Mallory Collier, the lead virtual design coordinator for Brasfield & Gorrie’s Nashville operations, has a long history with building information modeling. Collier’s experience with BIM goes all the way back to college, where she was a member of the first BIM competition team at Auburn University. “I did my thesis on BIM,” said Collier. “We had to take a project through the process from inception to finish. The technology was still fairly new then, so I learned some in the classroom and the rest was self-taught in the field.”
When Collier (pictured at left) joined Brasfield & Gorrie in 2012, the firm’s BIM department had just four people. Today, the department has grown to 14 full time employees with plans for additional growth this year.
BIM, Collier said, is used in some form on 80% of the firm’s projects and on all healthcare jobs, which tend to be more complex. The BIM department even has someone who specializes in self-perform modeling, working exclusively with Brasfield & Gorrie’s self-perform concrete group.
“Even if we already have a model, we will remodel the entire job to identify everything needed to complete the project,” Collier said. “In addition to the core uses for BIM and estimating, this is a new way we have found value in the process.”
Helping Subs Through the Process
Using subcontractors who are BIM-proficient is an increasing requirement of many general contractors in the industry today and Brasfield & Gorrie is no exception.
But the firm is loyal to its long-time contractors and if they aren’t BIM-proficient already, Collier’s team helps familiarize them with new BIM processes and technology. “We supplement some of our subcontractors to teach them the BIM process so that they can improve and get up to speed on our expectations,” said Collier. “We do a lot of training with subs who are just learning, helping them make the transition from AutoCAD to a 3D environment. Most are already using BIM, but if not, we can train them.”
This is especially critical with smaller subcontractors, who may lack the internal resources to master the technology on their own. “We had one of our smaller fire protection contractors come in for a full day so that we could bring them up to speed,” Collier said. “We sat down and walked them through the whole process, including how to draw pipes in 3D. They loved it. We’re using them on several jobs right now and they do great work.”
Some projects, Collier said, have subs that aren’t able to model, but still want to participate in the coordination process. For them, Brasfield & Gorrie does the modeling for them.
“I recently sat down with the superintendent on an electrical job for a few days and modeled it for him,” she said. “His previous workflow didn’t even include any 2D drawings to help aid in the installation process. Now, he said he won’t do another job without the use of BIM. It also helped me understand his work so that when I coordinate a job, I have a better understanding of his process for installation, what he can or cannot work around – things I wouldn’t have known before.”
At the end of each project, Brasfield & Gorrie debriefs with a “lessons learned” session to determine how the job could have been improved. This debriefing includes input from Brasfield and Gorrie, subcontractors, designers, and anyone else involved in the coordination process. Though there was some initial resistance from superintendents and crews to learning the new BIM processes, most have been quick to get on board.
“When we take the time to sit down and explain what BIM is and show them how it can help them with their specific job, most are on board fast,” she said. “We have had really good buy-in from our superintendents and field crews, which is a huge step. They are excited about it.”
One general superintendent even called the VDC team wanting to learn how to model a steel structure himself.
“He said he couldn’t expect his guys to do it unless he went through the process and understood what he was asking them to do,” Collier said. “Having that level of support from an executive field position is invaluable.”
This level of participation – from field crews, project managers, estimators and superintendents – is what has made BIM so successful at Brasfield & Gorrie. Everyone is encouraged to participate, whether it is creating the model, back-checking work with a total station to show field engineers how accurate their original measurements were, or describing what the BIM process looks like and the efficiencies that can be achieved.
“The next step will be defining where our job ends and the field/PM’s responsibility begins,” Collier said. “We are trying to figure out those roles now and how to successfully marry them, but the responsibility will ultimately be with both of us.”
Future of BIM
“We have spent most of last year putting together training sessions for our estimators and project managers on how to look at a model, scrub it, and see first-hand how it relates to their drawings,” said Collier. “We don’t just want them to learn how to work the software, but really understand the information they are getting.”
Collier said there is also a big push at Brasfield & Gorrie to integrate models with the firm’s safety department, for engineers to more seamlessly transfer information to the field, and to find additional ways owners can use the model after the job has been completed.
“We want to customize what we turn over at the end of the job to each individual client so that owners can use the information to better maintain and operate their buildings,” Collier said. “We end up with this robust, as-built model that shows everything. The key is getting it into a useful format that their staff can use without having to change their whole system.”
Primarily, Collier said, BIM is a process improvement – not a completely new way of doing things.
“The information is there. Now, with BIM, you can analyze it earlier and faster than you could before, which makes the process more efficient on the front-end,” she said. “Sometimes this scares people because they think they have to change. In reality, it’s not a completely different process – just a more efficient one.”