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Virtual design streamlines construction process


EDiS’s Chris Donahue and Rob Belfiore demonstrate the company’s Building Information Modeling technology.

By Kim Hoey
Special to Delaware Business Times

The school building had a new roof that leaked every time it rained. At his wit’s end, the headmaster called EDiS and asked if they could figure it out. Using advanced laser imaging, EDiS created a three-dimensional image of the inside of the attic with so much detail they were actually able to see the crack where light, and ultimately rain, was coming in.

“They’d had a roofer working for weeks to find it,” said Christopher D. Donahue, director of BIM Services for EDiS. “We showed them where the contractor had actually messed up.”

From small problems, like a leaky school roof, to massive construction projects, technology is saving time, money and headaches for developers, construction contractors and, well, even school principals. The company is called EDiS BIM Services, a branch of EDiS Co. construction. BIM (Building Information Modeling) and Virtual Design Construction is what EDiS uses to completely, yet virtually, construct or deconstruct a project before a single item is even ordered.

“It literally saved a year of fabrication and installation on one project,” said Mike Nester, a project manager with M. Davis Inc., a Wilmington mechanical contractor. “We can build everything ahead of time.”

Using computer-generated models, the BIM team can create a virtual video showing all phases of construction, from choosing a site to adding the landscaping at the end. The program also delivers a list of materials needed, sizes and angles of pipes, electrical configurations, duct work “¦ everything that goes into a building project. The model creates a schedule with exact dates for when each piece should be installed, and it can show what the rooms will look like with actual furniture the client has chosen.

In the case of the M. Davis project, the computer model showed the exact size and placing of pipes for the project. The pipes were fabricated off-site and delivered in pieces that then fit together like a puzzle in place in the building exactly where the model showed they should go. The old way would have had a team of people on-site measuring and installing for months, said Nester.

The BIM team can coordinate all the different contractors such as the electrical, plumbing and HVAC designers and installers involved in building, he explained. Where before one contractor would do his part in isolation, now everyone sees where everything should fit before construction, so there are no pipes that run into girders, or electric lines where duct work is supposed to go.

EDiS BIM Services includes 3-D laser scanning of an area (the technique used in the school attic), 3-D modeling done on the computer, drone footage and even virtual reality to help clients conceptualize projects.

They can “fly” a person through a project using a virtual reality headset before construction has started,
said Donahue.

“Everyone wants to see what something’s going to look like ahead of time,” said Nester, adding that every change made on-site during construction puts off the completion date and adds to cost. “The last thing you want to do is build something and have a customer say, “˜No, that’s not what I want.'”

The BIM program built a virtual look at the construction details for a residence hall Penn State University Brandywine.

“It eliminates a lot of headaches,” said Donahue. His team of designers estimate that in the five years the service has been in place, they have solved at least 93,000 problems before they happened and saved clients more than $288 million. “Doing ahead [correcting design problems] is so much cheaper than paying damages or having to make changes.”

A perfect example of problem identification came with designing a building for Wilmington University, said Donahue. The university wanted all of the utilities out of sight, so heating and cooling units were to be built in a basement. No problem, except one of the units was pretty big.

Using virtual reality and 3-D modeling, the team members simulated trying to fit the large piece of equipment through the proposed door and corridor designed for the basement. It wouldn’t make it through the door. Had that flaw not been found before construction, the cost to fix the problem later would have been significant, possibly more than $300,000 a day, said Donahue.

“It’s a great tool for us,” said Richard P. DiSabatino, executive vice president of EDiS. He called in the BIM team recently for one of his projects. He had to add a piece of fascia to the roof of the Georgetown Elementary School, he said.

To do it the old-fashioned way, the company would have had to put up scaffolding and hire a crane to carry a man up to take measurements. It would have taken weeks. Using a drone with a laser scanner, the measurements were made in less time than it took for the drone operator to drive down from Wilmington.

“There’s still a huge amount of human work involved,” said DiSabatino, but they try to incorporate the BIM Services whenever they can. “Tech really expedites the work. It’s exciting.”

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