Denver Int'l Improves Efficiency, Reduces Costs With Building Information Modeling

Ken Wysocky
Published in: 

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is nothing new at Denver International Airport (DEN). Colorado's busiest airport has used the advanced computer-modeling method for years, investing millions of dollars to collect countless bits of data about its facilities and assets. But these days, it's taking BIM to a whole new level by using the process to develop an incredibly detailed 3-D virtual model of the airport. 

"We've been building a BIM model of the entire airport infrastructure since 2010 ... but it was just a skeleton, showing mainly just door locations and rooms," explains Dave LaPorte, DEN's deputy manager of aviation. "Now we're going back to put flesh on the bones."

Airport officials and technology vendors alike expect the strategy to help dramatically improve efficiencies and reduce costs for construction, facility maintenance and asset management. Further, they say DEN is the first major U.S. airport to integrate so much data using BIM.

It's an ambitious undertaking for the 53-square-mile airport with 9 million square feet of facilities. As the fifth-busiest airport in the United States, DEN has endured much wear and tear since it opened in 1989. Last year alone it served more than 52 million passengers. As such, remodeling and construction are the norm, not the exception. And BIM is helping streamline those projects, including a $544 million hotel and transit station currently underway. (The hotel is scheduled for completion in October 2015 and the transit center in early 2016.)

The cost of the BIM implementation is difficult to pin down because it's constantly evolving, LaPorte notes. "There's really no end date to it," he explains. "BIM is not a project here; it's a way of doing business. But we wouldn't make this kind of investment if we weren't going to save money down the road."

Scott Steckler, aviation studio leader for HNTB Corp., says that DEN is developing the most updated airport BIM system in the country. "A lot of airports will be looking at what Denver is doing here," Steckler predicts.

HNTB Corp. is working as a BIM specialty sub-contractor for Parsons Corp., the overall engineering, construction and management consultant. 

Faster, More Cost-Effective Construction

With its virtual airport model more fully "fleshed out," DEN is beginning to reap some of the biggest benefits of its BIM investments. The amount of change orders needed has dropped dramatically, because contractors are receiving better jobsite information up front, explains LaPorte.

Mortenson Construction, one of three contractors working on the hotel/transit center project as part of MHS Triventure, has already documented significant reductions in time and cost by using BIM on other projects, reports William Lineberry, a design technology manager for HNTB who serves as the project's on-site BIM manager.

"You can figure out how things like ductwork, fire sprinklers and plumbing all fit together in the ceilings before you go out in the field," remarks Lineberry. "Before, one person drew the HVAC ductwork, one person drew the sprinkler system and one person drew the plumbing, and you hoped it all fit together."

As a result, it was common for crews to deviate from blueprints when they encountered unexpected problems, such as an electrical contractor finding a wall where electrical lines were supposed to be installed. If common in-the-field changes are not properly documented, they lead to more unexpected surprises down the road during remodeling or maintenance, LaPorte explains.

"Change orders in construction can get very expensive ... we could have literally hundreds of change orders in a large project, which runs up the administrative costs associated with processing all those changes," he continues. "But with BIM, we can resolve those rights-of-way contractor clashes before we even start construction. That's probably where we get the biggest savings."

New BIM-related efficiencies are expected after construction is complete as well. Maintenance personnel will no longer run into unexpected obstacles when making repairs, such as having to work around a pipe they didn't know existed. In short, they'll spend more time making repairs and less time figuring out how to circumvent surprises, LaPorte says.

"In some cases, our frontline techs can even diagnose a problem from a computer tablet before they even go out to the field," he notes. "Or an HVAC tech can walk into a room with the virtual model of that room on a 'toughpad' (heavy-duty tablet computer) and can see exactly where he needs to go to fix a problem. We can even remotely control things - adjust the temperature of a room or turn a fan on or off."

Reducing timelines for construction, remodeling and maintenance ultimately benefits DEN passengers by keeping the terminal running smoothly, adds LaPorte.

Next-Generation Technology

Project: Building Information Modeling
Location: Denver Int'l Airport
Funding: Airport revenue
Timeline: Began in 2010; efforts are ongoing
Software/Model Development: Parsons Corp.; HNTB Corp.
Benefits: Improved efficiencies & reduced costs for construction, facilities maintenance & asset management

For many involved in DEN's projects, BIM represents the latest iteration in a series of building design methods that started seemingly eons ago with hand-drawn blueprints and evolved into computer-aided drafting (CAD).

Lineberry recalls the days of 2-D graphics, which didn't provide a true 3-D viewpoint. But BIM has since revolutionized that.

"We can get as detailed as seeing furniture in a room, if we want to," LaPorte relates. He compare DEN's airport model to current videogames like Call of Duty, which allow players to guide characters through surprisingly convincing virtual environments. "That's exactly what BIM is like," he raves.

