When considering the practice of general construction, its two-tiered process quickly becomes evident, simply put – design followed by implementation. The efficient implementation of a construction project is heavily dependent on a detailed and accurate design that minimizes risks, clashes and costs. The industry has seen a global rise in the use of virtual design and construction (VDC) as a comprehensive project management tool that helps to analyze and perfect the design phase of the process. Let’s look at why this virtual construction solution is becoming increasingly popular.
Firstly, what is VDC and how is it relevant?
Virtual design and construction, or VDC, has emerged as a collaborative process that consists of a single, common platform for project stakeholders to make changes to the project design. It enables stakeholders to make changes, collaborate, keep the project within budget and adhere to project schedules during the entirety of the project’s design phase. Models and detailed information are used to define project goals and priorities at an early stage, paving the way for clear guidance during the construction phase. VDC helps design teams and clients communicate with each other and coordinate in a shared work environment during planning and design. Information is shared quickly and precisely in VDC. Design options or alternatives can be viewed and discussed. This process reduces changes to a great extent, as it satisfies stakeholders’ requirements before construction commences. Clients also benefit from the advantage of a sanitized, clash-free virtual experience of the building before the actual construction process begins.
So, why build in a virtual environment?
Traditionally, 2D drawings were used to represent and share data during the design and planning phase. These drawings would be analyzed, changed and expanded, adding greater details and making more detailed specifications throughout the process. This methodology changed with the emergence of Building Information Modelling (BIM), which became a fundamental feature of VDC. BIM enables the digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a building. Integrating several design concepts into a single 3D BIM model provides users with a clearer understanding of concepts in comparison to simply 2D drawings.
Within a BIM workflow, a 3D model contains detailed information and enables accurate physical representation and functionality. 3D BIM models help teams visualise physical and functional project traits, and data in the model can be assigned, checked or edited by any of the stakeholders that have access to it. These models are fundamental to the success of VDC, as the 3D model facilitates virtual design and construction. VDC is further assisted by the inclusion of additional information within the model, such as time schedules, materials quantities, pricing and maintenance. The inclusion of this information takes a 3D model and makes it much more.
3D BIM model to 6D BIM model
The digital 3D model shows design before construction. Different aspects of the project may be altered many times before construction.
Adding further layers of information to 3D BIM models allows the model to reach further dimensions.
Including a time schedule within a 3D model enables the creation of a 4D model, with due consideration to different phases of the project. Adding the cost to the 4D model creates a 5D model, which allows the generation and presentation of budget information. When operation and facility management data is added to the 5D model, it becomes a 6D model. At this point, the client can get an accurate overview of the overall costs and approximate project schedule.
In addition to further information dimensions, virtual reality is also making inroads into the VDC realm. Users can explore virtual buildings with VR, helping to make informed decisions throughout the design stage.
The main features of VDC in a construction project involve:
- Change Management: When design changes are efficiently managed, projects can be kept on schedule and within budget. VDC offers a platform where project stakeholders can solve problems or clashes at an early stage and anticipate the impact of design changes.
- Collaboration: Constant, regular collaboration and communication helps reduce redesign and rework. This collaboration is encouraged in the VDC environment, since a common workflow exists for all stakeholders. The realistic 3D model encompasses inputs from various building disciplines, allowing the setting and prioritising of goals and the negotiation of clashes. Collaboration across teams helps regulate costs and delivery schedules.
- Project Documents: Through effective use of BIM, VDC allows clients to compile data from project documents, such as design specifications, RFIs and equipment data sheets. This information is then used to create a dynamic model so that designs can be properly visualised. Changing project specifications in a virtual space is easier than making changes on traditional design drawings. Elements or attributes added, changed or updated at one location will result in parametric changes being automatically executed throughout all the views so that all stakeholders have the latest, most accurate information.
Considering the role of VDC in the project life cycle before construction begins, there are two broad stages when this comes into effect: Project Conception & Initiation and Project Definition & Planning.
- Project Conception & Initiation
VDC helps stakeholders during this stage by offering detailed analysis. High-level risk analysis is conducted, identifying potential issues very early on and helping to prepare for any other risks later on in the process. Architectural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing designs are elaborated in detail and coordinated so that they can be developed into workable construction documents.
- Project Definition & Planning
After the approval of a project, project steps and procedures are outlined to all associated teams. VDC helps accurately visualise cost, scope, time, quality, risks and materials, whilst enhancing communication. Also, VDS helps generate quality plans, quality targets, assurance and control measures. Coordinated design drawings are developed including the site plan, floor plans and elevations.
Effective VDC management during these stages lays the foundation for efficient construction on site. Implementing VDC offers project stakeholders a range of advantages, such as:
- Clients view design options early to make confident decisions
- Stakeholders can flesh out true design intent
- Accurate planning of orders leads to increased safety on site
- Change orders are reduced before implementation
- The use of VDC ultimately saves time and money
- Prices and quantities can be directly calculated rather than estimated, and new prices can be calculated in case of alteration
- Easy collaboration and communication
VDC using BIM can speed up project delivery. By defining project objectives early that will guide the project life cycle, a collaborative system is established where the client participates throughout the process, enabling informed decision-making. This leads to a minimisation of design rework, resulting in savings in costs and time.
Additional advantages that the use of VDC provides include virtual walk-throughs, virtual mock-ups, simulated fabrication and enhanced MEP coordination. Spaces can be evaluated, issues can be identified and solutions can be created as a result of virtual walk-throughs which leads to predictive decision-making.
VDC helps prepare an environment to create virtual mock-ups and simulate fabrication. The virtual mock-up models the elements of design, construction and fabrication with fabrication data – almost a system evaluation.
A valuable advantage of using VDC is in the discipline of MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing). The purpose of MEP coordination is to ensure the most efficient MEP system possible. VDC provides the following information on MEP performance:
- Total hours for installation of systems on site
- Total hours for rework in the field
- Total conflicts between different systems
- Prefabrication percentage enabled by process
- Percentage of actual prefabrication used by each trade contractor
- Total change orders
The process of VDC essentially helps several design teams work on a single model and share files and information across various geographical locations. Though upgrading to a VDC environment with the use of BIM requires careful consideration, its benefits in the long run are many. Ultimately, virtual building design in 3D results in better decision-making, more efficient designs, greater precision, savings on costs and time and clash-free coordination.