Construction projects are notoriously prone to schedule overruns. Lean 4D, a Finnish consulting company, provides BIM-based project planning services that significantly improve contractors’ chances of hitting their targets. Jouni Ojala, the founder of Lean 4D, showed me how they work and use the capabilities of modern BIM technology.
Jouni Ojala has been an entrepreneur for the last seven years, specializing in BIM-based construction planning. Before that, he worked on construction sites in various managerial roles. He wanted to get hands-on experience in the trade before moving to consulting. His time on construction sites made him understand how technology could improve the process.
“In the early days, I did not see a glimpse of building information models on the site,” said Jouni. “Nevertheless, I already knew that there was a smarter and more efficient way to work than with pen and paper.”
Jouni’s conviction came from his previous work at DSS, a software company. It had developed DynaProject, a project scheduling tool that used line-of-balance charts instead of the regular Gantt graphs.
DynaProject later became a member of Trimble’s construction software family and is now called Vico Schedule Planner.
Adding a Fourth Dimension to BIM
Over the last five years, Jouni and his colleagues at Lean 4D have perfected the practice of four-dimensional (4D) construction scheduling. It is a method that adds a time and resource dimension to building information models. The model also serves as a three-dimensional visual interface with the schedule.
The market for 4D scheduling services is still nascent, and each project takes some selling. However, when construction managers see how the system works, they quickly understand its benefits. As a result, Lean 4D has a growing portfolio of projects that demonstrate its capabilities.
Scheduling in 4D simulates real-life construction. Instead of figuring out charts and tables, a manager sees a three-dimensional presentation of how a building comes about from its components in the context of the timeline. Each piece knows the resources and time required to complete it, making the process manageable to the details. In addition, any challenges in constructability become visible at once.
Jouni showed me a 4D schedule of Helsinki Airport’s Terminal 2 extension project. It is a large and demanding undertaking consisting of four subprojects. Even an extensive and detailed model like this runs smoothly on the screen. The tool Lean 4D uses is Bentley’s Synchro 4D Pro.
In the model, all the concrete and steel components appear in the order and composition in which they will be on the actual site. You can watch the model from any angle, at any point in time on the schedule, which runs under the 3D model window.
“This is a language-independent way of communicating the schedule: what, where, and when,” Jouni explained.
Enriching Design Models
4D scheduling starts with models obtained from the designers. A structural engineer’s model serves as a reasonable basis for scheduling the work for the building frame, but any model will work.
On the Helsinki Airport project, Lean 4D used the HVAC engineer’s model for scheduling installations. They enriched the model with production data, including the location code and duration of the installation.
Each component of the model has a separate line in the schedule. In the first scheduling round, the durations are calculated with default values, at the minute level. A site supervisor fine-tunes the plan in the second round using their knowledge and real resource and time constraints.
A 4D model of a site is an excellent tool for the contractors to get acquainted with the project. Instead of a stack of drawings or a static model, they now have a virtual construction site with information on all the components and materials at their disposal.
A Cultural Change
Today, Lean 4D has to recode and partially rebuild the BIMs to make them useful. Technically, there’s no reason why designers could not prepare the model for scheduling.
Jouni thinks that the cultural threshold for this kind of change is high. Still, he would welcome the opportunity.
“We would gladly give up that tedious part of our work, even if we’d lose billable hours,” said Jouni. “We could then be able to focus on our core competence, data enrichment, and management for construction planning.”
Evolving Service Models
Lean 4D delivers its services in various ways. A Lean 4D consultant can be a full-time specialist who’s responsible for the schedule. Alternatively, the contractor and Lean 4D plan the schedule together initially. After that, the contractor operates the 4D model independently, as is the case with the Helsinki Airport project.
The contractor can rest assured that the plan is constructible to the building component level in both scenarios. This is a clear improvement compared to a typical sector-based schedule.
Anyone with access to the project server can study the schedule in its entirety with a free viewer app via a web browser or mobile device. All the project participants share the same accurate schedule and can comment on it if necessary. This way, the plan becomes a collaborative communication tool.
One of the new uses of Lean 4D’s models is information requests. When design and construction are concurrent, the contractor needs certain design information at a specific time as the work progresses. A 4D model helps in defining and visualizing the information release schedules.
4D Lean does not limit its service to new building construction. The company has successfully planned demolitions and pipeline construction as well.
“We have a five-year plan on turning this company from a four-employee team to a 40-strong company,” Jouni disclosed. “Our growth will come from both large projects and productized fixed-priced services. We also plan to break out to new fields, including infrastructure, process industry, and wind energy.”
Extending to Software
To conclude our chat, I asked Jouni whether Lean 4D has plans to enter software development. He said that reporting and task automation software would be an exciting extension to their services.
“It makes no sense to try to recreate Synchro. But offering software-as-a-service tools that automate data management and reporting would extend our business model.”
Visit lean4d.fi for more information.