Current and Emerging Best Practices in Construction Management

Current and Emerging Best Practices in Construction Management

Current and Emerging Best Practices in Construction Management
  Current and Emerging Best Practices in Construction Management 

The following paper was presented to the American Bar Association Forum on the Construction Industry, Division 12 (Owners & Lenders), during the group's July 8, 2015 monthly member call-in:  Mr. Bough has over 35 years of experience in the construction industry as a project manager, owner’s representative, and claims consultant. He Holds a degree in Construction Management from Purdue University and is a Certified General Contractor in the State of Florida. 
His project management and owner’s representative experience includes rapid transit systems, performing arts centers, sports venues, and multi-family housing. His construction claims experience includes delay analysis and defective construction investigations on a wide range of industrial, commercial, residential, transportation, and municipal projects.
Topic Introduction:  
While the construction industry has historically been slow to adapt new technologies, there are some current and emerging best practices that are proving to be very useful in improving productivity and quality, while reducing claims and change orders.The best practices that would like to discuss today are:      
  • Use of BIM technology     
  • Virtual plan rooms     
  • Field access to electronic project documents     
  • Lean scheduling     Drone technology     
  • 4D modeling to demonstrate construction delays 
Since this group includes owners and attorneys for owners, I would say that most of the practices that I’m going to talk about can be written into contracts as requirements of the designer, construction manager, or general contractor.  All of the practices that I’m going to talk about were used to some degree on my last Owner’s Rep assignment, which was the $300M Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando, constructed between 2011 and 2014.  
The Construction Manager was Balfour Beatty, and I give them credit for pushing the envelope on the use of new technologies.  I have noticed a trend with other big contractors, such as PCL, to also employ new technologies. So I think the trend will be increasing use of new technologies amongst big contractors, and then eventually we will see it trickle down to mid and small size contractors. Of course this trend may happen quicker if these practices are written into contracts as contract requirements. 

Use of BIM in Design  

This technology allows owners to “see” the project in 3D as the design is being developed. Utilizing BIM, users can “walk” into the building, can view the building spaces from any angle desired, and can make decisions on design changes based on the look and feel of the spaces, while the design is still just millions of bits of information in a computer. There are now BIM standards that can be incorporated into design contracts, to instruct the design team on exactly what is required in the BIM design.  
You can google national BIM standards for more information.  In addition to the benefit of allowing designers, owners, and project participants to see the design in 3D as it is being developed, the big benefit of BIM is that it allows designers to work out complex details in 3 dimensions, rather than 2, thus greatly improving their ability to design details that are constructible and work as intended, thus avoiding change orders later on. I’ll talk more about how 3D details are helping on the jobsite later on.

Use of BIM in “Clash Detection”  

The other big benefit of BIM is clash detection. This technology is proving hugely successful in identifying building component conflicts before the first yard of concrete is laid.  The process involves starting with the 3D structural model of a building, and then inserting other disciplines such as mechanical, electrical, and plumbing. In the case of small diameter piping, the design may not show every piece of pipe or conduit, but a 3 dimensional zone is created where the contractor will be expected to run these systems.  For larger ductwork and pipes, the duct or pipe will be fully detailed and shown in its intended routing.  
Once all the desired systems are input into the model, software runs the clash detection, and provides an identification of every “clash” between the structure and a system component, or between individual system components. With clash detection, conflicts that typically arise in the field, which cannot always be readily identified in a 2D model, can be identified and resolved during design. This technology has worked well in complex buildings with very tight routing spaces for plumbing, mechanical, and electrical systems, such as hospitals and performing arts centers.

The project team used it on the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center project.  The process involved a design team BIM operator sitting down with the MEP contractors and reviewing each detected clash one-by-one within the 3D model.  Suitable reroutes or modifications were developed and incorporated into the plans, thus avoiding change orders later on. I won’t say that this process solved all conflicts – there were still many conflicts in the field that had to be resolved through RFI’s and sometimes change orders, but the quantity of such conflicts was greatly reduced.

Virtual Plan Rooms  

This is a technology that is quickly evolving and will eventually replace the old way of maintaining paper copies of plans and specifications. Construction trailers with a large room dedicated to stacks and racks of paper construction plans will eventually become a thing of the past.  The trend is toward maintaining all plan sheets and all revisions on cloud-based or local-based servers.  In the past on typical projects, many change order issues and construction defect issues could be traced back to contractors not having the latest plan revisions in the field.  
With a virtual plan room approach, all parties can quickly see the current plan iterations and can quickly see what changed from prior iterations. Virtual plan room technology can and is being taken further, with electronic posting and linking of RFI’s, ASI’s, and other supplemental information so that users can quickly view all current and relevant information.  While the virtual plan room can be accessed from any internet connected computer, what we’re seeing on construction projects is that the typical plan room still exists, but instead of stacks and racks of drawings, a number of large video monitors are placed above counter height work stations, so that many contractors and subcontractors can access the plans at the same time, have necessary discussions, and get the information out to the field.

The use of a Virtual plan room was another technology that was used successfully on the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center project. The contractor stored pdf versions of all plan sheets, specifications, RFI’s, ASI’s, and change orders on a cloud based server. The server system used by Balfour Beatty was Egnyte – there are of course many others – but Egnyte has adapted their services specifically for the construction industry. The management of the plans themselves was accomplished by means of a pdf editing software – Balfour used Bluebeam Technology, but again there are many others. 
With the use of the pdf editing, Balfour posted all RFI’s and ASI’s to the appropriate plans, so that with the click of a mouse, a user could jump directly from the plan reference to the RFI. This linking was also set up for all plan detail and section call-outs, so that the user could simply click on a detail call out, to be taken directly to that detail or cross section, as opposed to the old method of finding a detail call out, then flipping through plan sheets until you find the correct detail.

