Models: Our Ticket To The Future

Words: Tom Cuneio

Words and Photos: Tom Cuneio, CEO of 3DiQ

Technology. We love it. We hate it. Some of us just love to hate it. However you feel about technology, there is one thing you can’t deny – technology changes our lives in very real ways. Think of the skills you learned as a child that kids today don’t need, like folding a map, making change, or using a library. Will your kids learn to drive a car, or will cars drive themselves? It’s hard to know where everything is going.

In the same way, technology is changing construction. Robots are increasingly being used on projects. A variety of scanning solutions are solving real problems for contractors. Data from models is routinely used for coordination and for layout with scanning tools. Contractors are experimenting with projecting models on site at scale using holograms and augmented reality. At the root of almost every new construction technology is the application of BIM, and at the core of BIM is the 3D model. The use of 3D models is truly overhauling how we think about construction. If you haven’t seen this yet in your day to day, just wait. It’s coming and it should not be feared. Models can help mason contractors in powerful ways and the sooner we get over any fear of using them the better. Construction is a competitive landscape and those who adapt win business. Now that’s something I know every reader cares about.

The most active space for 3D models today is in virtual coordination performed by VDC (Virtual Design and Construction) Teams. VDC Teams are modeling specialists at the general contractor level. These teams use models from each trade to solve problems like locating interference with systems, scheduling and sequencing work, releasing payment for completed work, and managing supply chain. Mason contractors are increasingly required to submit models of their work for these purposes. If you are in the market for big contracts, it’s no longer an option to avoid providing 3D models. For years, our industry has resisted requests from general contractors to provide models for coordination. Masonry is being replaced by wall systems that are willing to model and support the growing trend for design assist. This is not necessary as our industry is as capable as any at supporting the technology demands of today.

You may be saying to yourself, “I don’t work on projects of that scale, so I don’t really need to bother with models.” While that may be true today, it won’t be true for long. The scale of projects that use VDC Teams is getting smaller. In the past 5 years, we have seen a shift in projects that require the mason to model. Initially, the only projects with full VDC requirements were stadiums, hospitals, airports, and other similarly large-scale work. Today, we are now seeing mandatory modeling requirements on schools, retail, and other medium sized projects. The value of using trade models and the increasing availability of these models is making the use of virtual coordination accessible to smaller and smaller projects. It may not be long before these requirements reach the majority of masonry work.

But you don’t need to wait for a mandate to begin using models. There are many ways masonry models can benefit your business on even the smallest projects. Think of models as an affordable way of prototyping or doing a dress rehearsal for your work. It’s much less expensive to discover design problems and explore constructability in a model than it is in the field. A good model will give you an exact production order, locate field cuts at openings, become the basis for shop drawings, give you exact cell locations, and much more. Knowing cell locations, for example, allows the concrete team to successfully locate your dowels for you. When cuts are known and layout is documented, cutting can be done in the shop where it’s much more economical. Contractors are using these tools today to be more competitive. Modeling for these purposes has a nice return for contractors and makes your business run more efficiently.

Contractors are also using models to become preferred partners and improve their chances of winning work. Nothing says you know your business in a more convincing way than showing up with a model that justifies your cost, proves your understanding of the work, and gives everyone in the team confidence that you can perform. I know many contractors that say this alone has helped them succeed. When you consider that modeling is already cost effective and the near future will require masonry models on all significant work, there is no reason to wait to explore what type of modeling solutions work best for your business.

Any business that wants to remain competitive for the long haul needs to have vision for the future. It’s important to study the times and anticipate how the market is trending. Next year, CAD BLOX will mark its 20th anniversary of modeling for the masonry industry. In all those years, almost 100% of the work has been post bid. Only then has the investment in a model been justifiable. Masonry models are complex, and they don’t build themselves. Modeling requires the same level of understanding of contract documents as construction itself. Without significant automation to the modeling process, it has never been possible to justify building construction level models (LOD 400) before bidding. This is a significant limitation to the value that models can provide. Access to construction level models during the design process would dramatically change the understanding of cost, the accuracy of construction documents, the ability to explore design changes and host of other activities. The future will demand this technology and the trades that support it will be preferred.

