In less than a decade, building information modeling (BIM) has become a major construction simulation and visualization process, and it’s being employed heavily on large hospital projects now under construction in North Bay counties.

“BIM and integrated project delivery (IPD) techniques are being used on all Sutter Health projects, such as the new $284 million Sutter Medical Center Santa Rosa [SMCSR] now under construction, Sutter Health’s California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco as well as with projects at other locations such as those in Sacramento, Castro Valley, Palo Alto and at Alta Bates,” says Tom Minard, senior facility planning and development project manager for Sutter Health. “With BIM, we know the cost and the schedule ahead of time and can drive costs down.”

Project architectural and engineering firm HGA and general contractor Unger Construction are fully using BIM on the Santa Rosa project, and the subcontractors are closely involved in the process, according to Minard.

The St. Joseph Health System is deploying BIM at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa for a new 72,000-square-foot, three-story advanced diagnostic and surgery pavilion scheduled for completion in the spring of 2012.

“We’re using BIM to calculate our need for materials, to schedule work flow in each section, and to reduce negative constructability issues. BIM is an effective cost avoidance tool helping us prevent clashes in the field,” says Karen Vegas, director of construction at Queen of the Valley Medical Center.

Jim Bostic, assistant vice president for construction for St. Joseph Health System, says five years ago BIM was available, but not widely embraced. However, he says in the last two years, BIM has really gained traction as more contractors and subcontractors use it. “We are implementing BIM on a case-by-case basis to see if we want to use it just for clash detection or for the entire project. With BIM, we have seen a reduction of 20% to 30% in change orders alone.”

At a St. Joseph hospital in Mission Viejo, Calif., more than $2 million was saved by using BIM. Today, the health system’s St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton and Queen of the Valley Medical Center are expanding with 100% BIM implementation. “You spend more at the front end with BIM, but savings are substantial at the back end,” says Bostic.

BIM has been deployed on a more limited basis for construction at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka, Calif., and will be used for the $15 million expansion of the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital Emergency Department and Trauma Center, scheduled to break ground in January 2012.

According to a DPR Construction publication describing its use of BIM, the company has more than 75 projects underway or built nationwide using this process involving 3 million square feet of space. DPR has more than 255 professionals trained in advanced BIM techniques.

“The key to using BIM is understanding exactly where and when to use it,” says Nils Bloomquist, preconstruction manager for Redwood City-based DPR. “Current DPR projects where BIM is deployed include the Kaiser Permanente in the North Bay, Genentech in Vacaville, Novartis and NorthBay Healthcare’s Vaca Valley Hospital.” For TLCD Architecture of Santa Rosa, Calif., BIM has been used on all projects since 2006.

“The use of BIM is essential when competing for government contracts, for educational assignments and other public sector projects,” said Guy Messick, director of design technologies for TLCD. Agencies using such modeling in projects include Caltrans, General Services Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “BIM is also being used with private commercial and residential work. Certain retailers, such as Crate & Barrel, are starting to require BIM for their store projects as well.”

Local projects the architecture firm is employing BIM in design and documentation are the Napa Health and Human Services Agency, the Luther Burbank Savings headquarters in the former Traversos’ Deli building in downtown Santa Rosa and Museum on the Square project next door. The firm used BIM on the recently completed five-story Kaiser Permanente hospital tower in Santa Rosa, Calif.

“We are using a BIM process again in the recladding of the exterior skin of the existing hospital building,” says Messick. BIM is not just for large AEC companies, he says. Smaller architectural and engineering firms make the investment and leverage it effectively, they can become more profitable, Messick adds.

“The use of BIM is trickling down to an increasing number of sub contractors who see the value for themselves and their clients,” he says.

Quattrocchi Kwok Architects of Santa Rosa also has been a 100% BIM company for almost six years, according to principal Aaron Jobson. “We’re currently implementing BIM with our American Canyon High School work and with a K-8 elementary school project in Marin County,” he says. Stantec, a large multidisciplinary architecture firm with an office in Petaluma, Calif., has successfully used BIM on more than 120 projects totaling more than 15 million square feet and $5 billion in construction value.

The company has 300 BIM specialists across the U.S. and Canada working with integrated design teams to deliver high quality projects within the time allotted.

“We have developed significant capacity to deliver projects using BIM for all disciplines: architectural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and structural,” says Mary Jepsen, commercial marketing sector lead with Stantec. “We also use BIM for structural analysis, lighting design, daylight modeling, arc flash and HVAC load calculations as well as energy modeling simulations.”

BIM is increasingly being used to conduct real-time energy and environmental analyses leading to more sustainable designs. Civil and structural engineers are also embracing BIM along with other 3D modeling tools. “There are two aspects of 3D visualization in our industry,” says Iver Skavdal, president and CEO of Winzler & Kelly. “BIM is a very good for vertical construction simulations, but we also use [Autodesk AutoCAD] Civil 3D software for modeling horizontal projects.”

He says BIM adoption is being driven by government rules making it key requirement on a list of essential bidding qualifications. A similar mandate occurred years ago to accelerate the transition from hand to mechanical drawings.

Today, W&K uses BIM and AutoCAD Civil 3D for 50% of its work. “BIM is a great sales tool for helping clients visualize and virtually walk through a proposed project and see alternatives during the business-development phase,” Skavdal says.

Although it works best for clash detection, many firms are spending millions of dollars trying to apply BIM to the entire construction cycle, according to Bill Lonigan, senior estimator with Wright Contracting of Santa Rosa, Calif. “When it comes to estimating, for example, things can go wrong,” Mr. Lonigan says.

He has used BIM on more than a billion dollars in construction projects over the years and embraces BIM and its concepts.

At the current stage of BIM development—when it comes to estimating—he feels that too many things have the possibility of being missed and, therefore, BIM may not provide the owners with accurate cost and subsequent scheduling information.

Wright Contracting is using BIM with the new Santa Rosa Junior College Culinary Arts Center, the Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa and the Museum on the Square in downtown Santa Rosa as part of the AEC team.

Although appreciating the value of BIM for some applications, Ghilotti Construction Co. prefers to use Agtek Earthwork 3D software and other Agtek products. “In our business, today’s BIM software does not yet have the technical legs we are looking for,” says Tom Smith, estimating manager.

“We build a model from existing grade and topographical data rendered from line drawings on 3D CAD files we import from a designer. This input is used to define the difference between what the ground looks like now and how it will look during various construction stages.”

Smith says BIM is great for above grade work but not for views of underground utilities. “I am looking forward to using BIM on civil projects, but I’ve been waiting for the civil side of BIM to catch up with the building (vertical) side to give us exactly what we need.”

Napa-based civil engineering firm Riechers Spence & Associates early last year started addressing that by interconnecting various software into a system the firm calls “site information modeling.”

BIM technology continues to evolve and improve. It is changing how large, complex projects are built, and it is also being applied with smaller jobs as well.

Such modeling addresses each stage of the process, from land surveying and site preparation to architecture, design of air-handling, mechanical, electrical and plumbing; structural engineering; and analysis of environmental sustainability through to construction and ongoing facility maintenance.