BIM coordination and integration

When coordinating design, construction, and commissioning services across multiple disciplines, leveraging building information modeling (BIM) and virtual design and construction (VDC) processes can ease a project’s overall development.


This article has been peer-reviewed.Learning objectives:

  • Know the industry best practices for integrating 3-D models into design, construction, and commissioning.

  • Understand how these best practices can be applied in projects to enhance buy-in and accelerate construction.

  • Learn about innovations related to BIM, such as 3-D intelligent models and 3-D laser scanning.

When performing design, construction, and commissioning services on a project, the coordination and integration aspects across multiple disciplines typically have a substantial impact on the project’s outcome. Building information modeling (BIM) is frequently used when working across many areas including mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection (MEP/FP) engineering as well as with other stakeholders, such as architects, contractors, etc. Virtual design and construction (VDC) is a project management process where multidisciplinary models of a design and construction project are used to show project teams “virtual” computer-based models and descriptions of the project. Leveraging BIM and VDC processes allows all project stakeholders to align project goals and objectives sooner by following one plan.

Figure 1: A view of the 3-D intelligent model that was used for design development at the DC Water Main Process Train in Washington, D.C. All graphics courtesy: CDM SmithBeginning with the design phase, using 3-D intelligent models helps achieve many tasks on a design/construction project beyond serving as just a visual. With the advanced design software applications that are available today, the design’s 3-D models are used to produce the contract drawings that will be issued for construction. This connection between the model and drawings allows designers to efficiently create and update the plans, elevations, and sections that are necessary to convey design intent to other project stakeholders. Other benefits include the creation of door, window, and equipment schedules and providing a connection to the project’s specifications. These 3-D intelligent models help convey design intent, but they also can be used to perform other key project management activities as the design progresses to the construction phase. For example, a 3-D intelligent model is shown in Figure 1. With 3-D intelligent models at the core, BIM and VDC processes help architects, engineers, and contractors effectively collaborate to meet a client’s expectations by delivering projects on time and on budget.  

Creating the BIM execution plan

Successful project execution begins with proper planning. A standard industry tool that is widely used by the architecture, engineering, construction community to plan how to use 3-D intelligent models during the design, construction, and operations phases is a project execution plan (PxP). This plan may also be known as a BIM execution plan. The purpose of this plan is to document the planned uses across the project lifecycle to all project stakeholders. It has a specific focus on the technology aspects of using 3-D intelligent models to produce the design information, leverage the 3-D intelligent models to build the work in the field, and when part of the scope, turn over the 3-D intelligent models to the client for operations and maintenance.

The PxP is a living document that is continually updated through the life of a project. Key aspects of the execution plan include an overview, information about the project, key project contacts involved in the technical delivery, project goals, objectives specifying the intended uses of the 3-D intelligent models during each phase, and process maps for the uses defined in the plan. When diving into the technical details, it is important to define the level of development (LOD) for the 3-D intelligent models at each phase, the specific software and versions to be used, the workflows for documenting changes to the 3-D intelligent models and drawings, as well as the collaboration procedures necessary to coordinate and integrate the individual project teams.

There are many industry standard applications for VDC including:

Existing conditions documentation

Figure 2: View of the 3-D laser scanner capturing as-constructed measurements at the DC Water Main Process Train, Washington, D.C. To facilitate integration with an existing facility on retrofit and renovation projects, 3-D laser scanning is a valuable tool for documenting and capturing existing conditions efficiently. 3-D laser scanning systems collect data at a very high speed, some capturing more than 1 million measurements per second. Today’s systems also capture additional information, including 360-deg. high dynamic range (HDR) photos, survey targets to measure and verify positional accuracy, and other relevant environmental conditions. An image of the 3-D laser scanner used at the Washington, D.C. water main process train project is shown in Figure 2.

Once the laser scans are registered and stitched together, the architect, engineer, and contractor now have access to very accurate and timely information about the existing facility to use during design and construction activities. This alleviates the uncertainty of unknown site conditions, which typically results in conflicts or errors tying into existing conditions during the design phase.

In addition to leveraging the 3-D laser scans, BIM elements may also be extracted from the 3-D laser scans collected in the field. This process is known as “Scan” in BIM and provides many benefits to the design and construction teams. 3-D laser scanners produce large files, which are not always efficient to use based on the individual’s experience with them. The process simplifies the large files into more usable 3-D intelligent models of the existing conditions to use by the design team. They are produced in the same formats that the engineers and designers use to produce the new design elements. This allows them to reference the 3-D intelligent model’s existing conditions and produce a more accurate design that integrates better with the existing facility. A combined view of a 3-D laser scan and one with a BIM overlay is shown in Figure 3.

Drawing production

Figure 3: View of a 3-D laser scan, plus the BIM that depicts the level of detail possible when developing an existing-conditions model. Using BIM to produce contract drawings is a very efficient method, for example, with Autodesk Revit software. Many of the design authoring platforms that are used have a direct connection between the 3-D intelligent model and the 2-D drawings, which are a reflection of the model. As the 3-D intelligent models for each discipline are developed, the plans, elevations, sections, and details are extracted from the 3-D intelligent model to create the 2-D views. The 2-D views are directly connected to the 3-D model, so any updates to either model are updated in the other.

In addition, each discipline’s 3-D intelligent model is referenced to all other disciplines. For example, the HVAC designer needs to continuously maintain awareness of the configuration of the building architectural and structural components. By linking to the architectural and structural 3-D intelligent models, the HVAC designer always has the current version of those designs. This allows the MEP/FP designers to monitor the other disciplines for changes to systems and see conflicts in nearly real time as the design evolves.  

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