In 2015, I began to ask myself some questions that led to the formation of a new company. I had seen firsthand how effective models were at solving some of the hardest problems facing contractors. I knew much more could be done if models were easier to produce. What if architects could use masonry models to properly dimension walls and openings? What if contractors could easily build models without significant investments of time or training? What if design changes were easily managed in models? Ultimately, all my questions converged into this one big question: What if models could build themselves? The answer to that question was the birth of 3DiQ Inc.

If models could build themselves, the game would change for architects. Designers would be free to explore masonry construction. Renders could accurately represent the beauty and range of masonry products. Costs could be known with a much greater level of certainty. The impact of design changes could be rationalized very early. Detailing for masonry could be pulled directly from the model relieving the burden of drafting, guaranteeing internal consistency through revision cycles, and even helping educate new professionals on the use of control joints, modularity, and other details necessary for a good masonry design.

If models could build themselves, the game would also change for contractors. Every mason contractor that wasn’t born in a computer lab could still benefit by having access to solutions they need. Masonry as an industry would be able to meet the growing appetite for models by general contractors and owners. The cost of masonry could be significantly impacted by all the efficiencies that models deliver. Possibly the most significant area of impact would be in how masonry is estimated. Estimating must be done quickly which stands at odds with the investment required to build models. But estimating from models is clearly the best approach. If models could build themselves, estimating would change forever.

The technology at the core of Masonry iQ Build is making the dream of automated masonry modeling a reality. There are two keys that made this breakthrough possible. The first is improved access to design models. Architects are increasingly designing in 3D using platforms like Revit. These models are the basis for contract documents which means that the 2D sections, elevations, and plan views are pulled directly from the model. If you currently use contract documents to build a model for estimating or any other purpose, you are reverse engineering a model that may already exist. In the past, these design models were tightly held by architects, but today they are often available to contractors. Other trades use these design models for estimating, so they are accessible pre-bid and it’s time mason contractors got in on the secret. If you could do something useful with the model, you could save yourself all the effort involved in digging into contract documents to perform your own estimation whether that is by building a model or using a traditional approach.

Thank about that. Probably 80% or more of the time you spend estimating is spent understanding the contract documents and then pulling out the information you need to perform your task. By accessing the model directly, you do a couple of truly amazing things. First, you cut your effort down by something like 80%. That’s shocking. Second, you don’t run the risk of making mistakes or overlooking walls. You are going straight to the source of the design documents. And let’s not overlook that instead of learning to model, you just had to ask nicely.

The second key is the ability to do something useful with the model. This is where 3DiQ Inc’s new Masonry iQ Build comes in. This new software takes the Revit model as an input and combines it with information from the mason. By adding details about unit shapes, bond patterns, rebar schedules, and color and texture, the software is able to generate the masonry model and produce very accurate quantities. The conversion from a basic design model to an LOD 400 construction level model is fully automated.

This ideal workflow has dramatic results. We recently tested the performance of Masonry iQ Build on a very large project that had over 900,000 units of cmu, brick, cavity wall, and precast. The result was verified as accurate by a traditional estimating process. This model was produced in under 4 man hours and updates are in process that will cut that time significantly. How much time would you spend estimating a project of that scale? How could it change your business to be able to estimate 10 times faster?

While design models are not available on every project today, it seems clear that they will be in the near future. The inefficiencies that have always been part of the construction industry are being addressed with a surge of technology and models are the driving force behind all the gains. If you haven’t found a way to tap into these opportunities, do some research and explore the best way to begin introducing the use of models into your business. I’m confident your business will become more competitive, and you will be ready for the demands of the industry that are just around the corner.

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