The next step in this technology progression, which is already happening, is the ability to link the 2D plan sheets to the 3D BIM model. This will enable a user to locate a portion of a plan sheet, or a detail, that he needs to study, and then go directly to the 3D BIM model so that he or she can look at the detail from all angles, literally spin it around and look at it from the top, bottom, and sides.  This, to me, is one of the greatest benefits of BIM. In the past, everyone in the construction industry had to rely on 2D models. And no matter how long you’ve been in the construction industry, trying to understand a complex detail in 2D is not easy. 
I don’t know how many times I’ve been involved, or seen discussions taking place, with 3 or 4 people hunkered over a set of plans trying to decide the precise intent of the designer.  With BIM, many of those discussions and resultant RFI’s will not be required.  The use of virtual plan rooms and the integration of the BIM model with the plans is going to greatly improve productivity and quality, by making it much faster and easier for field supervision to access the correct plan information, gain a better understanding of what they are seeing, and disseminate the information quickly to foremen and tradesman.

Field Access to Electronic Data  

Just as construction trailers with large paper-based plan rooms is beginning to fade from use, contractor’s use of paper plans on the jobsite is fading.  The trend is toward making all construction plans and supplemental information available to trade contractors and others via cloud-based storage or local storage on tablet or laptop computers.  This enables contractors to utilize tablet or laptop computers in the field to bring up any plan they need, be able quickly verify that they are referring to the latest plan, and also access supplemental information such as RFI’s or ASI’s.  This technology was utilized on the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center to a degree.  
The contractor set up several storage boxes on the jobsite equipped with a computer and wifi connection, so that the contractors could access all of the project documents in the same manner as with the virtual plan room. This worked fine as long as the wifi connection was maintained.  When using tablet or laptop computers on the jobsite to access plans and project data, good wifi service is needed, or the ability to store all current plans and specs on the device.  With the latter, there must be a regular linking requirement, so that users are downloading and using the current documents.  The use of tablet computers in the field also allows field personnel to access the BIM model, to zoom in on a particular detail or area of the building, to look at it from all angles, and to make sure the detail is being constructed correctly.

Lean Scheduling Techniques  

The construction industry has often looked at CPM scheduling as a contractual requirement, but not a true management tool. Often, schedules are developed by the project scheduler, possibly working with the project superintendent, but without the involvement of the trade contractors. There are various reasons for this, but the result is that schedules are often developed without the direct input of the trades that will be performing the work.  An alternate approach that is gaining popularity is the use of “Lean Scheduling Techniques,” also referred to as “pull planning.”  This process involves setting key project milestone dates, and then working backwards from those dates, with the specific contractors that will perform the work, in order to establish realistic activity relationships and durations. 
This process establishes an achievable baseline schedule. During construction, the contractors then participate in weekly planning sessions, so that work activities are planned out on a day-by-day basis, with no questions as to who is working where, or when trades will complete in specific areas. This process results in greatly improved productivity and greatly improved odds of on-time completion.  Many of the larger contractors are buying in to this system. It was used successfully on the Dr. Phillips center.  There’s plenty of information in this on the web – you can google lean construction, lean construction institute, or pull planning for more information.

Use of Drones  

FAA rules are evolving which will eventually allow the use of drone flights for commercial applications such as monitoring of construction projects. Issues remain to be resolved such as rights of way, liability, insurance coverage, and privacy. The possibilities for drone use in design and construction are immense. A few examples:
  • Detailed photographs of rough terrain areas     
  • Construction progress photos and videos from various angles     
  • Monitoring of all angles of a complex crane lift or building demo     
  • Detailed inspections of existing buildings     Infrared scanning of building exteriors to detect trapped moisture     
  • Contour plotting of land shapes for use by designers and estimators.
The potential uses of drone technology on jobsites will continue to grow as this new technology is embraced.

4D Modeling to Demonstrate Construction Delays  

Returning to BIM, there is new technology being utilized to incorporate BIM models and time to visually show how buildings are built over time in a 4D model.  This changes the whole approach to trying to explain complex construction delay issues via schedule based charts. The 4D model allows viewers to see the building or structure going up, see the results of a particular delay, and see how the project was completed following the delay event.  
This is a very powerful tool that we are using with great results.   In conclusion, we are entering an exciting time in design and construction.  The industry is embracing new technologies that will greatly improve how construction projects are delivered. The topics that I’ve addressed today are likely the tip of the iceberg in what we will see in coming years.

The Author: Paul Bough
                                   Paul Bough

Currently Serving as Senior Managing Consultant with Berkeley Research Group, providing management of staff, client relations, and consulting engagements involving construction litigation support, construction delay claim analysis and preparation, defective construction investigations, and calculation of resultant damages. Provide expert witness services in mediation, arbitration, or litigation.  Previously served as Manager for AECOM's Program Management contracts within the State of Florida.  
Extensive Program and Project Management experience on a wide range of transportation, building, industrial, and municipal projects. Recent project management experience on sports and performing arts venues.  Recently completed Owner's Representative assignments on Orlando's Amway Center arena, home of the Orlando Magic, and on the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.  Extensive experience in construction claims analysis, litigation support services, and expert witness services.  Specialties: Program & Project Management, Cost control, scheduling, estimating, defective construction investigations, expert witness on construction litigation cases.

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