Virtual Design & Construction Bring All Parties Together

A single-model engineering platform to integrate them all

By Ed Royzman and John Gill, SSOE Group

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It is both exciting and challenging to live through leaps in technology. Current generations have seen the leap from typewriters to word processors, from wired analog telephones to wireless smartphones, from blueprints on a drafting table to Computer Aided Design (CAD) drawings. Today, the building and construction professions are moving from 2D building plans as the standard to 3D building models, or 3D/BIM, which incorporates Building Information Modeling (BIM). In addition to 3D/BIM, technology is now expanding to Virtual Design and Construction (VDC), a complete modern design plan and delivery method, in which 3D/BIM is one of several elements. VDC is exceptional in its ability to integrate the team, the technology, and a total project delivery strategy.

The integration of the design and construction team provides an optimal of collaboration. While 3D/BIM provides its model, VDC uses tagging to encapsulate information about a project across the entire process of design, construction and use of a building. Thus, VDC facilitates collaboration between design, construction and client. VDC is a system wherein the modeling software is a tool, the BIM (model) is the product, and collaborative concurrent engineering and design is the process.

The VDC method has four phases: Plan, Design, Construct and Operate. All four incorporate phase planning (4D) and cost estimation. The planning phase consists of programming and site analysis. The design phase covers a wide range of tasks, including design authoring, drawing generation, 3D coordination, design reviews, analysis of structure, electrical and mechanical needs, sustainability evaluation, code requirements and specification. During the construction phase, BIM is used for site utilization planning, construction system design, 3D coordination, digital fabrication, 3D control and planning, record modeling and material tracking.

During operation, the model helps with building maintenance scheduling, system analysis, asset management, space tracking, disaster planning, and record modeling. At its core, BIM is a database where valuable information can be collected and related to the objects represented virtually in the model. In the hands of a team working collaboratively in the concurrent engineering process, the BIM can be developed and used in many valuable ways.

Designers embed details about each element of each system within the VDC plan. They capture valuable parameters related to every component — whether it is a beam, a wall, a duct, a pipe or a cable tray — all within a finished digital building design. By itself, 3D/BIM certainly helps users make sound, informed decisions, but VDC reaches farther by tagging each piece for construction contractors, fabricators and other trades involved with the project. If a BIM lacks the collaborative element, it is difficult to make the important determinations, and the value of the BIM is diminished. With VDC, designers and others contribute to the model on an ongoing basis, providing enough information to make value determinations about important parameters, capturing valuable information early in the process for later benefit.

Such detail and intricacy can be decisive for designing complex and intensive infrastructure work, such as tight-fitting HVAC ductwork, where it would be impossible on 2D drawings to coordinate and represent every piece of duct work in a tight space. In contrast, BIM reveals space conflicts in virtual reality before any conflict actually shows up. Another win for VDC is faster and more accurate bid pricing because contractors and fabricators can determine down to the individual unit what a structure includes; for example, the number of feet of duct or cable, or the number of ceiling or floor tiles. Similarly, VDC, with its more precise information, reduces on-site mistakes which saves money and time for everyone.

The integration of the design and construction team allows a holistic view of the project from the standpoint of the owner’s business case while ensuring that the input of all the stakeholders is gathered and acted on early in the project. At the outset of a VDC method, a client can provide designers, fabricators and contractors with their own tagging scheme by which to identify both large and small pieces of equipment. Until now, this level of detail would be addressed only after the project is complete, requiring an owner to re-tag items for facility management or regulatory approval (such as FDA approval of pharmaceutical plants).

However, VDC can meet this owner-driven need at the very start of the project, so that value decisions about information parameters can be made before the modeling is complete, eliminating re-tagging time, trouble and cost at the conclusion of the project.

Throughout staging and construction, VDC enables all stakeholders (including fabricators and contractors) to update the building model by detailing and tagging any on-site construction changes for a complete virtual record of a project.

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