The evolution of BIM

BIM may impact fire protection and security services in the future.

By Joshua Greene, PE, Jensen Hughes, Chicago April 27, 2015

As a subconsultant on most design teams, fire protection and security engineering firms are not on the cutting edge of the movement of using BIM in design and specification. Most firms are instead forced to adapt to the change as new projects adopt a BIM delivery method.

After 40 years in business, our fire protection consulting firm acknowledged that 3-D modeling and, more specifically, BIM was the next step in design evolution. That recognition began a long journey toward BIM enlightenment and its implementation into the business. Learning a new technology during active projects is a painful experience. After working with BIM for 7 years, the engineering team is significantly better equipped to be a BIM partner within a project team, but the implementation process continues to evolve with the design and construction market.

During this learning process and the evolution of BIM, the BIM requirements continued to mature as those on the forefront of its implementation expanded its scope. The "I" or "information" portion of BIM was becoming more prominent, and fire protection engineering requirements were growing beyond a 3-D representation of design. Models were also becoming a true deliverable, making the accuracy of the fire protection and security design critical.

As a result of the expansion of project scope, BIM implementation adjusted again. The internal modeling team required additional staff including a technical manager with BIM experience to increase modeling capabilities, and a concerted effort was made to develop a central library of templates, tools, and families to make models consistent and professional.

History has shown that BIM will continue to evolve, and engineers need to be ready to adjust to meet new requirements and goals. New fire protection and security opportunities in BIM include:

  • Greater collaboration and fire protection/security design efficiencies within BIM between engineers and subcontractors in projects using a design-build delivery method. Increased collaboration has already been observed in these types of projects, but has stopped short of including BIM. Engineers are still too often creating models for designs, only to have a subcontractor re-create its own models within the same project. The potential exists to develop a single cohesive model that starts with the engineer and then is transferred to the contractor.
  • Shop drawing review and site inspections using the model. Given the visualization benefits of a model as opposed to hard-copy shop drawings, the model may provide a more comprehensive review platform than traditional drawings. With the growing use of tablet computers to support on-site work, site inspections using the model may soon supplant more traditional site inspection methods.
  • Collaboration of passive fire protection requirements between fire protection engineers and architects. Wall and floor assembly information resides within the architectural model for a project. Where assemblies require a fire resistance rating to comply with a building or fire code,this information is often provided or reviewed by a fire protection engineer. BIM provides opportunities for more efficiently identifying and reviewing assemblies that require a fire rating,including documentation of assembly listings.

While BIM implementation into a firm can be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive, there are inherent benefits once it is completed. There also remain considerable opportunities for developing design efficiencies and collaboration between design and construction teams for the fire protection and security disciplines.

Joshua Greene is vice president at Jensen Hughes. Greene specializes in the practical application of fire protection principles in support of unique designs, using BIM and other tools in support of this application.