AEC

Budgeting It Right the First Time

19 Apr, 2007 By: Heather Livingston

BIM application helps owners make smarter design decisions early in the process, potentially saving them thousands of dollars.


Traditional BIM solutions deal with "micro" models that provide value based on enhanced coordination and communication, parametric change management and producing construction documents. Where they lack is in helping the owner answer the basic question, Should I build this project? Beck Technology's "macro" BIM software program, DProfiler, is the company's attempt to answer that question, saving the architect, contractor and client both time and money. After DProfiler's initial launch last October at the DBIA (Design-Build Institute of America) conference, the application's second iteration, DProfiler v2, was released March 21.

In the customary design/bid/build delivery method, wasted dollars and time are a given. Because construction costs fluctuate so rapidly, it is nearly impossible to provide a cost estimate that will hold true to project completion. After completion of the schematic phase, the architect provides the owner with a cost estimate, which in most cases prompts the design team to begin the oxymoronic value-engineering process that eliminates much of the architect's added value in the effort to cut costs. That's where DProfiler comes in.

Background
The Beck Group was founded as a general contractor in Houston in 1912. Today, it is a full-service builder with offices across the southern United States and Mexico. The company's mission is "to revolutionize the AEC industry by fundamentally rethinking the delivery process." Beck Technology, a subsidiary of The Beck Group, was created in 1996 to solve the company's own in-house design problems, said Stewart Carroll, Beck Technology's director. His firm, he said, is one of a few, if not the only one, that is a general contractor, a designer and a developer of real estate. "Our business model is one of integration, so our goal really is the delivery of the entire real estate project to an owner."

What It Does
Whereas most BIM programs are really focused on the coordination of information, DProfiler was created to enable a project team to rapidly model, scope and budget a potential project prior to investing significant hours and dollars. "Our goal with DProfiler, and the Beck Group in general, is to reduce the amount of risk associated with an owner committing to proceed with a project," Carroll said.

To provide its clients with real-time costing, Beck Technology teamed up with RSMeans, delivering cost data for 983 cities in the United States and Canada. The application provides more than 180,000 cost items, 18,000 assemblies and 46 building types, with more to come in future versions. DProfiler provides cost analysis that can be done on-the-fly while modeling the concept, and costs can be viewed in multiple file formats including CSI, MasterFormat and UniFormat. Carroll also noted that it can be viewed "at a high level or drilled down to the detail that general contractors provide at the conceptual phase."

"One of the unique things about DProfiler is the real-time costing -- the ability to draw a slab and know the cost instantaneously," Carroll said. "It really is a change in paradigm from: you design it, throw it over the fence, price it, redesign it and throw it back over the fence. We believe that doing it this way, BIM is being used to solve our clients' problems instead of practitioners' problems."

Another way DProfiler helps the client is through its ability to quickly evaluate site feasibility. Carroll said that while many BIM tools on the market use Google Earth plug-ins to look at a design in relation to existing buildings, Beck's application can use it to assess potential site locations, then lay out that site in real time using pin definitions. That could offer significant savings to the owner.


Google Earth plug-in allows up-front site assessment before owners pay big bucks (courtesy of Beck Technology).

"If an owner has to pay a civil engineer or a geo-tech engineer to do all of this due diligence on the site, it might cost $20,000 to $30,000 to get the site survey done,"  Carroll explained. "If the site ultimately isn't big enough to meet [the client's] needs, why spend the time, money and effort? We've got a way that you can quickly go into Google Earth, lay out three, four or five potential sites and very quickly build a model to evaluate whether it makes sense to purchase that parcel of land." Having accurate site and structure cost data early in the project lifecycle limits cost overruns and architects' fees on concepts that will never be built.

DProfiler also enables the design team to do informed what-if development scenarios. "If an architect comes up with an all-glass building design and the owner says, 'Give me an option that's 60% solid material and 40% glass,' in all likelihood, if they're a cost-conscious client, they'll go with the cheaper of the two options," said Carroll. "But, if you look at the development pro forma and it's a leaseable space and it only moves the lease rate by a couple of pennies, it may make more sense to stick with your glass building because it may be easier to lease. It really does give you a way of communicating in a more meaningful way than just construction documents."


DProfiler lets you perform what-if scenarios that can improve the owner’s ROI (courtesy of Beck Technology).

Automated parking tool removes the tedium and improves accuracy (courtesy of Beck Technology).

Although its primary function is geared to accurate cost estimating, DProfiler is simple and easy-to-use for sketching concepts. The 3D modeling component is full featured with the ability to model the site, site items, the building envelope, floors and interiors. The model can be viewed from any vantage point, and measuring and takeoff tools make data access and quantification simple. The application includes tools to automate tedious aspects of modeling and increase accuracy. For instance, the automated parking tool instantly determines the spaces in a designated parking lot.

What's in Store
According to Carroll, DProfiler v3, scheduled for a late June release, will offer three new modules. There will be an IFC export with a micro-BIM application that provides specialization levels for building types such as hospitals and airports. It will have a Timberline plug-in, so instead of using the RS Means cost data, users will be able to use their own Timberline data. Beck also is working on having additional cost estimating modules available later in the year.

The third module will offer an energy modeler that will allow the design team to derive engineering calculations to calculate loads, price and right-size equipment, and derive operating costs. "The mechanical module is actually pretty huge," Carroll said. "For each one of the building types that we have, we have to be able to give you combinations of M/E/P equipment, but different sizes that potentially go with those." For future versions, Beck also is working on creating a civil module and a sustainable module that will offer users choices in designing and building green structures.


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