Q&A: A 3-D perspective in construction

Q&A: A 3-D perspective in construction

Source: http://www.chron.com, July 1, 2011
By: Katherine Feser

A Houston construction company that embraces virtual technology to cut costs has grabbed a piece of a $1.2 billion project to renovate a New York City airport.

The 22-year-old Satterfield & Pontikes Construction is using computer modeling as part of a Delta Air Lines project to renovate and expand one terminal and demolish another at JFK International. The company is helping provide the estimating, scheduling and cost-control services for the project’s first phase.

It’s doing so with building information modeling software — just as it has done with a raft of local projects that range from renovations and additions at Reagan High School to a new, environmentally friendly building at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Five years ago, Satterfield & Pontikes used the same technology to complete – in only 10 months – its headquarters at 11000 Equity Drive.

That’s where co-founder, president and CEO George Pontikes Jr. recently spoke with the Chronicle’s Katherine Feser about the company, which employs more than 350 people and last year logged $462 million in revenue.

Edited excerpts:

Q: How does the building information modeling software work?

A: It allows you to look at a building with a 3-D perspective in different phases of construction. You look at it on a computer screen. You can actually enter the building, you can do fly-bys, walk-throughs or walk-arounds. It allows you to graphically depict the schedule so you can look at where you should be at any given point in time based on your original schedule. It allows you to look for conflicts where the design may not work.

Q: How is your model different from others used by construction companies today?

A: A lot of contractors are using 3-D modeling as a sales tool and a marketing tool where they do a low-level model and dress it up and go sell a project. The vast majority of our modeling effort goes in after we get the job. We do a lot of schedule-conflict detection, we do a lot of estimating, we do all of our change management utilizing models. We can provide project after project where an owner was unable to get to a budget’s scope and schedule with a CM (construction manager) or contractor. They came to us without changing the plans and we were able to get to their budget sometimes 10 to 20 to 30 percent less than what these other CMs or contractors were telling them they could do.

Q: Have you encountered any hurdles in implementing the software model?

A: Not everybody trusts quantitative surveys from the BIM models. It’s no different than when AutoCAD was introduced many years ago. As people went from your typical drafting table with pencils and erasers to AutoCAD, they thought, “You take the art out of the design.” In today’s world, every major architectural firm is either using AutoCAD or a 3-D model.

Q: What’s next as far as technology is concerned?

A: I think in the near future, all project documentation will be electronic. We’ll lose the paper trail. You’ll see 3-D models and 3-D schedules and 3-D schedule-conflict detection. We’ll see a seamless process from design to facilities management through termination of a building.

Q: What types of changes are you seeing in the construction industry?

A: In years past, there was a concept of a trusted adviser. A builder would go to an owner, and they didn’t necessarily look for the bigger, better, faster, cheaper, safer approach. They said: “I’m your trusted adviser. This is what it costs. This is what we’ll do.” In today’s world, we have international builders coming to the United States buying contractors all over the country. They come in with a different investment philosophy. They come in with different values toward employees and how a project is built. We’re going to have to compete in that global economy.

Q: Name a few landmarks you’ve done that Houstonians would recognize.

A: Here in Houston, Reagan High School. In New Orleans, the World War II Museum. We built the first phase of the Texas A&M medical school campus. We just finished the first (LEED) Platinum building we’ve ever done at NASA Building 20.

Q: Is it harder to compete for work in this economy?

A: We used to see on an HISD job two or three or four bidders, and now we might see 20 or 30. You get some of the large federal jobs and there are bidders from all over the country. We’ve been in this market – the markets that are expanding and growing right now – for our entire career. It’s critically important that we keep a serious focus on where we are now, where we come from and where we’re headed. We have no delusions. We realize it’s a tough market. It’s going to be a tough couple of years to come.

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