4D BIM for Construction

Use of 4D Modeling in Simulating Plant Construction Operations

Posted by Jon Berkoe on Mar 11, 2016 10:04:53 PM

Achieving a breakthrough in construction planning-improving safety and efficiency?

Every construction project is different and the current planning methods result in many operational challenges not being discovered until the last few days before the relevant work has to be done. The desired breakthrough can only be achieved by adding a new dimension to the current planning methods- one that enables everyone on the project to SEE and to easily understand exactly what will be going on ahead of time.  4D planning does exactly that, and therefore makes this breakthrough a reality.

Construction research has recognized that the ability to influence efficiency and safety in a project is highest at the earliest stages of that project  (i.e. the design and planning phases).  4D planning should be used at the early stages of the project lifecycle, at the early stages of the look-ahead window, at the early stages of the workweek, and at the early stages of the workday.  For higher level 4D simulations, planners can use the workspaces and dynamic clash detection in addition to visual planning. For more detailed simulations (e.g. power plant component replacement), planners can use digital rehearsals to make sure everything goes as smooth as possible.  Synchro PRO 4D software enables this practice to be conducted quickly and accurately at all stages of the project, leading to measurable impact on metrics such as safety, rework, cost and efficiency.  This has been proven out for major industrial projects in the U.S. and U.K.


4D modeling used for Nuclear Plant Outage Stator Replacement in North Carolina

Pre-construction 4D planning- creating validated and reliable schedules

Before construction starts, planners can involve the visual aspect of 4D scheduling to make changes in the schedule, equipment layouts, and the direction of work so that major operational and safety issues are ‘planned out’.  At this stage, workspace modeling and dynamic clash detection can be used, but the main benefit comes from allowing experts to visualize the sequence and use their judgment to make changes.  At this stage, the construction team can update the 4D model as they get closer to doing the work and as the constraints they will be dealing with become clearer.  This process brings potential issues to the surface and makes the entire team aware of all the past and potential future? risks on the project.  The concept of a ‘digital rehearsal’ is used and it’s not uncommon to model the exact movement of each piece of equipment with a high level of spatial/temporal accuracy.  In order for this practice to be effective, the 4D planning tool must be able to show when and where equipment and temporary works will be placed on site and how this affects the flow of the work on the project.  It’s also preferred that the tool is able to show how the equipment accesses the site and how it moves through the site - not only its initial and final positions, but – even more importantly - that it is synchronized with all activities that are occurring within both the time (schedule) and space (area) for the full sequence.


4D Digital Rehearsal for complex installation of water treatment assembly in modernization project in the UK.

Plant commissioning- Eliminating delays, informed and proactive decision making

4D modeling is effective for simulating the processes used in plant start-up and commissioning, as during these operations there is the potential for delays and problems to occur, as well as the potential for miss-communication of concurrent tasks that may overlap or lead to congestion – in either case resulting in rework and/or delay.  The virtualizing of each stage of a start-up sequence can be effective in troubleshooting and planning, and the tools in Synchro’s 4D software can enable all stakeholders to participate in the review process, and potentially identify opportunities to improve the sequence for timing and equipment utilization.


Commissioning model used for a water treatment project in the UK

Software Considerations

Finally, there are several factors that the construction/operations team should consider when choosing the right 4D planning tool for their projects.  Below are some of the main factors that should be considered:

  • Interoperability – The 4D planning tool must be able to import the design models used by the contractors and preferable retain all the metadata assigned to the objects in the model.
  • Workflow – If the project planners wish to use a schedule that was prepared using a software system other than the 4D planning tool, the latter must be interoperable with the scheduling software and must be able to bi-directionally synchronize with updated versions of the schedule without losing any work. On the other hand, if the planners wish to create their own schedules within the 4D planning tool (based on pull planning sessions for example), then the tool must have a reliable scheduling engine along with the 3D visualization capabilities.
  • Equipment – The 4D planning tool must be able to show when and where equipment and temporary works will be placed on site and how this affects the flow of the work on the project. It’s also preferred that the tool is able to show how the equipment moves through the site and not their initial and final positions.
  • Safety – If the planners wish to record safety incidents and near misses in the model within the 4D planning tool, then the tool must be able to support that.


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