Virtual design and construction (VDC) is a process that provides a single platform for all project stakeholders to manage collaboration and changes in a project, while keeping within budgets and deadlines. This process is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Managing VDC is both feasible and profitable for US firms, and it’s worth looking at the how and why. VDC uses models and data to define project details early in the process, which enables a more effective guide for workflows. One of the main features of VDC is that it encourages regular communication at the planning, design and construction stages right till completion.
At times, there has been general speculation on the difference between BIM (Building Information Modeling) and VDC. It is now becoming increasingly accepted that BIM in the construction industry is a key part of the VDC process. BIM helps to visualize data and monitor progress in a 3D format by consolidating design concepts into a single all-inclusive 3D model. The benefit of VDC for clients is that it provides them with BIM capabilities and information to better manage project planning, design and construction efforts, ultimately aiding start-up, operations and maintenance activities.
One of the reasons that VDC and BIM modeling are enjoying more popularity is that they can contribute to faster project delivery times. VDC enables clients and contractors to collaborate in detail at early stages. This leads to honest and clear decision making. The volume of rework decreases, which translates into savings in time and cost.
VDC helps manage change, work collaboratively and monitor documents. Here’s how:
Change Management: VDC facilitates processes where modifications can occur seamlessly to keep projects on track. These processes include clients and project stakeholders. Key goals are identified, any technical concerns that occur are taken care of early on and design modifications can be viewed at early stages. Constant communication cuts down on the need to redesign and rework elements, which reduces overall project cost and delays. Designs can be viewed during operations for better understanding of collaborative efforts.
Collaboration: VDC encourages collaboration with a cloud-based working environment. Using input from different disciplines and services, collective results are easily decided upon. By utilizing the same platform to share data and views, costs are kept in check.
In the VDC world, BIM allows the combination of data from project documents, such as design specifications, RFIs and equipment data sheets, to be converted into one model. With this model, clients can visualize the final project and its progression as well as comprehend how to keep the project on budget. The sharing of specifications and their changes all in one place means that stakeholders have the most recent information and ensures that workflows are effective.
In short, the key to success with the VDC process is that it enables firms to:
- Envision, modify and improve a project from the ground up many times over without wasting time or materials
- Collaborate among each of the contractors or subcontractors in a project to determine the changes that need to be made
- Introduce and establish sustainable elements, as and when needed according to location, into designs, as well as other green elements
- Track labor, materials information and time schedules for project completion
- Provide digital delivery of plans for fabrication.
The effective and harmonious workflow of VDC in a project involves consultants and MEP professionals, among others. While consultants manage all trades to develop project design, coordination and installation is generally taken care of by separate trades – mechanical, electrical, plumbing, etc. Both general contractors and MEP professionals can only benefit from smooth VDC implementation, as we see below:
Benefits for General Contractors
One way of using VDC to collaborate is employing BIM 360 Glue or Revit BIM software tools during design phase coordination. This way, when stakeholders collaborate virtually, it makes for effective off-site coordination. Further, the model can be transferred from design to construction for layout once construction starts.
The visuals provided by VDC for the flow of construction are effective for determining site logistics or identifying hurdles and other potentially dangerous activities not usually alerted by traditional methods. Also, the coordination of building systems in VDC means that prefabrication or modularization can occur off site. In a controlled environment, safety, quality and productivity are inevitably improved, and VDC has been implemented to fabricate hospital patient rooms, bathrooms and overhead MEP systems.
VDC will increase and enhance the role of the general contractor in the overall design process. In many cases, though, VDC is executed by general contractors with their own teams, but they are challenged by not having enough modeling resources or skills. For general contractors, an effective counter to these challenges will ultimately save time and money.
Benefits for MEP Design Professionals
For many construction projects, the coordination of mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems, also known as M&E systems, can be somewhat challenging. Tools from BIM in the VDC process streamlines the creation and implementation of MEP coordination. Conflict identification and resolution between MEP subcontractors can be achieved with the efficient use of VDC. Some of the key gains for trade partners follow:
- MEP subcontractors can save labour costs.
- Plumbing contractors can implement almost complete fabrication of plumbing elements.
- Installation of MEP systems over large areas can be achieved with minimum injuries.
- Mechanical subcontractors see a fall in the frequency of rework.
- Field installation of systems experience less conflicts.
- Coordination of MEP systems see a distinct decrease in requests for information.
- Sizeable savings on costs ensue and projects are either completed on schedule or before time.
The general practice in the US involves coordination and installation by separate trades in the VDC process. Each of them may not have enough skills or resources to fully complement effective VDC, with its requirement of a great amount of coordination, planning and resources. The right trade design partner can ably tackle these challenges for profitable and timely project delivery. It is becoming increasingly desirable to have a VDC expert on board for projects.
Why Employ an External VDC Expert?
VDC mandates a quality of expertise that allows for precise data and for the right tools, information and changes to be properly entered. This is a level of expertise that only experienced hands can bring to the table. Using VDC software without understanding its full capabilities would place project stakeholders at a disadvantage.
The solution is to locate a partner with experts from the relevant disciplines who understand the importance of BIM modelling and virtual design and construction in the overall progress of a project. One such solution may be to employ the skills of a VDC modelling company from experienced partners on the Indian continent, including those with experience in the US, UK and Western markets.
VDC can be managed, and managed coherently and consistently, with well-qualified and affordable personnel who have experience in the various facets of this process, possibly sourced overseas. Companies in the US can look forward to better decisions and designs, more accurate and profitable budgets and timely delivery.