How BIM software removes risky assumptions from the construction process

Bob Glendenning

Global Fire Engineering Manager, Sherwin-Williams Protective & Marine Coatings

Author Bio ▼

Bob Glendenning is Global Fire Engineering Manager, Sherwin-Williams Protective & Marine Coatings.
December 5, 2018

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Dorgard Pro: Holding fire doors open – until the alarm sounds

In recent years, particularly over the past five to 10, the UK steel construction industry for medium- and high-rise buildings has evolved rapidly.

It’s now commonplace to see long-span construction, with fewer columns, coupled with down-stand cellular beam construction to incorporate services through floor beams, rather than below as was the norm some years ago.

This construction style brings several advantages, including more ‘lettable’ floor area, future-proofed spaces, lines of uninterrupted view, faster construction, reduced floor zone depths allowing lower building height and reduced cost or more available floors.

However, achieving these benefits poses several challenges – notably around communication across the supply chain. How are various parties to share information at the relevant time to make sure the project is compliant and that fire performance is factored in with the quality and specification required?

From the designer and specifier to suppliers, installers and building control officers, detail can be lost, misunderstood or completely overlooked

Project teams are increasingly global with the team geographically dispersed around the world. From the designer and specifier to suppliers, installers and building control officers, detail can be lost, misunderstood or completely overlooked.

The basic concept of business information modelling (BIM) answers many such questions. It facilitates sharing and exchanging of data across multiple disciplines within the built environment in order to better, more fully communicate details and data.

Within the structural steel frame environment, remote global offices and different parts of a project team can exchange data so that information on various steelwork elements is viewed almost in real-time.

Incorporate other elements

This is normally now done in a 3D format with other information linked to allow fourth, fifth and sixth level dimensions – for example the delivery and build scheduling.

3D models also incorporate different disciplines even within the steel frame, for example the design model as well as detailing model. For the oil and gas industry, it may include the process model to incorporate other elements beyond the structural frame.

These models can be linked to allow data flow from one to another to prevent elements from conflicting. It can also now allow for review of the design process for intumescent coating including any real or assumed design parameters.

Trimble's Tekla Structures software

Trimble’s Tekla Structures software (Credit: William Hare Ltd)

One issue here in the protection of steel structures, for example, is to assume the steel design output and subsequent ‘redundant’ load bearing strength, leading to an increased ‘critical temperature’ and therefore reducing the level of coating protect-on required.

To underestimate for any reason is a high-risk approach that should be questioned vigorously. Only ‘actual’ design output should be used and supplied by the project design team.

To assume a value to gain a competitive advantage or solve a challenge is not engineering; it’s potentially risking life and property

To assume a value to gain a competitive advantage or solve a challenge is not engineering; it’s potentially risking life and property. That is why we increasingly turn to software that removes any doubt from the process.

The starting point here lies with the architect, and then the specifier, for recommending the most suitable products and minimum standards. Responsibility cascades through the supply chain to the manufacturer, the product installer and officers auditing quality and safety through to sign-off.

The fire engineer or consultant should also be factored in earlier rather than later by the project design team, and this is where problems can emerge. If the fire engineer is called in to assess fire safety when the project is at an advanced stage and the solution has to be ‘retro-fitted’, this can be too late.

Working with the steel fabricator, the fire protection measures – as with other safety measures – can be developed effectively early in development of the design.

This would make consideration of the material, the requirements according to structural design, fire engineering design and other relevant parts of the project, for example cellular beams.

Level of compliance

The fire protection contractor may be considering on-site or off-site application depending on preference. This too should be considered in terms of how it could affect fire safety measures.

We should ask, in handing over to the owner or manager: is the development delivering what they expected? And is the design and specification meeting the required level of compliance through the process with all necessary certificates and approvals etc?

At Sherwin-Williams, we have developed a working partnership with Trimble, one of the world’s leading suppliers and providers of technology for the steel and concrete industries and built environment.

We recognised the need for technology that permitted an accurate and risk-free design process to allow the dry film thicknesses (DFTs) of our intumescent coatings to seamlessly incorporate into the steel fabricator’s 3D model.

With Trimble, we have developed a secure plug-in linked to our own software, the Firetex Design Estimator 2.0 (FDE2.0), which enables accurate calculations for complex projects as modern building design becomes ever more complex.

It handles every complexity imaginable, giving the added benefit of colour filtering to allow 3D analysis of coating properties.

Steel fabricators rely almost entirely on such 3D models to effectively run their operations with the BIM platform, producing contract drawings and enabling the ordering of materials such as steel and bolts. So why not intumescent coating too?

Product referencing

Given the rising use of off-site intumescent solutions, it makes sense to allow the fabricator to take control of DFT design and then the paint application from his or her steelwork 3D model.

As they could be responsible for both steel and fire protection, this approach allows the fabricator to incorporate intumescent product referencing as well as details, such as multiple product thicknesses, that come with an intumescent solution, into their QA processes and systems.

Product information can be automatically incorporated into drawings and reports and linked to planning systems without risk of error from manual processes. This allows them full control of the fire protection system application and helps with pricing and ordering.

It also allows a building to have an ‘as-built’ record of the coating design and fire strategy – useful for onward building management once it becomes operational.

With the use of BIM, speed of operation is dramatically enhanced – a 15-storey model (full of varying span cellular beams) took less than four hours to complete – and the risk of error is almost wiped out.

The outcomes of this process, ultimately, are safety, accuracy, peace of mind and efficiency benefits to our customers.

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