DCN ARCHIVES

April 6, 2010

Technology

U.S. retailer Crate & Barrel embraces BIM

Short of palatable options, U.S. retailer Crate & Barrel made a strategic decision in 2002 to adopt Building Information Modeling (BIM). The Illinois-headquartered firm hasn’t looked back.

“We had the old gun to the head,” said John Moebes, the firm’s director of construction. “We had to reduce project costs and time. We looked around and didn’t see a lot of options other than building fewer stores or fighting more court cases.”

Moebes, an architect by training, gave a presentation on an owner’s view of BIM adoption, risk and reward at a recent Insight Information forum in Toronto.

“The caveat is that Crate & Barrel is not representative of every owner,” he said of his presentation. “We typically do things a little bit differently.”

Crate & Barrel is a chain of 145 retail stores specializing in housewares, furniture and home accessories.

The organization, which doesn’t use prototype designs, currently has 22 BIM projects under its belt.

Moebes said current projects take 40 per cent less time and cost 50 per cent less than pre-BIM projects.

“BIM is allowing us to build through a challenging (economic) period,” he said.

Moebes, who joined Crate & Barrel in 2006 after a stint as an associate principal at an architectural firm in Dallas, said the retailer opted to mandate BIM because it already controlled most of the major parameters on a project.

He said an owner-controlled mandate for BIM is appropriate “in the sense that we have the most to gain from a holistic adoption across the project cycle.”

From an owner’s perspective, core benefits include: improved content in project documents, resulting in fewer requests for information and better downstream tender results; faster document production; and accelerated understanding of the project at all phases.

“Constructability improves dramatically,” Moebes said.

Core risks include: resistance to process change in a “very conservative” industry; the BIM learning curve, with 20 per cent of the tasks requiring knowledge of 80 per cent of the BIM platform; and required infrastructure upgrades.

“Big models equal big computers.”

Moebes, who at one juncture in his career worked at a multi-disciplinary construction company headquartered in Massachusetts, had some suggestions for owners wanting to use BIM for the first time.

Pick a smaller project and a willing project manager. Moebes said someone hostile to the technology will “sink” the entire team.

Don’t hire partners in the architecture, engineering and construction industry who are new to BIM.

Don’t add any other irons to the fire.

“We’ve done a lot with BIM, but not a lot with sustainability,” Moebes said.

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