By Mike Prefling, Director-Virtual Construction, Ryan Companies US Inc.
The evolution of Building Information Modeling (BIM) technologies creates many potent opportunities within the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry. The creation and growing accessibility of 3D models enables better understanding of the physical world of Architecture, Structure, and MEP systems to a wider audience than ever before. Over half of the construction industry has embraced and adopted 3D design, construction, and fabrication platforms, suggesting that building information modeling (BIM) is now the defacto way of doing business within the AEC industry. However, BIM is simply a tool in the wide arsenal of the Design industry, and as such cannot achieve maximum potential without proper use and training. Think of BIM as a noun; it is the virtual information and 3D representation of a project. How you use this model, develop, and communicate the information is where the true potential resides. This process is Virtual Design and Construction (VDC). If BIM is the noun, then VDC is the verb. Practical application and proper use of these tools and processes enable the Design and Construction industries to reduce last minute design changes, re-work in the field, and reduce overall cost overruns and schedule delays. If there is one constant across industries and project types, it is the requirement for on-time and on-budget deliveries.
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Virtual Design and Construction is a process that ideally flows through a project, digitally (i.e., virtually) creating, collecting, transporting, and delivering project data from design through construction. The VDC process includes software, hardware, and people – ideally all in the proper configurations and locations to allow for cooperative participation, and enabled to deliver a high performing (i.e., optimized) constructed facility.
Virtual Design and Construction provides us the medium and common language to communicate, coordinate, optimize, and deliver the intended vision
While there are a multitude of toolsets and techniques used, there are essentially three “foundational” principles that provide a set of basic requirements for a business changing, deep-dive, and value-based VDC program:
1. Content Creation: VDC enhances the way a company does business and enables improvements in workflow and operations. 3D geometry is the most mature element of the VDC process. The industry has a good grasp on how detailed the various digital models should be at specific milestones of a project, but not always how to manage the delivery and coordination of these models. Architecture and Structural Design teams work largely in 3D formats, more MEP contractor groups are developing enhanced BIM skills, and many critical fabrication stakeholders are also capable of producing highly detailed production quality models. Creating and providing 3D representations of the project structure and systems should be considered an essential element of project delivery.
2. Accessibility and Interoperability: The need to coordinate and consume the massive amounts of data produced on a project means software interoperability is essential. VDC efforts are centered on collaboration, but knowing how to gather information from so many data sources and condense them into something useful is important. Seamless information sharing and centralized file viewers enable teams to communicate over long distances and compile multiple formats into an easily understood and professionally presented model. The ability to gather and convert these many pieces of the puzzle is an important step in this process, but the VDC effort should never dictate software. Each trade partner is an expert in a given scope and should use their preferred authoring tools to be most effective. Each individual is empowered to provide an agnostic 3D export format that is easily shared and communicated to all team members, regardless of platform.
3. Processes and Facilitation: These are by far the most important elements in a successful VDC effort. VDC is a leadership opportunity. No matter what technology and skill sets are available to a team, the process cannot reach the maximum potential until an environment of collaboration and goal alignment is established. Engagement and participation must be instilled in the team through clear communication and process mapping. Managing this effort requires knocking down information silos, drawing on team expertise, and proactively and methodically working through issues. No single player is more important than another, each scope must work together to reach acceptable solutions. Success is achieved by continual improvement and free flow of information. Data must flow continuously and non-selectively between project phases and users. The success (or failure) of a VDC effort boils down to the ability to get all the players aligned to achieve a clearly stated set of goals. In order to make this happen, a clear outline of project objectives, scope definitions and prioritization, and schedule must be communicated at an early stage of the project.
The avalanche of 3D visualization options and improvements in the AEC industry in recent years opens the door to endless opportunities for project teams willing to embrace the potential of these tools. Constantly evolving skills, adopting new software, and enabling file sharing to reduce latency and speed up project development are key components in this new age of design and construction. The tools are constantly evolving, but the key process remains team member-centric. Successful implementation of VDC goes hand in hand with developing an open line of communication between all project participants from the start. Reaching the maximum potential of a project by using these strategies will result in repeated certainty and predictability of outcomes, time and time again.
Virtual Design and Construction provides us the medium and common language to communicate, coordinate, optimize, and deliver the intended vision. VDC is the conduit to plan intelligently and enable agility in execution with a certainty of outcome.