Design-Build Data Centre with BIM, Winnipeg

January 31, 2017


Ehvert is an engineering and construction services firm that specialises in designing and building complex facilities, such as data centres. Frustrated with the lack of coordination within construction project teams, Ehvert sought to leverage BIM to improve productivity and reduce uncertainty on its projects.


Early Adopter of BIM

Early to recognize the benefits of building information modelling (BIM), Ehvert was one of the first companies in Canada to implement BIM across its projects. Due to the high density of plumbing, piping, ductwork, and conduit in many of Ehvert’s projects, Ehvert develops building models with a high level of detail – usually taking them to at least Level of Development (LOD) 350. These levels of detail can greatly improve the accuracy of clash detection and coordination to prevent costly change orders and delays later in a project.



In late 2013, Ehvert was commissioned to design and build a data centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. This 70,000 ft2 facility was to have 3MW of electrical load for the IT hardware, 6MW of incoming power for the building overall, and a tremendous amount of mechanical and electrical infrastructure to support these loads. A facility with this density of mechanical and electrical equipment, delivered under a stipulated-sum design-build contract, demanded very careful budgeting, scheduling, and execution. To achieve this, Ehvert implemented 5D BIM throughout the project.


Ehvert’s team modelled the building in great detail, including every power, control, and communications conduit and all ductwork, piping, and plumbing. By doing this, they ensured that all overhead, under-floor, and crawlspace pathways were well coordinated, without any clashes or interference.


Ehvert’s client required that the building be delivered in a short time period – much faster than the industry standard – and at a fixed price. To achieve this with certainty, Ehvert integrated the full schedule with the detailed 3D virtual model and reviewed the sequencing in detail. The resulting 4D model allowed Ehvert’s project managers to visualize the progress of the construction and devise a schedule that ensured all areas in the building were appropriately filled with trade contractors. This eliminated over-crowding of work-fronts and guaranteed that work progressed continuously in all areas without any downtime, greatly reducing the project duration. With this approach, Ehvert was able to guarantee that the project would be completed in 13 months – about half the industry standard timeline.



Fabrication Drawings

To further reduce congestion and crowding on the work site, Ehvert produced detailed fabrication drawings directly from the virtual model. These drawings of piping, ductwork, valves, and conduit produced from the model were very precise and eliminated any need for the fabricators to take site measurements. These pre-fabricated systems were then partially assembled before arriving on site. This process not only left the site open for more installing contractors, it also reduced the amount of assembly and installation work required to be performed on site.



Having confirmed that the project could be completed within the client’s timeline requirements, Ehvert proceeded to add the 5th dimension of cost to the model. Ehvert integrated the quantity take-offs from the model with industry standard estimating tools to perform a detailed estimate on all components of the building. The certainty this provided allowed Ehvert to deliver the project to the client for a fixed fee without the contingencies usually included in design-build project budgets – reducing the total cost for the client. The integration of these estimating tools further provided Ehvert with a detailed understanding of the number of man-hours required to complete each scope of work. This information was then compared to the project schedule to further confirm the likelihood that each system could be installed within the timelines allotted.


Risk Reduction

When Ehvert tendered the installation work, it shared the detailed quantity take-offs with bidders. This process greatly reduced the risks for both sides – Ehvert had great certainty that there would be no costly change orders and the subcontractors had a very predictable gross margin on every unit of material installed. The transparency this provided allowed Ehvert to quickly negotiate subcontracts with the successful bidders.



Virtual Design and Construction

As construction commenced, Ehvert deployed iPads to the construction site to provide the trade contractors with access to the building model. These iPads were connected to the model directly and were updated in real time with any changes. In addition to these iPads, Ehvert deployed three VDC stations – steel cabinets on rollers that contain powerful computers and large monitors for viewing the virtual model on a larger scale.This use of technology ensured that the installers had a clear understanding of the space allotted for their materials and all mechanical and electrical pathways were installed without interference as the coordination had already been performed by Ehvert’s modellers.Throughout the project, Ehvert had full-time surveyors on site. These surveyors verified that all infrastructure was installed in accordance with the virtual model, to a tolerance within millimetres. This process further assured that there would be no interference between mechanical and electrical infrastructure.


Laser Scanning

Additionally, Ehvert’s surveyors used advanced 3D laser scanners to collect data inside the facility. These data were then sent to Ehvert’s modelling team to be compared to the model. Overlaying the 3D scans and the virtual model, Ehvert’s modellers were able to rapidly determine the total quantities of materials that had been installed in the building. Comparing these quantities to the 4D building model, Ehvert could quickly determine whether the construction was progressing as required to meet the project schedule.


Construction Efficiency Reporting

Where construction lagged the project schedule, Ehvert was able to generate reports of the productivity of the installers and compare these to the initial predictions from the estimating tools. This allowed Ehvert and its subcontractors to develop a good understanding of the additional number of installers required to accelerate the construction and meet the initial project schedule.


Accelerated Construction

The design, construction, and commissioning of the facility was an integrated process that was completed within the initial project schedule of 13 months. Throughout the process, the project team faced record-breaking summer rainfalls, severe labour shortages, and bitterly cold winters. Through the use of detailed 5D BIM, Ehvert was able to revise construction sequencing, accelerate procurement timelines, compress shop-drawing reviews, and re-mobilize labour as required to keep the project on track.Ehvert has experienced immense productivity gains and risk reduction through the use of BIM in critical facilities and data centres. With the continuing development of these technologies, building information modelling is set to rapidly spread throughout every sector of the construction industry, disrupting the status quo.


About Graham Calvin

Graham is a project manager at Ehvert and has served on multiple design-build projects in Central and Western Canada. Graham has a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and has worked closely with Ehvert’s experienced design engineers, building modellers, and construction professionals to complete both retro-fit and greenfield construction projects.