Laying a Solid Foundation with BIM
Exploring Schuster Concrete Construction’s use of 3-D modeling & methods for improving efficiency & quality
by Amy Cash

In the concrete business, once slabs are poured, changes can be costly. For this reason, concrete contractors stand to benefit considerably from implementing a building information modeling (BIM) solution in their companies. One such contractor, Schuster Concrete Construction, is a full-service, ready-mixed concrete supplier and concrete contracting company, headquartered in Maryland. The company has used BIM to completely restructure its site prep and construction processes, as well as its bidding procedures on new projects. CBO spoke with Schuster’s virtual construction engineer, Andrew Tibbetts, P.E., about how he and the virtual construction team at Schuster employ BIM to improve the company’s efficiency and quality of output. Read below for his insights.

CBO: Tell us about your role with Schuster Concrete. What does your day look like?
AT: I run the BIM/virtual construction department for Schuster Concrete. Schuster does a full range of concrete work, including flat work, warehouses with tilt-up walls, residential and high-rise projects, mixed-used projects and more. Because Schuster’s projects are located mostly in the Baltimore/D.C. regional area, the company is working on a lot of mixed-use spaces with parking garages currently. I work with a small team of engineers and detailers—five of us in total—two engineers and three detailers. We take the structural drawings, develop a 3-D model using Tekla Structures based on those, and put all of the materials needed into the model. The team gets everything ready for the field team. This includes sequencing out the construction schedule. Schuster also offers ready-mix concrete supply. We supply it for our own construction projects and to other contractors in the area.

CBO: How has BIM improved workflows for Schuster?
AT: Traditional rebar detailing is drawn by hand. CAD was the standard for drawing for a long time. However, BIM is the key element in attracting and landing high-end clients like universities and hospitals. These kind of project owners want to be on the cutting edge of technology, so it is important to them to develop BIM models for projects and to integrate tech across all project stakeholders. The entire idea surrounding the use of BIM is that project managers can find conflicts and changes before they are out in the field. Schuster started using building out its use of BIM almost a decade ago. I came on board in 2011, and was tasked with building out the virtual construction department. The company had been using Tekla for some processes prior to our department being formed, but not for detailing. Once the virtual construction team builds the model, they push it out to superintendents in the field. They can view the model on the jobsite with their mobile devices. Our biggest goal is to build the model as if we were building it in the field. What I mean by that is when we are going through the architectural drawings and building out the 3-D model, we try to ask all of the questions the field team would ask. We try to address all the details that might become a problem down the road. We have time to build the model in the office, but in the field, errors and rework can be costly. The model helps us coordinate deliveries, and we do some quantity takeoff—which can be cross-referenced with the project estimate. While it varies based on the project type and complexity, our team can generally build a floor per week from any given model. However, if the project is more detailed, for instance, if we are building out complex rebar in the model, it is a bit more tedious.

CBO: What unexpected benefits have you seen resulting from the use of 3-D modeling?
AT: Schuster Concrete does a lot of reinforced detailing. It’s a time-consuming process, as mentioned above, but the 3-D model is a huge benefit because of the heightened level of accuracy that is available from such a model. The ability to look at all different areas of the jobsite at once is extremely important. The biggest benefit, naturally, has been the ability to mitigate coordination issues ahead of time. But the use of BIM software has also been extremely helpful for post-processing. We can look at the model and compare it to how much was in the estimate, and see where numbers didn’t match up and why. It helps us inform billing, bidding and planning processes in the future. It’s also really helpful for layout; we can send the model out in the field for the team to use to lay out where each part of the structure is supposed to be. The field team can easily visualize the entire project and look ahead at any complex areas. During the bid process, we can actually sequence out the construction phase of the project. We build a simple model of the project—a quick representation, but relatively accurate—that helps guide the bid process. We can then bring that to a bid meeting, and assign dates to each of the pour areas. Project owners have the advantage of a schedule before the project ever begins. Most recently, we have been able to bring in the layout points. The field team can take the information it uses to stake out a concrete slab, record it on a mobile device, and send that information back to the model. It has truly revolutionized the way the back-office and field teams collaborate on every project.

CBO: What advice do you have for business owners in the process of implementing BIM?
AT: My advice specifically for the BIM coordinator is that you absolutely must be organized. Leadership should place priority on forming a specific team or at the very least designating someone to focus on implementing BIM solutions. You have to plan ahead. You have to have everyone in the project involved early on in the construction process. Get the team assembled before they ever step foot in the field. Trying to coordinate while the project is actually going on simply doesn’t work.