Q: BIM (building information modeling) is becoming mainstream in construction, but can you share some thoughts about its use in facilities management?
A: The World Championship Slide Rule Competition was held in Texas in March, with wannabe champions tackling a set of problems, with strict time limits, using only their slide rules and grey matter. Putting these two tools through their paces, the competition was hot and heavy as two entrants competed for the gold.
Why, with the advent of BIM technology, would I hearken back to the former favorite pocket tool of engineers? Just to make the point that BIM is a tool and, like the slide rule, it will evolve, be improved upon, and perhaps one day be superseded by a technology we can only imagine.
But for now, BIM can make a facility manager’s life a lot easier if it is properly integrated into a facilities management tool kit. BIM can become your new best friend.
What exactly is BIM?
Simply put, BIM provides digital representations of a building’s characteristics. These physical and functional attributes are captured, resulting in 3D models with supporting data that assists decision making not only during design but also through construction and the entire life cycle of a building. Whether honing a concept design, engineering building systems within a shell, or planning a building’s demolition, the data embraced by a robust BIM record avoids costs and enhances execution and schedule.
First embraced by the design world, today architects, engineers, and contractors develop the majority of new structures using some type of computerized modeling. Computer-aided design (CAD) has been around for a long time, but BIM ups the ante, providing accurate 3D imaging backed by building data as extensive as the facilities manager requires. By developing plans in three dimensions, backed by data on the building materials, the design team can improve precision, allow the owner (and facility managers) a real-world view of their project, increase the accuracy of estimating, and detect constructability problems before groundbreaking. A change order saved is a penny earned.
BIM does not live by plans alone—a good set of BIM documents may include equipment warranties and performance specifications, building systems specifications, costs, materials, and a myriad of additional data that can be called up for the development of a maintenance plan, solving a line or tool down situation, or annual capital budget development. To maximize the technology’s potential, the strategic facilities manager must ensure that as BIM information about a facility is developed, it is handed over to the facilities department for building maintenance, planning, and operations uses. Likewise, when critical building system information is generated, it should be integrated into the BIM file.
Putting BIM into play in the facilities department
The following are some tips, tricks, and practical advice for integrating BIM into a facilities department:
• Invest in the equipment, software, and training. One without the other is like a car without wheels; it won’t get the job done.
• Keep line items in the budget each year for more equipment, software, and training.
• Adequately train—and cross train—the facilities staff. Technical staff—whether in the capital projects, equipment maintenance, or facilities management section—should have a solid working capability on BIM technology. BIM can be used to plan a capital improvement project or tie an addition into existing utilities. But it’s also a great way to locate the source of a sudden leak, develop an equipment replacement schedule, or quickly pull up required information for an equipment service call.
• Determine the best BIM tools and supporting software to meet your facility’s needs. Spend the time upfront. Call in the experts.
• Set up an information handoff and data gathering process:
– Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. The BIM platform works best when it’s the supporting actor for a collaborative effort, whether in new construction, building maintenance, or life cycle planning. The cast of those in leading roles—depending on the project—can be extensive. Knit strong ties to outside consultants like architects, engineers, construction management firms, contractors, and subcontractors. Don’t forget the manufacturers of tool sets, equipment suppliers, process material manufacturers, and distributors. Each can be a rich source of data that will be useful for problem solving (or problem avoidance). Some, like equipment manufacturers, may offer built-in monitoring capabilities that can be linked directly to a facility’s system.
– Utilize vendors and equipment and furnishings suppliers. Equipment, materials, and furnishings suppliers should provide data, computerized graphics and, as appropriate, monitoring capabilities to be integrated into a BIM data bank. This will not only build an information-rich system but will provide useful information for maintenance, replacement planning, and capital budgeting exercises.
• Take advantage of BIM’s flexibility to link to other sources. BIM can link with, input, and utilize a wide variety of information from sources as diverse as Websites for equipment manufacturers and building systems, regulatory agencies, and in-house equipment monitors. Use this capability to become the best-organized facilities management group in the industry—it can reduce workload, cut costs, enhance strategic planning, and automate some work.
• When a new capital project is undertaken, be sure your facilities management group is well represented, particularly in the early stages of a project. At the outset, set the requirements for data transfer. The concept design and design development stages of any project are filled with loads of useful information; don’t let it escape.
• Mine existing information sources. It can be expensive and time consuming to go back and recreate the wheel, trying to gather pertinent building data in an already operating facility. It’s likely the needed information already exists with architects, engineers, and contractors who previously worked on the building; in links on manufacturers’ Websites; or from suppliers. Querying these sources is less time consuming than going back and rebuilding Rome.
• Don’t forget about the everyday “to do” lists. Support your staff’s maintenance and other tasks by including information like warranties, environmental assessments, maintenance records, operation manuals, required spare parts, and inventories. Tailor this list to meet objectives.
• Invest in supporting tools, such as system-compatible tablets. The construction industry today sends their employees to the field armed not only with traditional construction tools, but with tablets that allow instantaneous retrieval of BIM drawings, specs, and data. Start by arming your maintenance team.
The upfront work may seem daunting. The payoff in avoided costs, streamlined operations, reduced staffing requirements, predictive maintenance, efficient schedules, and strategic planning decisions based on relevant data will quickly overshadow upfront efforts.
But keep it in perspective. Similar accolades were once uttered about the slide rule.
Richard Bilodeau’s 30-year career includes plant engineering positions in clean manufacturing. He has designed, operated, and supervised the construction of advanced technology facilities and engineered clean manufacturing facilities for lithium-ion batteries, medical devices, electronics, and pharmaceuticals. Contact: TheFacilitiesGuy@smrtinc.com.
This article appeared in the September 2012 issue of Controlled Environments.