By Richard Thomas AIA, NCARB, LEED® AP
Published in the November 2010 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Facility managers (fms) have to tap into an enormous amount of information just to operate their buildings daily. Even a relatively simple problem might require an initial trip to diagnose, followed by hours spent searching for (and poring through) old blueprints, manuals, and paper and computer files before returning to fix the problem.
But what if fms could tap just a few keys on a computer or mobile device to find the information needed to identify, diagnose, and fix a problem—all in one place and easily accessible? Even better, what if this information could be displayed in the form of a 3D visual model that would make it easier to understand and allow teams to try different approaches and see results before even leaving their chairs?
While software and hardware tools have emerged to help fms improve efficiency and perform specific aspects of their highly complex jobs, what has been missing is a way to tie all of this information together and then mine and manage this data effectively. Achieving this goal offers opportunities to increase operational efficiency. It also provides a way for fms to measure performance so they can effectively manage tasks, thus enabling them to run day to day operations efficiently and maximize the life of their buildings. Building Information Modeling (BIM) offers a promising solution.
BIM For Fms
Providing the ability to link the BIM processes used to produce 3D models for design and construction with the numerous software packages to support the current facilities management (FM) service industry creates a value proposition for fms. BIM supplies the missing links among various sources of information in numerous formats (e.g., blueprints, CAD drawings, manuals, files, computer databases, software packages), enabling the creation of one accurate source of data. Working in a BIM environment offers fms the ability to access, model, analyze, and use this information in different ways.
Fms, as well as manufacturers and large institutions, are starting to recognize the value proposition BIM offers as it is extended from the design and construction phase (which accounts for only 1% to 3% of a building’s total cost) into the much larger operations phase (which comprises about 97% of its total life cycle cost). BIM enables fms to make the best use of information generated from the earliest conceptual idea of a building, through construction and occupancy, and ultimately throughout the life of the facility.
In the last 10 years, hardware and software technology has advanced to the point where building models can be created in a virtual 3D environment. Critical aspects can be visually modeled in real time—relatively easily and at a low cost—before any physical construction or related investment takes place.
The same information used to create these dynamic building models will also help fms understand problems and work effectively. Eventually, the BIM environment may revolutionize the way facility asset performance issues are identified and resolved.
Understanding The Value Proposition
Working with BIM allows fms to access accurate, live information about every aspect of a building or large campus from a computer, smart phone, or tablet device. Real time visual models will enable fms to see where a problem is occurring, assess the performance causing the problem, analyze the performance, and determine the fix before having to go out and complete the repairs.
For example, in response to a temperature related complaint or monitoring system alert, an fm could take a look at the HVAC system model and pinpoint the source of the problem based on these readings. If analysis targets a specific AC unit, the fm can view the repair/maintenance history on it and determine if the unit is under warranty. The proper technician could then be dispatched along with the right tools and parts to diagnose and fix the problem. While there, the technician could also fix other things in the same area or perform needed preventive maintenance procedures to circumvent future problems.
Return On Investment
Often, it is very difficult for fms to measure the many complexities of a building and its operation. It is virtually impossible to measure real costs against the design and performance criteria used to create the building in the first place.
As sustainability goals and performance reductions become more commonplace, the need to measure performance on a regular basis increases. This lack of baseline information about existing conditions makes initial cost justification for BIM implementation somewhat difficult to quantify. However, the logic behind it is sound, and anecdotal proof to date supports this hypothesis. Once BIM is implemented, entities will be able to analyze various performance aspects of buildings, measuring the results to manage solutions.
Working in a BIM environment offers opportunities for fms looking for ways to extend building life, reallocate assets, remodel or expand existing structures, and build new ones. Cost justification is easier to prove if fms can model the energy savings or provide an accurate estimate of how much a building’s maintenance may cost on an annual basis–especially one that eliminates expenses not originally factored in the budget.
With global energy prices soaring, sustainability is becoming a point of convergence. This push for energy savings and sustainability is a big driver for BIM implementation.
Buildings waste huge amounts of energy on a daily basis. Inefficient heating and air conditioning are easy targets for cost reduction. Water use and lighting are others. By modeling utility and energy use systems, fms can better understand where inefficiencies occur and then implement conservation measures and provide cost saving opportunities.
Implementing BIM In Existing Facilities
Implementing BIM into the facilities and operations management of the life cycle is easier in cases where buildings were designed and constructed using BIM. However, existing buildings can also implement BIM. As built drawings or 3D scans can allow existing structures to be incorporated into BIM.
If prints or as built drawings are not available, other options can be used to determine the exact location of structural components and systems such as steel beams, ductwork, electrical conduit, plumbing, inside walls, and other structures.
Laser scanning, sonar technology, X-rays, photo telemetrics, and other high-tech methods can be used to fill in missing information needed to create BIM. Once designed, accurate models can be used for the life of the building.
Migration to a BIM environment will also prevent key data from being lost as time passes and personnel changes in a dynamic environment.
Closing The Knowledge Gap
The ability to capture existing knowledge and share information easily across platforms is critical. In the next five to 10 years, a large portion of today’s fms will likely retire and leave the workforce. When these managers depart, upwards of 75% of the institutional knowledge about how existing buildings operate will walk out the door with them.
Not enough people are currently training to replace these experienced fms, which is creating a significant knowledge gap. BIM will allow a transfer of information to help close this gap and facilitate the transition process.
The industry is evolving, and today’s building owners and fms are well positioned to drive the implementation of BIM. Providing needed information in a format that can be pulled into BIM has significant ramifications on creating a measurable environment.
BIM is an information management process. It can be implemented in phases with the cost saving gained in initial steps assisting in the funding of subsequent phases. The ultimate goal is a dynamic, fully interactive model of the building or site.
Once education on the potential of a BIM environment has taken place and fms recognize the value proposition BIM offers, they need to request information that supports its goals and objectives. Getting started involves creating a set of guidelines and performance standards for designers and builders. These guidelines and standards must be generated in such a way that they can be used to support every aspect of FM over the life of the building.
In the case of new construction, this approach involves getting the information during the design and construction phase and delivering it in a format that can be used in BIM. For existing buildings, key information needs to be gathered and put into a format that can be used for BIM.
Training on the software and hardware tools necessary to create BIM will be required. Consultants and design companies working on BIM are available to help. People using the tools must be comfortable with the software systems used to produce the models. They need to be able to construct a model properly so it yields the information they desire.
Building owners and fms cannot simply keep operating the way they have in the past. The necessity to manage data more effectively in this information age and the continual pressure to reduce ever increasing energy costs will likely drive the need to change current practices.
The transformation to a BIM environment is already under way. Starting the process of education and laying the groundwork now will position fms to reap the many benefits BIM can offer in the coming years.
Thomas is vice president of Norwood, OH-based SHP Leading Design, a full service sustainable design firm based in Norwood, OH. He is a registered architect with over 35 years of regional, national, and international experience in the practice of architecture and design.