[caption id="attachment_40115" align="alignright" width="400" caption="Building information modeling is key to the Sutter Health's new hospital under construction north of Santa Rosa hospital and St. Joseph Health System's new pavilion at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, shown above."][/caption]

NORTH BAY -- In less than a decade, building information modeling (BIM) has become a major construction simulation and visualization process, and it's being employed heavily on large hospital projects now under construction in North Bay counties.

Today a growing number of North Bay architects, engineers and contractors -- commonly referred to as the AEC community -- are using BIM when designing new buildings and infrastructure projects.Autodesk bolsters its BIM software line

SAN RAFAEL -- While a number of suppliers offer a range of BIM-related software, the leading North Bay developer is Autodesk of San Rafael, a firm that has been expanding its portfolio of advanced 3D building design software modules since 2002 when it acquired the Revit Technology Corporation. [more]

Those companies and firms say benefits of this advanced 3-D digital design technique are many, resulting in dramatic cost and time savings and positive return on investment, better designs, improved quality of the final product, enhanced project scheduling, more accurate documentation and efficient contractor collaboration.

BIM supports the entire project lifecycle from design and field support to ongoing facility management and maintenance after a building is completed.

According to a 2009 McGraw-Hill Construction SmartMarket Report, nearly half of the U.S. building industry is using BIM -- a 75 percent increase since 2007. The report predicted that in two years the use of BIM would double among structural engineers, triple by mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers and quadruple by civil engineers. In 2010, a similar McGraw-Hill report stated that the use of BIM on sustainable or "green" projects is poised for growth, considering that 78 percent of BIM users who do not currently use it on such projects say they plan to do so within three years.

While digital design models have been used for decades in manufacturing by major firms such as Boeing and Toyota, adoption of BIM in the AEC community is a relatively recent transition. Traditionally, this group has relied on 2-D drawings, blueprints or first-generation CAD simulations.

[caption id="attachment_40116" align="alignright" width="400" caption="BIM model of the second floor of the Queen of the Valley Medical Center showing clashing pipes"][/caption]

BIM's added value centers around intelligent objects built into the software that automatically update design changes simultaneously in all views shared by project teams. For example, if a pipe is to be added that could clash with a steel beam, a visual alarm alerts all involved and reveals the exact location of the proposed clash before work begins.

Data remains consistent among all stakeholders and enables cross-functional project teams to have a clearer picture of the building before it is built -- so mistakes, make-over orders and information requests can be minimized.

"BIM and integrated project delivery (IPD) techniques are being used on all Sutter Health projects, such as the new $284 million Sutter Medical Center Santa Rosa [SMCSR] now under construction, Sutter Health's California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco as well as with projects at other locations such as those in Sacramento, Castro Valley, Palo Alto and at Alta Bates," said Tom Minard, senior facility planning and development project manager for Sutter Health.

"With BIM, we know the cost and the schedule ahead of time and can drive costs down," he said.

Project architectural and engineering firm HGA and general contractor Unger Construction are fully utilizing BIM on the Santa Rosa project, and the subcontractors are closely involved in the process, according to Mr. Minard.

The St. Joseph Health System is deploying BIM at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa for a new 72,000-square-foot, three-story advanced diagnostic and surgery pavilion scheduled for completion in the spring of 2012.

"We're using BIM to calculate our need for materials, to schedule work flow in each section and to reduce negative constructability issues. BIM is an effective cost avoidance tool helping us prevent clashes in the field," said Karen Vegas, director of construction at Queen of the Valley Medical Center.

Jim Bostic, assistant vice president for construction for St. Joseph Health System, said five years ago BIM was available, but not widely embraced. However, he said in the last two years BIM has really gained traction as more contractors and subcontractors use it.

"We are implementing BIM on a case-by-case basis to see if we want to use it just for clash detection or for the entire project. With BIM, we have seen a reduction of 20 percent to 30 percent in change orders alone."

At a St. Joseph hospital in Mission Viejo in Orange County, more than $2 million was saved by using BIM. Today, the health system's St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton and Queen of the Valley Medical Center are expanding with 100 percent BIM implementation.

"You spend more at the front end with BIM, but savings are substantial at the back end," Mr. Bostic said.

BIM has been deployed on a more limited basis for construction at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka and will be used for the $15 million expansion of the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital Emergency Department and Trauma Center, scheduled to break ground in January 2012.

According to a DPR Construction publication describing its use of BIM, the company has more than 75 projects underway or built nationwide using this process involving 3 million square feet of space. DPR has more than 255 professionals trained in advanced BIM techniques.

"The key to using BIM is understanding exactly where and when to use it," said Nils Bloomquist, preconstruction manager for Redwood City-based DPR. "Current DPR projects where BIM is deployed include the Kaiser Permanente in the North Bay, Genentech in Vacaville, Novartis and NorthBay Healthcare's Vaca Valley Hospital."

