What Is Virtual Design and Construction?
Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) originated at Stanford University in 2001 in an effort to increase productivity in the construction industry, which was lagging behind all other non-farm industries in terms of productivity improvement. VDC leverages the power of digital technology to integrate multiple information systems, processes, disciplines, and workflows, in a strategic, holistic approach. This can be used to design, model, plan, budget, schedule, and manage construction projects.
Though much of the buzz centers on the virtual modeling of designs, virtual design and construction is as much about the information flows between and among project personnel as it is about 3-D modeling.
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A Rapidly Growing Virtual Design and Construction Market
The rapidly growing demand for virtual design and construction–which is expected to accelerate–is due in part to increase demand for residential and commercial construction. It is also driven by the increasing complexity of customer demands and building processes. The impressive growth of the global VDC market is solid evidence of the virtual design and construction benefits.
The Business Case for Virtual Design and Construction
There are two investments companies need to make with virtual design and construction. The first being the thing itself. The second, organizational and procedural changes required for successful implementation. Therefore, they must be convinced it makes them profitable. That argument rests on showing how virtual design and construction benefits add to the bottom line.
More Winning Bids
Anyone who has ever participated in creating a bid package for a large construction project, or evaluating multiple bids as a project owner, will tell you how difficult and time-consuming it can be. On the bid side, information and quotes from multiple sources must be obtained, adjusted, and integrated. (Sources such as architects, engineers, general and specialty contractors, and suppliers of building materials.) The expertise of all proposed project participants must be demonstrated to make a convincing case for successful project completion. Here, the virtual model of the proposed design alongside an execution plan, has an edge.
More Accurate Estimates
Virtual design and construction uses Building Information Management (BIM) software to extract data from virtual models to prove costs. Working collaboratively helps ensure no spending is overlooked, and VDC makes that possible in a way spreadsheets and drawings cannot. The resulting estimates are reliable, not only for bid purposes but also for post-award project planning and budgeting. Accurate estimates are essential to ensuring a winning bid results in a profitable project.
Better Planning and Scheduling
The transparency gained through collaboration, and the integration of virtual design and BIM software, allows scheduling and cost estimates to develop during the design phase. They may need to be adjusted as the design evolves, but early identification of potential challenges and issues allows them to be addressed before they can cause delays and unanticipated costs. Accurate estimates permit accurate budgeting and scheduling, which are key to realizing its full profit potential.
Viewing a building during every phase of construction in three dimensions makes it easier to identify and mitigate potential safety risks that could arise during construction or once the building is occupied and operational. Workers can be alerted and safety measures can be implemented to prevent injury, damage to the structure, and legal liability for project owners and the design and construction team. Such measures could range from making design tweaks, to posting signage, to training construction workers, and informing project owners prior to handing over keys.
Less Waste and Rework
It’s estimated that as much as 30% of the building materials purchased for the typical construction project end up as waste, due largely to inaccurate estimates and rework. Rework has a huge impact on labor costs and causes construction delays as well as wasted materials. Early detection of discrepancies are caught with virtual design and construction processes in parts of the project, such as collaboration, integrated modeling of all subsystems and building components, and cross-functional design reviews. This reduces waste.
The potential cost savings are obvious. Additionally, companies committed to sustainability recognize the environmental advantages of keeping excess building materials out of the waste stream.
Fewer Site Visits
The 3-D modeling and integrated information flows available through virtual design and construction minimize the need for site visits by architects, engineers, and other professionals. The ability to assess construction issues and risks remotely can prevent delays for further time and cost savings.
Better Post-Construction Operation and Maintenance
With virtual design and construction, the handoffs to a project owner upon completion of construction typically include a 3D model showing all building systems and subsystems in detail. Such models are far superior to traditional drawings or blueprints for planning and guiding both routine maintenance and any repairs later. The ability to provide a 3D model can be a significant advantage in competitive bidding.
Justifying the Cost of Virtual Design and Construction
It can be difficult to quantify the benefits of implementing virtual design and construction; other than by comparing the results of initial VDC projects to historical data from previous projects. For example, how does a VDC project compare to projects completed before implementing VDC–in terms of the accuracy of cost estimates, actual completion time vs. the project schedule, amount of rework required, materials wasted, and so on. Companies employing VDC find that the return on their VDC investment more than justifies the cost of implementing it.
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