How do you revolutionize building design and construction?

As a leader in education for the built environment, Wentworth Institute of Technology is on the leading edge of building innovation. We recently asked professor John Cribbs to share his thoughts on a significant innovation, Building Information Modeling, or BIM, which promises to revolutionize the ways buildings are designed, constructed, and maintained. 

 What is BIM?

Productivity in the construction industry is declining due, in part, to the continued reliance on traditional design and fabrication information typically found in two-dimensional drawings. While various sectors of the manufacturing industry have adopted the use of digital models for product design and fabrication, the construction industry is still heavily reliant on people, rather than computers, to read and interpret important data. In response to this, the AEC industry is becoming increasingly focused on Building Information Modeling, or BIM. Alternately defined as a process and as a digital object model, BIM is changing the way those in the construction industry understand and visualize a building from planning through final use, ultimately, improving productivity.

The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) defines BIM as: a digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a facility. As such, it serves as a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable base for decisions during its life cycle.” Put another way, BIM describes tools, processes and technologies, that are facilitated by machine-readable documentation about a building, its performance, planning, construction and operation. Together, these varied parts create a Building Information Model, or interactive representation of a facility as it is designed or exists. Unlike traditional, 2d CAD drawings, and more advanced 3d CAD drawings, BIM combines the 3d CAD models with all the information required for designing, building and maintaining a facility.

The BIM Landscape

A shortage of skilled labor, along with shifts in supply-chain management and declining productivity have created a unique landscape for the growth of BIM in the AEC industry.  A recent study by McGraw Hill Smart Market Report, indicates that several factors, including the retirement of baby boomers, recession, and inadequate training for incoming workers have contributed to a significant labor shortage especially among specialty trade contractors, such as HVAC and the electrical trades. A similar study by the NIBS found that by the year 2020, the US will experience a shortage of nearly 1 million engineers.

At the same time, an increase in the use of technology in place of manual labor, greater process enhancement and project complexity have shifted traditional approaches to AEC supply chain management. Together with declining productivity, and the lasting impacts of the financial downturn of 2008, these changes have led to shifts in project management. Some in the industry have responded by reverting back to more traditional practices, relying on basic design, bid and build to win projects and recoup losses, while others have innovated new approaches to push the envelope in integrated knowledge-based project delivery. The purpose of this approach is to realize significant gains through shared expertise and knowledge, as well as the successful delivery of a project under budget and on an expedited schedule.

With the emergence of integrated teams, delivery methods for design and construction of facilities and supply-chain management techniques has come the growth of more transparent design and construction documentation methods, like BIM, which has been adopted at different rates throughout the AEC industry and building lifecycle.

The future of BIM

At Wentworth, the Miles and Eugenia Sweeney Department of Construction Management is committed to promoting these proven technologies through the introduction of a new physical lab/classroom space dedicated to integrated and interdisciplinary technology solutions. The new Bond Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) Lab at Wentworth will provide students–from undergraduates, to part-time students, to corporate training partners–with access to state-of-the-art technology and expose them to tools and processes which are becoming AEC industry standard (many of which are BIM-centric). The lab offers a unique setting for cross-disciplinary education and is meant to foster a collaborative learning process which engages multiple academic departments as well as industry partners.

In the Bond Virtual Design and Construction Lab, students can expect to:

  • Experience how project teams and various disciplines understand and visualize building and infrastructure projects through the engagement of BIM;
  • Get hands-on training in various software tools to manage information used in the design, construction, scheduling, and budgeting processes which directly impact overall project outcomes;
  • Learn how to visually understand a project in multiple dimensions or phases with different objectives;
  • Develop the skills needed to advance in a successful career in the AEC industry.

Technology offers another layer in which to understand a building or infrastructure. The appropriate use of technology has been shown to save time and money, enhance stakeholder collaboration/communication, and create better overall project outcomes when compared with more traditional methods. As the AEC industry begins to adopt and embrace these innovative approaches to designing, constructing, and operating/maintaining our built environment, we challenge our students, and partners, to do the same.

About the Author:

Dr. John Cribbs is an Assistant Professor of Construction Management at Wentworth Institute of Technology. Dr. Cribbs earned his PhD in Construction Management from the Del E. Webb School of Construction at Arizona State University. His research focused on Building Information Modeling (BIM) workflows for enhanced quality control and labor time utilization for coordinated MEP and specialty trade equipment, from design-to-install, in retrofit environments. Before joining Wentworth, Dr. Cribbs served as a Principal at Green Ideas Building Science Consultants, based in Phoenix.

McGraw-Hill (2012). Construction Industry Workforce Shortages: Role of Certification, Training and Green Jobs in Filling the Gaps. SmartMarket Report.
ANSI (2007). National Building Information Modeling Standard. NBim, 180.

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