Built to last: The Christman Company
Christman's Director of Virtual Design and Construction, Rob Leutheuser, recently joined us to discuss how the remarkably efficient organization are using technology to ensure their customers' satisfaction, and, consequently, their own sustainability.
- Give me a brief overview of Christman.
The Christman Company is our flagship construction management firm, offering construction management, general contracting, design/build, program management, and facilities planning and consulting. Christman Capital Development Company offers a full range of real estate development services, including build-to-suit, leaseback, facilities planning, and consulting. We also have Christman Constructors, Inc., which allows us to provide in-house capabilities like excavation, concrete, demolition, carpentry, and other construction trades. We have a 120-year history of partnering with clients from beginning to end to meet their real estate needs.
- How important is technology to your company’s success?
Technology is a great enabler of communication and collaboration. It’s a fundamental component in empowering the 500+ people we work with to evolve and do our jobs better. We have a focused effort here on technology and BIM—we’re constantly trying to grow and improve it, and our clients reap the anticipated and unanticipated benefits.
- At its most basic, what is BIM?
It stands for building information modeling. It’s a three-dimensional (3D) digital representation of building components and spaces. The 3D gets the glory, but the “information” part of BIM is where the power really lies. It’s fundamentally a communication tool.
- Tell me about the various aspects of BIM—from 3D through 6D.
3D allows you to see what the finished product will look like. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been at a meeting without BIM where, after reviewing 2D drawings, everyone walked away with a different idea of what the final version would look like. BIM gets ahead of all of that, getting everyone on the same page early.
We work with trade contractors to virtually lay out all mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems to ensure we’re optimizing layout, which reduces the potential for schedule delays or rework. In addition, we can take the 3D model, apply realistic finishes, textures, and lighting schemes, and use this for daylighting studies. This is significant for clients pursuing LEED certification.
- How about 4D—I’m assuming it has something to do with time?
Yes. 4D takes the 3D model and links it to a schedule. It not only allows us to communicate our approach to other team members but identifies potential logic flaws or areas where we can gain efficiency. Even those who’ve had a lot of experience in our industry tend to be amazed at what they find when we run a 4D schedule for them. It’s an invaluable tool.
- And 5D and 6D?
5D introduces the cost element. Traditionally, we’d take the 2D plans and, using technology, attempt to quantify the design. This was a lengthy and cumbersome process. 5D quantifies costs quickly and accurately. The real value is in identifying what isn’t designed yet so we can anticipate costs early in the process, resulting in an accurate estimate and budget. It allows us to spend less time on budgeting and more time adding value to the job.
6D, the newest technology, focuses on facilities management. This occurs post-construction when the client has taken ownership of and occupied the building. Interestingly, the initial cost of design and construction only represents 10 to 20 percent of the cost of owning a building over one’s lifetime, whereas maintenance and operations represent 50 to 70 percent. This technology helps clients whittle down those costs.
There are two main components of 6D. First, the actual modeling. Clients get a 3D model they can open on a PC or mobile device, navigate the virtual space, and understand explicitly what they’ll see when they get to the mechanical room. They can click on individual components and see the manufacturer model, serial number, and other specifications. If they have an issue, they can immediately identify what parts they need to replace/how to do so most efficiently. It gives clients a more efficient means to resolve work orders and perform preventative maintenance.
Second, we capture all of the data accumulated during construction and input it into our clients’ asset management systems at the same time the client takes occupancy of the building. Our approach reduces the time it takes to get this information into their systems from years down to seconds. This allows them to replace equipment before it fails and get on a regular maintenance schedule. And we don’t require any additional software; we take advantage of what each client already uses and tailor our solution to that.
- I understand Christman uses other technologies as well, like laser scanning and even drones.
We do. Laser scanning involves setting a device on a tripod that shoots out about 1 million points per second, creating a point cloud. This is an accurate representation of an existing space that we can then convert into a model. It’s great for as-built conditions like renovations and additions.
We’re starting to use drones, too, typically on existing exterior building scans. This is useful for historic buildings; without touching them, we can develop a high definition video of the building exteriors and work with a design team to determine how much repair and replacement work is necessary.
- What advice would you give to a company that would like to invest in technology but is reluctant to do so because of the expense?
In an industry relatively resistant to change, technology is changing every aspect of the planning, construction, and operating process. The costs can be significant, and it can be intimidating because technology is constantly changing. My advice would be to be patient. Develop a concrete vision of what you’re trying to accomplish, and then come up with a plan to achieve it. Baby steps are okay; the goal is to find a happy medium where you’re not lagging behind but you can still let others knock down those initial barriers for you. Then, once you’re on surer footing, maybe you can be the company to knock down those barriers.