Buckling Up Risks

The construction community and its insurers should embrace 3D modeling to further reduce risk on complex projects Commentary by Richard H. Lowe
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5512150The argument in favor of using virtual 3D modeling as a way to reduce risk for the construction community seems as simple as the reasons to use seat belts. When seat belts became popular in the 1960s, insurance companies offered discounts to encourage their use to reduce the cost of losses in a crash. Today, a similar technological leap presents itself in the construction arena. With the advent of 3D modeling and virtual “clash detection,” the project team can catch potential conflicts sooner and cheaper, with more cooperation from subcontractors. A 3D model offers more specific design information than 2D drawings. Given that the world is 3D and not 2D, how can that additional specificity be a bad thing for project liability?

Despite the obvious benefits of clash detection, some designers and constructors are leery of moving into 3D modeling because they sense other impediments in the allocation of risk. Most of those skeptics don’t realize that the risks are no greater (and sometimes smaller) in the 3D world than in the traditional 2D world.

Consider these facts. First, the 2D world is hardly free from risk. Decades worth of construction litigation has proven this point. Second, the use of 3D virtual modeling for fabrication and construction is nothing new. Engineered projects (think process-piping plants) have been using 3D modeling for decades, and subs have been adding the third dimension in shop drawings-such as spool drawings for process piping-for a long time. Those projects aren’t less complex or risk free.

Third, as a practical matter, the use of 3D modeling fosters a broader collaborative effort, especially when the contractor is invited into the process early. Design reviews and clash-review meetings bring everyone into the same room, working to solve a problem. This significantly reduces everyone’s risk.

A concern from the design side is whether the architect-of-record or design-builder remains in “responsible charge” of design, as required by many state laws. That’s based on the faulty assumption that the line between design and construction is blurred using 3D design, including fears that someone other than project leaders can change the model without their knowledge or approval.

That issue can easily be addressed by adopting a protocol where all changes to the model must come from the designated team leaders. They need to establish tight access controls and an audit trail of additions to the model that clearly identifies the source and date of all changes.

It is overly simplistic to assume that a single, “master” model for projects exists. In fact, each construction discipline maintains a model for its area of responsibility, and the project leaders then use an integrated model that refers to the 3D models for structural steel or mechanical and architectural components. (Read More)

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