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The Virtual World of Construction

How Technology is Changing the Construction Process

Gone are the days of hundreds of blueprints, sketched in pencil and aligned on a light table. There's a new blueprint for construction, a three dimensional model containing all the information needed to build Globe Life Field. Building Information Modeling, BIM, for short, is essentially building Globe Life Field in virtual form.

BIM Manager at Stanley D. Lindsey and Associates (SDL) Ben Osborne, can visualize the site at any time, exploring the multiple levels, multiple clubs and multiple concourses, though he doesn't have to be on-site in Arlington, he can view it from his office 800 miles away in Atlanta.

"Rather than drawing 2-dimensional plans on paper, we're actually in the computer treating the computing environment as a job site," Osborne said. "We're building it so the first time that the job gets built is before you're actually out there, boots on the ground. The first time it's built, is on the computer."

Osborne is in charge of gathering the logistical information for SDL, the company responsible for the erection engineering for the roof. SDL also handles all logistics planning for the ballpark structure, including the concrete bowl, steel bowl, and everything else structurally involved with the project.

Utilizing BIM eases managing the logistics of the 1.7 million square foot site.

"Our role is to take everybody's information and combine all of that into a four dimensional deliverable that walks through the project day-by-day and says this is where everybody's cranes are going to be, and what everybody is working on," SDL Principal / Director of Erection Engineering Will Jacobs said.

Architect's models form the foundation of all the BIM data, which is then transferred to the structural engineers on the project. The engineers then add elements such as steel, concrete and beams into a digital model. The data is then downloaded by all of the relevant stakeholders, from fire protection to electrical, allowing everyone to input data pertinent to their trade.

"[In] a lot of cases you're taking where the previous party stopped their work and you're picking up from that point and taking the ball further," Osborne said.

Osborne compared the whole system to popular digital game Minecraft, where players take 3D cubes and transform them into a virtual world.

"I get to go into this 3D environment and have the freedom to build whatever I want and plan things out," Osborne said. "I get to work collaboratively with people to build and develop an environment. That's what we're doing on a bigger, fancier scale; it's just that what we do actually gets built at the end of the day."

Every trade party involved in the Globe Life Field project finds BIM useful, including TD Industries, the company responsible for all the plumbing, HVAC and piping on the project.

"If we find a spot that we see a problem we can actually send a 3D model of what you're talking about. It's just easier to explain things and to kind of get your point across to others where you need help if you can send a 3D picture," Senior Lead VDC designer for TD Industries Jason Moore said.

The responsibility of managing their input, collaboration and sign-off within the program remains with each trade group. The overall files from all partners are uploaded once a week, allowing everyone to see the progress made throughout every facet of the ballpark.

Senior BIM and VDC Coordinator Mindi Darthard coordinates the modeling for JMEG, the electrical contractor handling that trade for the ballpark. BIM allows her to model all of the electrical content prior to installation, confirming all electrical set-up is feasible within the design of the building, as well as the other trades, before the physical on-site build.

"You can actually fly through the model," Darthard said. "You can load it into the actual building and fly through it and make sure everything fits."

Darthard has worked with BIM since it was first gaining in popularity in the early 2000's. The software, and the way the programs are utilized in construction has rapidly grown since she first became involved.

"The programs have gotten better to make the models more detailed, and the programs have also gotten faster fixing issues over the year," Darthard said. "As far as the whole process overall, I think people have gotten more on board with [BIM] and found the benefits of it."

Just ten years ago construction projects were still built using paper blueprints. Even neighboring AT&T Stadium didn't utilize BIM across all trades.

"It was a lot more difficult. We'd have to do things in 2D and stick it in our model," Moore, who also worked on AT&T Stadium, said. "[Before], we didn't have a 3D model so it was a lot more difficult when you don't have something you can look at. You have to basically create it. Now with these 3D models you don't actually have to create it."

Globe Life Park construction work is currently advancing in the lower and main concourse areas, parallel with the digital focus through BIM. Moore anticipates some of his work will be installed at the ballpark this summer. The timeliness reinforces the immense benefit of using BIM, in addition to the cost efficiencies.

"We are minimizing conflicts and streamlining schedules in a way that wasn't even imaginable 10-15 years ago. Rather than having to deal with it in the field, and the cost and time associated with it, we're dealing with it in a virtual environment months before you get to that point," Jacobs said.

Another goal of BIM is to solve as many potential problems in advance as possible. Through the software, problems show up on the 3D rendering before getting anywhere near the physical construction site.

"This program will find all the conflicts where plumbing is running into sprinkler pipe, or vice versa, [helping] to clean up all these clashes," Moore said.

Reporting and solving problems before they make it to the jobsite is a large benefit of the programs used by the different trades. BIM not only helps the fast-past project stay on track with efficiency, but it also saves time and money on the physical construction site.

FUTURE OF BIM

There are several different software platforms that deliver BIM technology, and all of them are rapidly evolving.

"Initially BIM was kind of an architecturally driven product and a lot of the change and evolution enabled more analysis, rather than just 3D modeling. Now I would say a lot of the evolution is on the collaboration and interoperability side," Osborne said.

Osborne thinks it will be just a few more years before the technology advances into augmented reality, the same technology used in the Pokemon Go application, but with 3D construction models.

"We're using steel instead of a Pokemon, not as fun," Jacobs said.

Construction oriented versions of Google Glass already exist that allow workers to view models in the field.

"They can actually enable the iron worker, or the pipe worker, in the field to see, as he's looking at it, what he's working on right there and actually see an overlay of the 3D model in his sight," Osborne said.

The construction industry already utilizes similar type technology, but not widely, and not used in the Globe Life Field project. It serves as proof that the future of construction technology is rapidly evolving.

"I think augmented reality on the construction side is definitely going to happen soon and is already happening," Osborne said.