Virtual design and construction (VDC) is, and can be, a critical part of the construction project life cycle and, if executed correctly, can yield long-term cost and resource savings. While this phase was once relegated to the early stages of design, today’s technological capabilities allow stakeholders across organizations to collaborate on documentation, models and final delivery more closely in a seamless and efficient manner. This expansion provides stakeholders with the ability to realize and more-completely understand the benefits of connected construction from bid to build to turnover and delivers a methodology the modern workforce can effectively implement.
Traditional VDC coordination has been lacking in technical ability both in the personnel and resource areas. Subcontractors who spent decades in the field brought a wealth of knowledge to their clients, but translating that information often involved 2D documentation that omitted smaller parts and pieces. A large amount of the design would be labeled as either fit in field (FIF) or verify in field (VIF), creating a greater chance of inaccuracy. This would lead to an increased need for conflict identification in the field or the dismissal of the original design altogether as changes had to be made onsite in real time. In short, this form of VDC was impractical and resulted in labor, schedule and material overruns.
What About BIM?
The advent of several new platforms and workflows has revolutionized the VDC industry. Building information modeling (BIM) integration combined with a comprehensive fabrication database alone has made attaining level of detail (LOD) 400 a realistic option for most firms. These models can also be provided to nontechnical personnel, such as project managers and owners, to increase stakeholder visualization and participation. Further, that depth of knowledge previously afforded only to experts in the industry can be stored within a cloud storage system. This greater accessibility accelerates the execution of the work through the multiple levels of stakeholders.
Finally, a strong VDC workflow incorporating higher LOD provides owners with a 3D digital twin of their project which can streamline ongoing maintenance and operations as well as future renovations. The centerpiece of this connected construction is the continuity of data and project information, such as better as-built documentation (digital twins), leading to faster maintenance, quicker building upgrades and streamlined future expansion or renovation.
To access these advantages, construction managers and owners must review their subcontractor requirements. It is no longer enough to simply request “coordination drawings” from subs; rather, clear specifications should require a high aptitude for BIM, the creation of a true digital twin and a platform for collaboration that provides deep insight into the project and ability to communicate to all key stakeholders. The VDC criteria should be entered into the subcontractor agreement with providers, and the scope required should be “walked” through prior to provider selection.
Workforce on Watch
This last area is critical to the design and planning phases of the construction life cycle. When schedules, budgets, models and installation/coordination logistics are readily available, projects can progress faster and with less change management. A nimble field workforce can utilize model-based point layouts for increased accuracy and reduced rework via a single source of truth based on the model which houses all project documentation. The ability to review (visualize) every aspect of a design while on the construction site alone can be invaluable for coordinating an ambitious build. Software solutions like Autodesk Construction Cloud provide the ability to consume project data that resonates with various skillsets such as estimating, bidding, tracking budgets, maintaining schedules and managing turnover. The ability to view each part of the life cycle provides access to valuable insights that could identify opportunities for improvement.
Execution and handoff can be greatly impacted by a comprehensive VDC foundation. Leveraging a platform that can bring a project from bid and estimation through to build, management and turnover can effectively increase return on investment (ROI). Autodesk Building Connected and Assemble Systems are just two options for ensuring streamlined construction onsite. The key to accelerating the benefits of a VDC-based build methodology is to provide the appropriate personnel with accurate, holistic project information in real time, regardless of their location or role (field or office). Cloud solutions, as mentioned above, are appropriate for all phases of construction and capitalize on ensuring all stages of project data are or can be made available to the entire build team.
The (seemingly at times) magic that happens to make a project rise from the dirt is possible because of different perspectives, experiences and insights based on a common set of project data/documentation supplied to all levels of the team. Centralizing project data additionally increases the angle or scale of the “lens” on any given project, effectively resulting in raising awareness for each nuance of a build. For instance, a project engineer primarily focused on moving project information through the channels of review and approval can see vast amounts of critical data, if supplied with the complete project picture via a cloud-based common data environment (CDE). This representation delivers a clear view of the project intent and process to achieve it. With more team members with broad expertise able to see the data, the reality is any one of them could identify and prevent that next field issue.
The Right Stuff
Having the right software and skillset mix offers a host of advantages for all levels of a construction organization. Builders can gain increased confidence in models; project managers can visualize scheduling updates and owners can maintain oversight regardless of location or technical expertise. Knowing the right questions to ask of subcontractors as well as the platforms to onboard internally will allow for a high level of detail in models and more holistic handoff materials. The future of VDC is attainable now to those that set their standards for improved collaboration, available documentation
and optimized workflows.