How AECOM Uses Model Coordination for Clash Detection, Mitigating Errors in the Field

Construction projects – regardless of size – require extensive collaboration across multidisciplinary teams to design, engineer, and construct an asset. A reality in today’s projects is that large, distributed teams must coordinate work across many disciplines and datasets. In addition, the increasing complexity of construction projects makes model coordination essential to aid in clash detection and allow stakeholders to address issues prior to site mobilization. The cost of not using model coordination includes unexpected design changes and unnecessary rework, resulting in budget overruns and schedule delays.

AECOM, a global network of design, engineering, construction, and management professionals, partners with clients to deliver and build high-performance buildings and infrastructure. AECOM relies on BIM 360 Model Coordination, a cloud-based model coordination software included in Autodesk BIM Collaborate, to detect clashes and review constructibility during the design and build phase across many of its projects. 

With more than 87,000 employees across eight continents working with multiple project stakeholders, sub-consultants, joint venture teams, and clients, it’s a must to ensure feedback and changes are captured instantly for the company’s complex, schedule-driven projects to be completed successfully.

BIM Manager Dennis McNeal introduced the cloud-based model coordination workflow to AECOM’s Roanoke, Virginia office in 2019. Implementing model-based coordination was driven not only by highly complex project teams, but clients increasing requests for full Building Information Modeling (BIM) deliverables.

By implementing cloud-based model coordination workflows, AECOM reduced the risk of human error during model inspections, which improved QA/QC processes. In addition, the team identified and addressed the following opportunities through their new workflow:

  1. Saving time through the democratization of the tool to review clashes quickly by spreading the work across teams.
  2. Reducing the number of project issues by coordinating and addressing identified areas of concern earlier in the project lifecycle.
  3. Breaking down communication silos across large, geographically dispersed teams for better project collaboration and alignment.

More Accessibility Across Teams

McNeal previously used traditional BIM coordination software that relied on a BIM or Virtual Design + Construction (VDC) specialist to coordinate on behalf of the project team. However, Autodesk’s cloud-based model coordination tools automate many common activities, bringing more project participants into the coordination process.

“We’re seeing an interesting democratization of the tool,” says McNeal. “Rather than needing an expert in Navisworks or Revit, anyone can look at and use the capability to understand and clear clashes.”

Cloud-based model coordination is changing the way coordination is done, moving from a specialized process needing specialized tools, to one where every project stakeholder can access the models and data, and participate in model coordination without needing special training or tools. Another great feature within the module is the automation of model aggregation and clash detection as soon as models are published to the platform.

“This feature allows our team to get to issues faster and dismiss a clash that is not a real issue,” says McNeal. “With clash detection, the hurdle is getting false clashes out of the way. After that, it gets easy.” The interface is also designed for ease of use so that all project team members can review and resolve clashes.

BIM 360 also automatically provides a clash matrix to identify where there are problems between project team participants – a capability also available in Autodesk BIM Collaborate – to streamline workflows. “We use the clash matrix — who is clashing against whom — so when you look at the dashboard you see that matrix, and it covers every possible clash combination, which provides huge time-savings in identifying where the clashes originated from,” says McNeal.

By automating the clash detection process and increasing visibility of potential problems, coordination cycles are shortened, and potential problems are addressed more quickly.

Clash Detection: Early and Often

Clash detection helps reduce project errors in ongoing or completed model work before construction occurs. Clash detection identifies inconsistencies that do not show up in 2D drawings, which is where 3D BIM models provide value. When using model coordination, BIM datasets are automatically reviewed for clashes at all stages of the project, from design through preconstruction, fabrication, and construction.

“Start early and check for clashes often,” McNeal advises. “It’s the best approach to foresee problems in the model.”

McNeal recounts a story from a past building project where the teams did not collaborate or coordinate until midway through the project.

“At that point, it was impossible to coordinate because you had a system that had exponential clashes,” says McNeal. “When you’re so far down one path, it’s hard to resolve models, leaving teams over budget and with upended timelines. It’s critical to run model coordination and clash detection searches in the early phases rather than late in design, or on the construction site.”

Get Comfortable Communicating

“One of the biggest hurdles in design offices is to start communications between the various teams from the start – this helps to prevent silos of information,” says McNeal. “When you kick off a project, before you start modeling, you need to have a conversation about coordination and discuss where systems are going and how you are going to work together to avoid conflict, which saves time. Get comfortable talking from the start, and you’ll see fewer issues.”

To improve communication, McNeal instituted a daily 15-minute project meeting where the BIM team discussed progress, schedule, and any issues they have. This small conversation goes a long way, especially when project team members sit in different areas and may not see each other every day.

By providing a common data environment for all coordination data, model coordination connects the project team and enhances collaboration and communication. “The big thing it does for our team — beyond showing physical clashes — is it allows teams to talk to each other early on about coordinating systems,” says McNeal.

Better Project Outcomes With Model Coordination

McNeal is currently working on a project for a prominent client. It is a large-scale development, with 40 unique buildings encompassing 2.4 million square feet with a tight project timeline of 12 months.

McNeal’s entire office, along with 20 other AECOM offices — totaling more than 400 team members — are working on this project. With an expedited schedule, the team could not spend time running clash detection through a traditional approach. By using Autodesk’s cloud-based model coordination tools, AECOM was able to automate clash resolution and trade coordination, which allowed for quicker clash detection processes and faster problem-solving.

“The project is so massive that it required a lot of front-end planning and collaboration. The successful use of model coordination was the obvious tool to use to ensure we met the tight deadlines, and we’ve definitely seen the benefits. Our work is nearly complete, and we’ve stayed on track the entire time,” says McNeal.

The project is being produced three times faster than a previous project that did not use model coordination. These outcomes are helping AECOM to scale the use of the model coordination workflow across the organization, resulting in better collaboration and coordination across project teams.

Lauren Ginsberg

Construction Content Marketing Manager, Autodesk Construction Solutions