For TLCD Architecture of Santa Rosa, BIM has been used on all projects since 2006.

"The use of BIM is essential when competing for government contracts, for educational assignments and other public sector projects," said Guy Messick, director of design technologies for TLCD. Agencies using such modeling in projects include Caltrans, General Services Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "BIM is also being used with private commercial and residential work. Certain retailers, such as Crate & Barrel, are starting to require BIM for their store projects as well."

Local projects the architecture firm is employing BIM in design and documentation are the Napa Health and Human Services Agency, the Luther Burbank Savings headquarters in the former Traversos' Deli building in downtown Santa Rosa and Museum on the Square project next door. The firm used BIM on the recently completed five-story Kaiser Permanente hospital tower in Santa Rosa.

"We are using a BIM process again in the recladding of the exterior skin of the existing hospital building," Mr. Messick said.

BIM is not just for large AEC companies, he said. Smaller architectural and engineering firms make the investment and leverage it effectively, they can become more profitable, Mr. Messick added.

"The use of BIM is trickling down to an increasing number of sub contractors who see the value for themselves and their clients," he said.

Quattrocchi Kwok Architects of Santa Rosa has also been a 100 percent BIM company for almost six years, according to principal Aaron Jobson.

"We're currently implementing BIM with our American Canyon High School work and with a K-8 elementary school project in Marin County," he said.

Stantec, a large multidisciplinary architecture firm with an office in Petaluma office, has successfully used BIM on more than 120 projects totaling more than 15 million square feet and $5 billion in construction value.

The company has 300 BIM specialists across the U.S. and Canada working with integrated design teams to deliver high quality projects within the time allotted.

"We have developed significant capacity to deliver projects using BIM for all disciplines: architectural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and structural," said Mary Jepsen, commercial marketing sector lead with Stantec. "We also use BIM for structural analysis, lighting design, daylight modeling, arc flash and HVAC load calculations as well as energy modeling simulations."

BIM is increasingly being used to conduct real-time energy and environmental analyses leading to more sustainable designs.

Civil and structural engineers are also embracing BIM along with other 3-D modeling tools.

"There are two aspects of 3-D visualization in our industry," said Iver Skavdal, president and CEO of Winzler & Kelly. "BIM is a very good for vertical construction simulations, but we also use [Autodesk AutoCAD] Civil 3-D software for modeling horizontal projects."

He said that BIM adoption is being driven by government rules making it key requirement on a list of essential bidding qualifications. A similar mandate occurred years ago to accelerate the transition from hand to mechanical drawings.

Today, W&K uses BIM and AutoCAD Civil 3-D for 50 percent of its work.

"BIM is a great sales tool for helping clients visualize and virtually walk through a proposed project and see alternatives during the business-development phase," Mr. Skavdal said.

While it works best for clash detection, many firms are spending millions of dollars trying to apply BIM to the entire construction cycle, according to Bill Lonigan, senior estimator with Wright Contracting of Santa Rosa.

"When it comes to estimating, for example, things can go wrong," Mr. Lonigan said.

He has used BIM on more than a billion dollars in construction projects over the years and embraces BIM and its concepts.

At the current stage of BIM development -- when it comes to estimating -- he feels that too many things have the possibility of being missed and, therefore, BIM may not provide the owners with accurate cost and subsequent scheduling information.

Wright Contracting is using BIM with the new Santa Rosa Junior College Culinary Arts Center, the Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa and the Museum on the Square in downtown Santa Rosa as part of the AEC team.

While appreciating the value of BIM for some applications, Ghilotti Construction Co. prefers to use Agtek Earthwork 3-D software and other Agtek products.

"In our business, today's BIM software does not yet have the technical legs we are looking for," said Tom Smith, estimating manager.

"We build a model from existing grade and topographical data rendered from line drawings on 3-D CAD files we import from a designer. This input is used to define the difference between what the ground looks like now and how it will look during various construction stages."

Mr. Smith said BIM is great for above grade work but not for views of underground utilities.

"I am looking forward to using BIM on civil projects, but I've been waiting for the civil side of BIM to catch up with the building (vertical) side to give us exactly what we need."

Napa-based civil engineering firm Riechers Spence & Associates early last year started addressing that by interconnecting various software into a system the firm calls "site information modeling."

BIM technology continues to evolve and improve. It is changing how large, complex projects are built, and it is also being applied with smaller jobs as well.

Such modeling addresses each stage of the process, from land surveying and site preparation to architecture, design of air-handling, mechanical, electrical and plumbing; structural engineering; and analysis of environmental sustainability through to construction and ongoing facility maintenance.