How to Use Intelligent
3D Models During Construction
August 17, 2021
What’s an intelligent model? A simple definition might be the geometry, shapes, 3D faces and vertices that make up the spatial definition of things we’re building linked to information such as that contained in databases, documents, photos and checklists. By that definition, we certainly already have intelligent models. So why then does it seem like their full potential is rarely achieved, and why are the benefits so inconsistent? Let’s look at some core modeling technology concepts that may unlock a few solutions.
Classification is the Key
It’s been said that the reason the construction industry rarely realizes the full potential of 3D models has to do with classification system problems. Since classification simply refers to tagging model elements with parameters, properties and meta-data, you might be left wondering what the problem could possibly be. The issue lies in having to manually specify these classifications to meet the needs of multiple teams, which in itself is a notoriously tedious and error-prone process, especially if it must be repeated with each subsequent model revision.
For instance, an estimator team might do an early estimate just based on quantities in Uniformat II categories. Later on, they might need more detail. A BIM team might just need attributes around discipline and area to set up their clash rules and do spatial coordination. A schedule team might need links to rows in a schedule. A workface planning team might need estimated ship dates from the procurement system to be able to plan installation work packages. The problem for all of these teams is further compounded when models are replaced from stage to stage in the design life cycle with revisions as the design proceeds. If each of these steps links information to the model itself, then presumably we have to do it again when we replace the design model with the construction model, and again when we replace the construction model with the as-built model before the project is delivered to the owner. Clearly, this is a huge problem.
The solution? Achieving structured relationships between all the different, useful information, with role-specific and task-specific views of that information. It’s easy to say but it’s very difficult to make happen.
How AWP and the Right Modeling Tech Can Help
Advanced Work Packaging, or AWP, is a set of methodologies that were largely born out of studies by the Construction Industry Institute and other construction management groups over the last ten years or so. Whether or not your team is exploring or curious about the prescriptive methodologies of AWP in particular, the ideas in AWP are undeniably valuable. They are integral in breaking down silos, integrating the flow of information and taking advantage of the intelligence models. Luckily, with software that enables virtual design and construction today we can use AWP within a common data environment to provide us with easy access to every revision of every design, construction and as-built model for every discipline team. In addition, we can have linked information of all kinds; documents, rows in a database table, photos from the field, issues, checklists and so on. And then we can make it easy to leverage this existing intelligence provided by those model authoring tools and can add information when necessary from the office or from the field or via automation. There’s a great deal of freedom and flex.
So, let’s say a project is going to end up providing the owner with a digital twin, an electronic copy of the physical building. I’m at the end of the project, and I’m an electrical subcontractor who’s obligated to provide information that’s unlikely to be available at design time, like asset serial numbers and owner manuals. I’m auditing the breaker panels, so with my AWP-enabled project software, I just go ahead and click on one of the panels, and I look at the linked data.
I can see a schema or a data structure that was defined by the facilities and maintenance team for the things that they want to track. With advanced modeling software that incorporates AWP, I will also be able to see every discipline, every sprinkler head, every piece of mechanical equipment, the people movers, the baggage handling system, everything in one place ahead of time and in real-time rather than loading a spreadsheet where I wouldn’t be confident that I had the latest information. I can go through an entire model and make sure that the ultimate digital twin that I’m delivering to the owner is complete and accurate.
Filling in the Intelligence Gaps
Sometimes models, while they provide all kinds of intelligence, don’t provide the intelligence that a particular team wants or needs. Let’s use the example of a high-rise, mixed-use building where the team wants to compare the quantity changes over time from an initial 2D takeoff to model-driven quantities, and as the models revise and get closer to construction, to be able to see those changes.
We’ll further assume that we don’t really have much logic plugged in yet, and that there might certainly be quantities feeding into labor costs and material costs in a more sophisticated way down the line. But even so, with the right estimating program paired with the model, it will still be as simple as loading up the template, clicking on a selection such as “send selected CBS” (Concrete Block Structure) to the model, run all Data Transformation Operations and then sync those model quantities back.
During the sync process, we just click on a selection such as “sync model quantities” and it will show us the current quantity in the estimate and the calculated quantity that’s coming from the model and some color coding as well to show us how big the delta is between them. So, if I assume these are correct and I just select and accept all of them, then they’re going to update all of the quantities immediately across the entire model. Any flow through to other calculations around costs and labor will be driven by those quantities. That’s wonderful, to be sure, but what happens when models are revised? How do we bridge that intelligence gap?
By taking advantage of one of the more interesting features of today’s best estimating platforms, we can save every revision of every model, then we can run an analysis on the different version and it will even be color-coded in a certain way to let us know the differences between the model versions. Say I make an obvious change in two edits to a mezzanine structural model. When we update this model later, we’re going to see that those models will show as changed.
Keeping it Real
In the real world, no matter how good the execution plans are and how well the contract deliverables are written, there will be things that are missing or there’ll be things that can’t be known at design time and have to be added in an aggregated environment. Because of this, concepts like AWP paired with advanced virtual design and construction tools have become must-haves for our best model outcomes. This means that the best platforms will be built on the premise that an intelligent model must allow for structured relationships between all kinds of information with role-specific views for practicality. Yet, it’s not just for practicality, it’s also crucial in our effort to break down silos between teams and tools.
By employing the right modeling technology, we will allow information to flow freely and accurately from pre-planning all the way through to post-construction operations, yielding our best modeling outcomes and gaining greater project confidence. Find out more by scheduling an InEight demo today.