Const. Superintendent: From Hammer to Keyboard

Winter 2011/2012

The technological evolution of the construction worker

In an industry generally known for its reluctance to change, BIM, or Building Information Modeling technology, has revolutionized the construction, design and project delivery processes. The most immediate changes to individuals’ skill sets through the introduction of BIM technology and other related construction technologies has been in the offices or trailers. As this technology evolves, it has become apparent that the final users, the field personnel, must be present (and involved) throughout the BIM process. All aspects of the construction industry continue to adopt new practices and procedures as new technology and delivery methods dictate the need. These new technologies are making their way from the boardroom to the jobsite, and a growing number of field personnel are now armed with CAD design skills, clash-detection management and resolution, and/or the ability to run clash-detection software. As the design and construction industries continue to cultivate new technologies such as BIM, the role and skill set of field personnel have also begun to evolve to complement developing construction technologies. Such individuals from the field have proven to bring added value to the project when considering the constructability, sequencing and successful completion of a project.

Field representation

Brian Mortimer, an MEP coordinator for Bergelectric Corporation, was a full-time field foreman only a few years ago. At that time, he was assisting his company’s CAD detailer during the design/ build phase of the project. It was Mortimer’s responsibility to resolve conflict issues and other constructability issues for his CAD detailer. He hand drew his resolutions and gave them to the CAD detailer to detail on the computer and upload into the model. Due to Mortimer’s proactive personality and an effort to expedite the process, he slowly started to learn simple functions in AutoCAD so that he could make the corrections in CAD instead of drawing them out for his detailer. “As I began to play around with the model, I saw repetitious issues of constructability and coordination that I had ran into on my last job,” Mortimer said. “I was able to bring my lessons learned and apply them to our design and overall coordination logic. “He proved to be a pivotal member in the design process with his work on the model and then execute his scope in the field. On his next project, he and the in -wall and overhead rough-in superintendents worked as detailers on the front-end of a project prior to the start of construction. Instead of assisting a CAD detailer, he was the field representative and CAD detailer•. “Having both rough-in superintendents as detailing assistants during the design/coordination phase of the project minimized field issues and decreased time spent on conflict resolution due to their knowledge of the coordination logic, and the methods of understanding created during coordination meetings,” he added. “If the coordination drawings did not work during field installation, the two superintendents were able to make small adjustments without the need to re-coordinate and/ or re-design the area.” There are many field factors that cannot be represented in the virtual platform within a BIM model and this is when field representation is most important. For example, as subcontractors compete for overhead space within a ceiling, sometimes resolved routing of those overhead systems may work in the virtual model, but during installation it is not feasible due to the lack of workspace. Individuals like Mortimer are able to bring real-world constructability into a virtual environment. BIM technology and the management of the BIM process provide projects with a real-time model, its accuracy based upon the updates by the BIM team. The model, much like a construction site, changes on a day-to-day basis due to many different factors. According to Walt Disney Imagineering Project VDC Installation
Planner Mike B. Smith, the BIM model has become an integrated tool for his superintendent during field coordination and quality control. On Smith’s last major project, his superintendent joined the BIM coordination team about halfway through the coordination process. The superintendents assisted in the management of the model, would run clash detection and facilitated clash-resolution meetings with the subcontractor, detailers and design team.

“Due to our superintendent’s participation during the BIM process, specifically clash detection, he was able to provide needed insight in constructability review as it related to coordinated sequence of work.”

“Due to our superintendent’s participation during the BIM process, specifically clash detection, he was able to provide needed insight in constructability review as it related to coordinated sequence of work,” Smith said. Once the work begins on his project, the superintendent was sent to manage daily activities in the field. As the subcontractors and design team resolved field conflicts, updates were made to the project model. “Through our superintendent’s knowledge and experience during the BIM process, he was able to use a computer tablet, upload the latest model and view it to verify correct installation in the field. His ability to view and work with the model allowed our superintendent to easily obtain the latest project information without converting the model into a sketch or blueprint:’ added Smith. In this specific case the model was used to supplement the contract drawings, which are not updated as quickly and as often as a project’s BIM model.

Adoption of the virtual planroom

Similar to Smith’s use of the BIM model in the field, other contractors have adopted virtual planrooms to expedite the transmission of changed information to the field. No more RFI, or requests for information, posting or slip-sheeting change orders to hardcopy documents. The virtual planroom has the contract documents updated through a computer-generated format. RFIs are hyperlinked to the related area that the RFI addresses and change order documents are virtually slip-sheeted. The process allows the contract documents to be as up-to-date as the transmission of new information. McCarthy Building Company Senior

Project Engineer Adam Hartwell is currently using a virtual plan room for the first time.

“In order for the virtual plan room to work, we had to make sure the field personnel had the appropriate knowledge of PDF applications and proper FTP site practices,” Hartwell said. “Our field personnel have found the virtual planroom to be very beneficial. Each morning, field representatives upload any changes to the documents and are able to work off the most up-to-date drawings possible. In addition, this has prevented any potential setbacks due to individuals working from different versions of the same contract documents.” He added that the virtual planroom and the accepted use by the field personnel have decreased time spent on the processing of paperwork. This has increased field production and minimized any time delay due to conflict resolution and the related administration time.

As construction schedules become leaner, it is important that the industry develops new practices and skills to decrease the time when conducting typical project activities. Developing computer and technology skills of field personnel are a necessary function to decrease time spent on the transmission of information. Technology grows exponentially, project schedules are becoming more aggressive and the economic environment has forced many companies to work in a more flexible format. Field personnel have stepped up to such a task as new office technologies begin to become vital tools in the field. This is only the foreground of BIM technology and working within the virtual world. As technology and processes evolve so, too will the role of field personnel.