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The remarkable undulating curtain wall on the new Beekman Tower in Manhattan is a great example of how using a constructible model makes the nearly impossible possible on a huge scale—without busting the budget.

But constructible models aren’t just for large, complex building projects; they’re just as useful for small-scale projects like designing and digitally prefabricating WikiHouse projects that can be customized, printed and self-assembled in days with no construction skills.

The practice of building constructible models is not new. What is new is the way they are being used. The AEC industry is learning to leverage the inherent scalability and extensibility of information-rich models to substantially improve project performance. While the majority of the construction industry remains resistant to this approach (often fearing increased liability), new and better ways of sharing the project data the model contains is breaking down the barriers to adoption. Data sharing and collaboration among architects, engineers, trades and the general contractor result in happier owners, as well as higher profit margins and reduced risk for all.

Data-Rich Models Unify Project Teams

3-D models have been used for decades to communicate design concepts and win business. Engineering firms use them to plan infrastructure and MEP work, and construction trades are using them to accurately cut steel and prefabricate complex assemblies. The problem is that the structure is often modeled multiple times on different platforms by manually inputting information obtained from 2-D drawings. While the model serves its purpose for each firm on the project team, this practice is a waste of time, effort and money.

The better way to leverage 3-D is to build project models in such a way that they can become the “center of gravity” for the project, unifying project knowledge from the start of the project through to completion. These data-rich models allow everyone on the project team, from the designers, engineers and fabricators to onsite construction managers and crews to leverage the same “intelligence” throughout the project life cycle. Used in this way, the model becomes the trusted source of accurate data and measurements to ensure consistency across the trades as they build their own constructible models.

These information-rich models encourage collaboration among stakeholders. Because everyone working from the same source data, the models can be overlaid to detect clashes so that problems can be resolved well before construction begins. The result is a higher-quality, better-looking structure aligned with the original design intent and built with greater efficiency.

What’s more, instead of the architect wondering why the building doesn’t look like the design and the general contractor wondering why the plans provided are unbuildable, the design and construction teams work together from the start to ensure the owner’s requirements are met in terms of design, function, constructability and cost, reducing strife between the architectural, engineering and construction teams as well as liability.

Everything is agreed upon and worked out in the model, including construction materials and equipment, costs and schedules. Quantity and cost estimates are accurate; orders are placed with confidence; costs are under control. There are no big surprises because everyone uses the same source information for their models. The model becomes central to fixing problems during the design and engineering phase, dramatically minimizing construction delays. To reduce jobsite errors, animated construction sequences can be generated from the model to show workers exactly how to build the more complex parts of the project. Moreover, with automated building construction on the rise, model data can drive total stations and other automated point layout technologies on the jobsite. The more detail the model contains, the more likely the project will go smoothly.

What’s Keeping Project Teams from Expanding the Use of Constructible Models?

With all the upside to building constructible models and sharing model data, there has to be a reason why project teams aren’t using them more. The barriers to adoption have been the lack of accessible and easy-to-use tools to build the models, the lack of interoperability between 3-D modeling tools, and the perception that data sharing increases risk and liability.

Let’s face it: most BIM tools are expensive and difficult to learn and use. Only a few highly skilled practitioners in a firm possess the proficiency to use them, reducing their use to a “black art.” Many construction firms have yet to adopt 3-D modeling because the learning curve and investment seems too steep. The other problem is that most of these tools are proprietary and fall short or promised interoperability.

Fortunately, there are 3-D modeling tools that are affordable, fully interoperable with other applications, and can be mastered with a day of training. And like their expensive counterparts, they create dimensionally accurate, highly detailed constructible models and produce professional documentation.

Because interoperability is the cornerstone of collaboration among AEC professionals, tools that use the IFC file import format allow stakeholders to contribute information at any point in the modeling process and easily pass it to others on the project team, regardless of the tools being used. In some cases, this collaboration can take place in the cloud, making the process even easier. The ability to collaborate and share information contained in the constructible model while being assured that objects and the data connected to them remain consistently identifiable simplifies and eases traditionally rigid BIM workflow processes. Moreover, because all facets of the project are completely transparent to the owner and all contributors, there will be no surprises and the outcome will be as expected. There will be no blame to be had, because the likelihood of anything bad happening will be extremely slim.

The use of constructible models is on the rise for projects, ranging from the simplest designs to the most complex. The availability of affordable, intuitive and interoperable modeling tools bring 3-D modeling within reach of everyone on the project team and provide a collaborative structure that allows data to be shared. The result is a project that delights owners, improves construction firm performance and profits, and raises the overall quality of the construction industry.

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