Laboratory Design Newsletter 2011 Selected Abstract

Building Information Modeling: Practical Uses for a Better Laboratory

Daniel Joseph, McCarthy Building Companies, Inc.
Gary Bloom, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Based on the recently completed U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Chemical and Materials Sciences Building at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, this presentation focused on how the coordination and use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) resulted in a more successful project.

Picture of building


One of the initial sites for the World War II Manhattan Project, the ORNL campus was formed in 1943 (initially as the Clinton Laboratories) and housed the world's first continuously operated nuclear reactor, eventually leading to research on chemical processes to separate plutonium from irradiated fuel. Today, ORNL, with a $1.65 billion budget and nearly 5,000 employees, possesses well-defined research capabilities to meet the needs of the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and other clients.

Realizing that nearly 50 percent of ORNL staff was located in buildings older than 10 years, ORNL decided to move forward with its Modernization of Laboratory Facilities project, which includes the modernization of the Chemical and Materials Sciences Building. This $95 million, three-story, 160,000-square-foot building includes 56 laboratories, more than 160 offices, and support space for more than 300 staff members. DOE completed the project in June 2011 and the building is pending LEED® Gold certification. Not only is this the first ORNL project to utilize the Construction Manager At-Risk delivery method, but it is also the first DOE project to use building information modeling (BIM).

DOE's use of BIM, which began in the design phase and continued throughout the construction phase, was one of the biggest contributors to the project's success. By using BIM, DOE improved safety and quality from the start by allowing off-site fabrication of mechanical piping modules. In addition, DOE reduced its costs by detecting/eliminating 14,200 conflicts in the model, curtailing the expected number of subcontractor request for information by 40 percent. DOE will use the model (and equipment database tied to it) in the future to improve operations, maintenance, and upgrades.

As BIM is still a fairly fresh industry concept, challenges in the process are expected. However, most of these challenges can be limited or eliminated. First, it is crucial that owner, designer, and contractor contracts are set up to allow for complete transparency. It is also critical to establish protocols setting the level of input required from each party, as this helps to ensure effective communication and ownership of responsibilities throughout the process. Finally, as owners' decisions are required much earlier in the process, schedule enough time to complete the process efficiently.

Other considerations to keep in mind when implementing a BIM model include:

  • Confirm that the architecture/engineering designs support BIM.
  • Clearly state that the design model is to be transferred to owner and construction contractor upon completion.
  • Make sure that the construction contractor clearly defines what systems will be modeled and who will be the system integrator.
  • Identify the owner of the model.
  • Define the future use of the model early, especially when attributes need to be developed for linking future information such as operations and maintenance manuals and warranty information.

By implementing some of these strategies early, as the ORNL team did, projects can realize the many improved outcomes of using BIM, such as safety and quality (via prefabrication) and a reduction in rework. With BIM, however, improved outcomes are not limited to the present, as BIM can also enhance a project's future, especially for new tenants. By analyzing the model prior to selecting a space, new tenants can quickly decide whether or not their research will fit the space, as it is much easier to visualize space with equipment in 3D versus 2D. The use of the BIM model also allows for the generation of more accurate move estimates and tenant fit-out estimates.

The successful execution of ORNL's acquisition strategy and extensive use of BIM enabled the project to be completed six months ahead of schedule, within budget, and with an excellent safety record. The BIM approach made it possible for ORNL to satisfy researcher requirements, as well as exercise the option to add an additional 20,000 square feet to the building. In all, the modernization of the Chemical and Materials Sciences Building was a great success.


Having spent more than 15 years in the construction industry, primarily on difficult, high-tech projects, Daniel Joseph is quickly becoming one of the most knowledgeable builders at McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. Since receiving his Bachelor of Arts in construction management and civil engineering from Louisiana State University, Mr. Joseph has served in a variety of roles, including project engineer, superintendent, and currently, project manager. Mr. Joseph's project experience is primarily composed of science and technology/laboratory projects for a variety of industry-leading clients, such as Cornell University, Monsanto, Sigma-Aldrich, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and ORNL, with whom he is currently engaged on his fourth project. In his role as project manager, Mr. Joseph is on site full-time to oversee effective field staff management, exercising control over schedule and budget and ensuring timely and high-quality work, including the use of BIM.