Gaining Perspective

Pavel Savine, one of Tocci’s R+D Engineers, is enjoying a 3-month “department sabbatical” in a neighboring department: Planning + Cost Engineering. While only two weeks into his stint as a cost engineer, Pavel is already appreciating and articulating the nuanced differences between the two roles. 

The transition between Cost Engineering and VDC is an interesting way to gain perspective on the lifecycle of a project and what is at play in each phase. Much like my colleague Greg Cerino had recently wrote about his experience using BIM as a Sr. Cost Engineer, this is my chance to explore both facets of the industry.

The first difference is the speed of interaction with projects. In Cost Engineering, one has to go through a drawings set quickly and understand the scope of work, whereas in VDC one is usually figuring out a specific question in greater depth, or modeling a specific piece in great detail. This theme of more information but in less detail also exists across projects, as the VDC Modeler generally handles one project at a time, and may have 4 or 5 things on the radar, while the estimator can be handling a few projects, with several divisions in each, and therefore an innumerable amount of smaller tasks across those projects.

The second difference is the categorization and representation of the building. In VDC, the BIM is everything. It is the final word and reference point, and as a centralized database of all things about the building, and data is able to be retrieved and added in a fairly organized manner. The BIM is usually revised from only a few sources (input from a PM, and addenda usually), one has to be sure that what is modeled is 100% correct. In Cost Engineering, there are 4 or 5 places to look for information about the building – specs, drawings, subs quotes, miscellaneous reports, take-offs and previous budgets. Navigating to the correct information therefore takes longer with this scattered nature, and one cannot be as sure of any given bit of information. Severalsubs are bidding on any scope, and therefore there will be as many interpretations of that scope as there are subs.

The obvious overlap in VDC and cost engineering is the ever-present question of pricing using the BIM. Before the transition, it was unclear to me as to why BIM and estimating are two different systems –after all, if one needs to quantify something, would a centralized database of building information be the best way to do it? The experience here has shown that this is easier said than done, since Revit uses one way of categorizing a building (Categories and families) while architects use another (Divisions and ASI). The translationis slightly messy, and requires a consistent setup which is custom for every project to translate between these representations. The work of setting up each project and making sure all materials are correct and schedules point to the right things takes some effort, and is much easier to omit in favor of an adhoc BIM, with the worry of proper quantities coming later. This requires constant discipline, setup, and maintenance/revisions.

In an industry that recently was divided by trade it is nice to experience the “melting pot” that is the future of construction. While it is interesting to see the influence of collaboration between owners, CMs, and architects, it is equally as intriguing to look at the collaboration in and intra-office level between different apartments.

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