Solving Construction Issues with 3D Modeling and VDC

December 15, 2020 Allison Koh

We spoke to a top SketchUp consultant in Thailand, Mr Warunyoo Songkan (Pom), on how his passion to evolve construction processes, and create innovative solutions to construction issues, took him from working as a project engineer to a senior project engineer, and finally to setting up his own company. And it all began to roll when he found SketchUp (surprise, surprise!).  

All media courtesy of Mr Warunyoo Songkan unless otherwise stated.

A 3D model of a biogas plant

A 3D model of a biogas plant.

 

Tell us a bit about your background. 

I graduated with an environmental engineering degree in 2007 and started my career at Premier Energy Co., Ltd as the company’s first project engineer. At that time, the Thai government was heavily subsidizing renewable energy projects, such as biogas plants, and we clinched many projects. 

As the company grew bigger, we had a major problem. The workers couldn’t understand 2D AutoCAD drawings and made numerous mistakes at the construction site, resulting in loss of time, money, and materials. In 2011, a friend introduced me to SketchUp and I immediately recognized its potential for minimizing errors on construction sites. It’s easy to use and runs efficiently even on budget PCs. Within a year, I was adept at using SketchUp and recommended it for all our projects. 

“In 2011, a friend introduced me to SketchUp and I immediately recognized it’s potential for minimizing errors on construction sites.”

 

And how did things move on from there?

In 2012, there was a major biogas plant restructuring project and we were one of ten companies to bid for it. My manager didn’t think that our small business could win against companies with 15 project engineers. We took a chance anyways and used SketchUp to develop the proposal in great detail. I drew every single thing in the model, even a twenty-cent coin if I had to, because I wanted it to be precise and quickly estimate accurate pricing… and we won the project! 

“I drew every single thing in the model, even a twenty-cent coin if I had to, because I wanted it to be precise and quickly estimate accurate pricing… and we won the project!” 

 

The first biogas plant project Mr Pom designed entirely in SketchUp.
The first biogas plant project Mr Pom designed entirely in SketchUp.

The first biogas plant project we designed in SketchUp.

 

How did this milestone moment impact your career?

From that point on I started compiling drawings and proposals using LayOut, adding in colours and making them easy to understand. This helped set us apart from the competition. 

LayOut drawings set us apart from the competition because our use of colours makes the designs easy to understand.
LayOut drawings set us apart from the competition because our use of colours makes the designs easy to understand.
LayOut drawings set us apart from the competition because our use of colours makes the designs easy to understand. 

We set a record in winning private projects with the minimal use of AutoCAD, clinched several large projects, and almost took our company public. What I’d like to point out is, SketchUp is powerful and capable of delivering a USD 5 million project! One of the projects I worked on is still the deepest biogas digester in the world with its earthen reactor at a depth of 18m, and it was entirely designed with SketchUp. 

Our clients loved our style of work but a major hurdle we had to overcome was that the construction team was comfortable using AutoCAD and didn’t want to adapt to SketchUp. I decided to quit in 2015 and set up my own company. This way, I could make headway into other industries with a team of like-minded professionals who are not as “traditional”. 

“What I’d like to point out is, SketchUp is powerful and capable of delivering a 5 million USD project! One of the projects I worked on is still the deepest biogas digester in the world at 18m depth (earthen reactor), and it’s entirely done with SketchUp.”

Mr Pom conducted a pilot test for gas production rate before embarking on the full scale, USD5 million project. Biogas production rates are usually guaranteed before and after construction.

Mr Pom conducted a pilot test for gas production rate before embarking on the full scale, USD5 million project. Biogas production rates are usually guaranteed before and after construction.


What’s your typical design workflow?

We embrace Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) in our practice and use SketchUp from the start to the end of the project unless AutoCAD drawings are specifically requested.

At the initial stage, all stakeholders (clients, consulting team, and contractors) share ideas and highlight potential limitations through simple models to prevent issues from arising in the future. Over the course of the share outs, the complexity of the model increases. 

Model complexity increases over share outs.

Model complexity increases over share outs.

One of the methods we use is “Piece-based assembly modelling”. Using data from our purchasing department, real-world objects are accurately modelled in SketchUp as 3D objects called components. Specification details such as cost, installation time and assembly information are embedded. This enables us to plan ahead for the Bill of Materials (BOM) list. 

After the project prototype is assembled, we’ll get a detailed report from SketchUp that breaks down cost and quantity data, so in just one click we know everything: the number of valves to buy, pipes to install, etc. In the past, I had to use a calculator through my 2D drawings to create a BOM list. With SketchUp, that process is now obsolete. 

“In the past, I had to use a calculator through my 2D drawings to create a BOM list. With SketchUp, that process is now obsolete.”

Each construction piece of the SketchUp model is uploaded onto the cloud, creating a seamless gateway for all project stakeholders to access and edit the models before moving on to the 4D stage. 