BIM, however, adds another twist. "It's built in layers, from the foundation to the studs in walls to the plumbing layer, electrical layer and so on," he describes. "We can turn layers on and off. If you want to see just plumbing, you can see a virtual layout of just the plumbing ... you can just keep scrolling and walking through the facilities."

Steckler also values the layering aspect: "It can show all the underground utilities, too. If you want to know where a drain runs or an underground electrical duct bank or communication duct bank is located, you can find it. All as-built changes are reported back into the system, so the model always verifies how things are actually installed."

Building on BIM

Given DEN's years of experience with BIM, personnel don't simply use the technology to track and log the static location of assets; now they also leverage it to help manage and control those assets. "We're using the BIM model as our foundation to tie all our other systems together, like Maximo, our (IBM) work-order management system; our geospatial information system; and any kind of building automation, like HVAC or electric or plumbing controls," LaPorte explains. "And we can do it all in a virtual environment."

The BIM system also alerts maintenance officials when an elevator isn't working or an air-conditioning unit breaks down.

"When our BIM model for asset management is fully implemented in the next couple of years, it will send out alerts about equipment malfunctions," LaPorte adds. "We'll then be in a position to monitor the BIM model on a huge screen in our maintenance control center."

Facilities personnel anticipate cutting maintenance costs even further by transitioning to a predictive rather than preventive mode where possible. In the latter, assets such as gearboxes are replaced on specific time cycles, despite their condition. In contrast, BIM technology allows crews to replace items only when necessary.

"We can run an asset up to the point where we believe it's about to fail before we replace it," LaPorte says. "We can trend where and when failures will happen ... it gives us much more flexibility in diagnosing the health of our building and enables us to more efficiently allocate manpower."

DEN's virtual system also offers other capabilities, such as tracking asset warranties, Lineberry adds. Historically, that information was manually entered into software programs from paper documents - a time-consuming process prone to human errors. "With BIM, all that information is extracted directly from the main BIM database, which saves a lot of time and improves data integrity," he remarks.

One in, All in

Construction of the new transit center and hotel served as a catalyst for DEN to integrate its smaller, individual BIM projects into a more sophisticated and comprehensive facilities-management initiative. "We finally realized we were duplicating efforts ... and got some great synergy out of combining our efforts with what the hotel and transit center were doing," says LaPorte.

A five-person group is leading the BIM conversion - a project that includes wading through an estimated nine million CAD drawings to determine which are accurate and relevant.

The difficulty and scope of the task underscore an important point: A BIM system is only as accurate as the information used to create it. It's consequently critical to motivate all the contractors involved with a construction project to "buy into" BIM - especially during a project as big as the hotel/transit center.

DEN secured participation by following a BIM execution plan and holding many meetings with all stakeholders, Lineberry reports.

"The BIM execution plan essentially is a roadmap for how things have to be done, in very specific detail, so that all stakeholders have a thorough understanding of the requirements and are on-board," he explains. "Because of the nature of contracts, it gets very complicated ... making sure everyone is on board can be a challenge. It's like that old campfire game, where by the time the message gets passed around, things get lost in translation ... there tends to be potential for a lack of full comprehension of what's required."

HNTB's Steckler agrees: "It tends to be difficult, even though it (BIM participation) is mandated in their contracts. It requires coordination with all the subcontractors, who each have their own BIM modeler that submits (design) updates. It's a big effort. If a pipe gets moved six inches, that gets documented. That's one of their daily tasks."

Such challenges aside, there's little doubt that BIM technology is a game-changer, Lineberry emphasizes. "Just think about the concept of designing something and building it based on blueprints versus figuring everything out in a computer model, then having all that data you created translate through all the way to facilities management for the owner," he notes. "It used to be that the deliverable for a contractor was a physical building. Now we're talking about a whole lot more data transferred to the (building) owner in the end. This represents a whole paradigm shift in the industry."


Integration of GIS with CMMS & EAM Systems

A growing number of Airports, Warehouses, private and public utilities today are implementing Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) and Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) systems. In 2019, the CMMS software market was worth $0.92 billion. By 2027, it is expected to reach $1.77 billion, increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.58% during 2020-2027.

This developing interest in asset and maintenance management is driven by the multiple benefits that an EAM system and a CMMS offer in terms of prolonging the useful life of maturing infrastructure, and assets. On the other hand, a geographic information system (GIS) offers exceptional capabilities and flexible licensing for applying location-based analytics to infrastructures such as airports, roadways, and government facilities.
Both GIS and CMMS systems complement one another. For companies looking to increase the return on investment (ROI) on their maintenance efforts, integrating a GIS with a CMMS platform is an expected headway that can considerably improve the capabilities of their maintenance crew and give them the best results.
This whitepaper takes a closer look at the definitions and benefits of GIS, EAM, and CMMS. Moreover, it sheds light on some important considerations associated with the integration of GIS with an EAM system and CMMS. It also presents a powerful solution to streamline the integration process.


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