when it is built. This problem proves costly, as users often request change orders after construction begins. But visualizing the entire project in a 3-D BIM model makes it easier for users to understand exactly what the construction will look like beforehand, allowing them to request changes before construction starts, says Eric Peabody, architect at The Design Partnership LLP, an architecture and planning firm based in San Francisco. As a result, facilities personnel can minimize cost and time overruns due to expensive change orders that would otherwise complicate construction indefinitely.
Before using BIM, Meyer had to sort through piles of paper documents and data CDs to gather information on all the assets in a new facility, from the roof down to the pipes. To verify that the information was accurate, he would physically walk through the building to see if the installed equipment matched the plans because changes are often made during construction for budget reasons without any documentation in the original plans. For the last step, he manually entered the asset information into their Computer-Aided Facility Management (CAFM) software. This process could take nine months to a year after getting the keys to the building, Meyer says.
But with BIM, information stays up-to-date from the design process through construction, with all project entities making changes to one model as needed even before the building handover is complete. That means facilities managers can maintain a more accurate database of asset information, without the tedious work of populating the data themselves, Meyer says.
Still, Meyer says he initially found it difficult to trust the information straight from the BIM model. But after performing several spot checks, he found the data to be very accurate. Now, he no longer has to do the tedious work of populating the data himself.
To work to its full potential, BIM data needs to be accessible to the entire operations team. Because BIM is still relatively new to facilities managers, many don’t know how to read BIM yet. So, they use other computer software, like CAFM, to help decode information on BIM. By linking BIM with a CAFM system that pushes the information out to a web interface, it makes the information available to maintenance and repair technicians who are working in the field, Meyer says.
That way, when these technicians receive a radio call in the field for a work order, they can use a smartphone or tablet device to connect to the Web and quickly access live, searchable data in real time from anywhere. Quickly finding relevant information — such as the manufacturer’s name, make, model number and past work history — means a streamlined process for maintenance, Meyer says. Without this mobile access, Meyer says his technicians would have to walk dozens of acres of campus and sort through paper blueprints and equipment documents at the office.
Budget Projection and Lifecycle Management
Perhaps the biggest advantage of BIM is that it accurately manages the lifecycle of assets, and as a result, allows facilities managers to financially plan for major repairs and replacements. Embedded in the model is the lifespan of every piece of equipment in the facility, from roofs to sidewalks to heating ducts. Based on this information, Meyer has projected repair and replacement expenses for the next 15 years.
Before, Meyer would manually enter the lifecycle of every asset in a spreadsheet and create a formula to come up with a repair schedule. The result proved to be cumbersome and inaccurate. Now, the CAFM system uses BIM data to produce a concise report that allows Meyer to see which years are expense-heavy so he can budget for them properly. He even has the option to produce an itemized, detailed list for technicians or a big-picture executive summary to present to the chief financial officer. “It’s all about balancing the spend,” Meyer says, “and BIM is just a better reporting tool.”
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