Information of materials is embedded as links in Dynamic Components.

Information of materials is embedded as links in Dynamic Components.

SketchUp components are virtual 3D objects that can include a wide range of specification data.

SketchUp components are virtual 3D objects that can include a wide range of specification data.

The engineering calculation sheet is embedded into the Dynamic component, increasing the productivity of the engineering design phase.

The engineering calculation sheet is embedded into the Dynamic component, increasing the productivity of the engineering design phase. The size of the lagoon is calculated using the dynamic component, and when the model is changed, the calculation is updated simultaneously, preventing errors and reducing time required to update the calculation sheet.

 

Effectively engaging owners is pivotal to the success of projects, and sharing clear and timely information with them is critical. SketchUp is the best solution for real-world projects. With it, I can simulate the best construction options for owners to assess and select. 

“Effectively engaging owners is pivotal to the success of projects, and sharing clear and timely information with them is critical. SketchUp is the best solution for real-world projects.”

 

What’s the workflow after a design gets approved? 

Our construction management team and contractors simulate the construction sequence using scenes and layers. To factor time into the model, components that will be constructed in week 1, are named “layer-week”. This naming convention is repeated for every week of construction. 

After completing the virtual plan, we capture scenes from week 1 to the last week of the construction, and SketchUp turns these sequential scenes into an animation of the 4D construction. We critically review the animation as a team and only move on to the construction phase if everything goes well in 4D. This helps us eliminate surprises which may occur during the construction phase. It also helps us manage the supply chain to avoid project delay. On-site workers would also know how to work because they have already seen the process in the virtual environment. 

Contractors and workers understand the work scope and methods easily with 3D models.

Contractors and workers understand the work scope and methods easily with 3D models.

Contractors and workers understand the work scope and methods easily with 3D models, making on-site works smoother and more efficient. 

We export appropriate model views from SketchUp into LayOut. This dramatically reduces the time it takes to create construction drawings. We also embed facility management information in dynamic components so that stakeholders can easily retrieve information in real-time. 

Construction drawings exported directly from a SketchUp 3D model and assembled in LayOut.

Construction drawings exported directly from a SketchUp 3D model and assembled in LayOut. 

 

Share with us how developing your own team improved the dynamics at work.

I was confident enough to send an inexperienced engineer to the construction site for our first project. Armed with 3D models, he was learning on the job, managing the construction, clarifying issues with the owner and managed to complete the project successfully! In the past, I would have to be at the construction site very often. Moreover, having our own construction team use SketchUp dramatically improved our work processes; we could comfortably work on more projects simultaneously. 

“Moreover, having our own construction team use SketchUp dramatically improved our work processes; we could comfortably work on more projects simultaneously.”

Workers assembling a biogas plant on one of the construction projects.

Workers assembling a biogas plant on one of the construction projects. The above image shows a comparison between a 3D model and the actual setup at the construction site. 

SketchUp drawings mounted for workers to refer to construction sequences

SketchUp drawings mounted for workers to refer to construction sequences.

 

What do you find most challenging in the construction industry?

The software works very well and solves many problems at work. The biggest challenge is people who are unwilling to adapt to new ways of working, or resist learning and using new software. We also lack support from the government to embrace non-AutoCAD drawings. 

 

What are some of the extensions you use?

We use MSphysics to simulate construction so that owners can understand the build easily, 3Skeng for piping works, Whatabout3D for clash detection (plugin no longer hosted), Profilebuilder and Enscape

We also developed QuickBOQ for our team and students. It updates Bill of Materials (BOM) and Bill of Quantities (BOQ) lists in real-time when the model changes, making cost estimations easy and accurate. In addition, we’re also constantly improving on our free Product Connect app, another location-based extension to calculate BOQ because so often owners will ask for the price of building materials and where they are located within the project. This Product Connect platform aims to serve the BIM construction industry and will include Thailand’s construction database and many other extensions.

I hope that SketchUp can develop even better reports for components, objects, layers and materials. A lot of professional users would benefit from greater improvements to reporting in SketchUp.

Our extension “QuickBOQ”

Our extension “QuickBOQ”.

 

About Mr Warunyoo Songkan (Pom)

Mr Pom specializes in the construction of Biogas plants.  He is an active contributor in Thai SketchUp community and has written 25 in-depth and free SketchUp books in Thai. He has a training camp for students of all ages, owns Somtum Studio for developing extensions, and Q Group to develop free extensions. He manages a Facebook page with over 174,000 followers, a SketchUp YouTube channel with over 45,000 subscribers, provides free SketchUp online training in Thai, hosted the “Change from 2D to SketchUp” Podcast and writes blog posts about his projects to create awareness on the BIM workflow in Thailand. 

 

About the Author

Allison Koh

Based in Singapore, Allison enjoys exploring the world of architecture through SketchUppers’ projects. She can be frequently sighted at the dance studio, and one of her life goals includes managing the splits one day.

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