Shaping the Future of Architectural and MEP Design - Final Chapter in a Series of Blog Posts
It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that 3D modeling in design and construction began to slowly appear. This was fortuitous timing as the required complexity, level of detail and integration among MEP systems and the building’s architecture also increased greatly during this decade.
Some of the early adopters of 3D modeling were specialty contractors of building mechanical systems. These contractors used 3D modeling to automate ductwork fabrication. They used 3D systems to model entire duct systems in 3D, then load the geometry for sections of custom-sized duct and fittings into numerical control fabrication equipment to prefabricate almost everything they installed. These forward-thinking contractors saved a lot of time and money and increased their ability to win projects. This is a technology still used today.
Unfortunately, one of the most time consuming and old-fashioned practices continued into the first decade of the current century. That was the necessary, but painful, process of MEP coordination known as the Sequential Composite Overlay Process (SCOP). It’s a fancy name for a 2D drawing overlay process to manually identify all of the what we now call “clashes” in BIM (Building Information Modeling).
I remember one large hospital project in the San Francisco Bay Area that used this method because it was the only method available. We worked on the project site in one big room with about 10 teams that each used the overlay process on a different section of the building until all the clashes were identified and resolved. We spent close to an entire year to complete the SCOP process. That was 2008, not very long ago.
The Introduction of BIM
In the mid-2000s, BIM software became available. I pioneered its adoption at the GC where I was at the time and played a role in establishing BIM as a specialty career track for some engineers. Then came software that combines multiple 3D MEP models from all the disciplines into a single “federated” model (VDC).
The company that developed this software, Navisworks, also used the power of computing to find all of a building project’s systems clashes in a fraction of the time it took using the old sequential overlay method. When I first saw what this software could do I remember thinking “Wow! This will change everything!” And it did. Now BIM and VDC are the norm on almost every project. But there was still a long way to go to fully harness the power of software in design and construction.
In the construction project planning phase, there are still some slow and laborious processes that need intervention! The target areas for improvement are the building design process, estimating, VDC and field construction work. When I learned what Swapp is doing, I knew that this is where I can pursue the solutions that owners, designers, general contractors and others in the industry need now.
My first months at Swapp have been an eye-opener. I’ve been an early adopter of construction industry technologies and participated in their acceleration ever since these technologies began to be available. Still, I’m daily astonished by what the team at Swapp accomplishes in every sprint. I may not have become a rock-star musician but I’m surrounded by rock-star computer scientists and developers whose software will change the construction industry forever and for the better.