Steely Determination

Detroit’s Midwest Steel soon will utilize 6-D software and virtual reality tools to improve and shorten construction cycles.
design assist software
Midwest Steel in Detroit started using design assist software 15 years ago.

Detroit’s Midwest Steel says it’s transforming the way steel suppliers and erectors work with building designers, engineers, owners, and other trade workers by using the latest in computer modeling, along with design assist and planning software. The results are significant savings in labor, costs, and total construction time.

Midwest’s resume of recent local work includes several Detroit projects — Little Caesars Arena, One Campus Martius, the renovation of Cobo Center, and the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino — as well as the North Terminal at Detroit Metro Airport in Romulus.

“We’re taking the technology that’s available now for building imaging modeling (BIM) and we’re constructing the building virtually before we begin to fabricate any steel or deliver the steel,” says David Barrows, director of business development at Midwest Steel. “We’re also coordinating with other portions of that contract — concrete, foundations, the underground — to be able to show them where we’re going to be at any point in the project schedule, so they’re able to plan their work better.

“If you get the key trade contractors all together during the design portion and you coordinate how you’re going to fabricate, how you’re going to erect it, and the sequence, you get an integrated approach and you get an optimized schedule.”

David Barrows
David Barrows

By using the latest computer tools and bringing all of the parties involved in the construction project during the design phase, Barrows says he’s seen a 75 percent boost in field labor productivity, 50 percent improved cost savings, and a 15 percent drop in the project schedule.

“With the nationwide labor shortage, I can’t produce more iron workers — but if I use them for a shorter period of time on a job site because we’re more efficient, then we’re able to do more work,” Barrows explains.

Thanks to the modeling software and modern communications technology, Midwest is able to keep all parties updated on the daily progress of a project.

“With design assist, we’re also able to do engineering reviews on an ongoing basis,” Barrows says. “Each engineer is in their own office, and the engineer of record, the owner, the fabricator, the underground (workers), and the utilities are all brought together online and we do reviews of the design and fabrication, and installation.”

Midwest Steel first began using design assist software 15 years ago, when it was based on 2-D drawings.

Over the years, the software became 3-D and then 4-D. And soon, Midwest will use what it calls a 5-D program that shows costs associated with a project. A 6-D program that will include the schedule, the cost, and the BIM could debut as early as the first quarter of 2020.

“The next new innovation will be virtual reality out in the field,” Barrows says. “With virtual reality glasses, the engineer can go into the field, look at the engineering drawing, look at the (landscape), and see if the building is going up according to the design requirements, or if changes have to be made.”