Virtual Design and Construction: What Is It and Why You Should Care

Software tools provide a variety of benefits along with their demands. Virtual design and construction (VDC) is no exception. While large firms have embraced VDC broadly, its use is still spreading throughout the AEC industry to firms of all sizes and types. What exactly is VDC, and why might you start using it?

Broadly speaking, VDC is the process of creating a complete 3D model of a project that also includes costing and scheduling information. Levels of completeness of the model can vary, but you can choose to go very fine-grained so very little is to be determined on site. Or you can leave it more general if that approach suits your purposes. As a subcontractor, you’ll have access to all the data you need for costing and scheduling earlier in the process, and receive updates on what other subs do with each iteration.

One way to consider VDC and associated tools is simply the concept of more: more detail, more accuracy, along with requiring more expertise. You don’t gain competence with these programs in a day, but you are rewarded for learning to use them.

Benefits of VDC reach into all areas of the process, including bidding. The virtual model specs can include details of products to be used and give a more complete overview of all facets of the bid. A key benefit is the automatization of changes; making a change to one element means that change is automatically tracked everywhere, so you don’t have to confirm changes manually for each team and subcontractor.

On the job site, using a shared 3D model, rather than shop drawings and spreadsheets, massively streamlines the flow of information for all stakeholders, too. Architects, engineers, business managers, and masons all benefit from using the same iteration of a design with the ability to instantly reference updates. This type of collaboration also reduces the prevalence of “silos” in work teams, as each team and subcontractor has the opportunity to spot clashes of components.

Whenever you receive a new model iteration, you can easily check the new requirements against your plan and workflow. As you may need to modify your materials order, work sequence, or time required, the VDC model updates help you flag those changes immediately and communicate with the GC and other subs.

Time once lost to reworking details can be avoided early in the process, and frustration with making necessary changes on the job site with associated costly delays are eliminated because those changes are made in the model. Reworking of elements after they’re built should not happen, apart from changes deemed necessary after construction.

It’s not just positive for the contractors, either. Clients will have an expected possession date, and delays can impact their business and profits. Even if the building owner is flexible on the possession dates, your profitability and that of your subcontractors can only be improved with accurate scheduling. You’ll face fewer headaches overall, too, as downstream effects of any problems are minimized and eliminated.

Another benefit of VDC inherent in the 3D model is the value the model may provide to the building owner. Facilities maintenance teams may find your model to be ideal for their ongoing upkeep of the building. As the building evolves over the years, it’s simple to update the model to the as-built condition. This becomes an additional selling point for you.

Finally, we all have to remember one other factor: our competitiveness in the marketplace. When other firms are winning projects with help from VDC that your firm is qualified for, how long can you avoid the inevitable? As always, you’ll face competition for human resources, as well, and you don’t want to be scrounging for the employees that can perform VDC effectively.  Don’t have resources skilled in this arena?  No need to sweat it, you can outsource to companies like CAD BLOX who specialize in building 3D models for specific trades that can be used in the VDC process.  

For most firms, the question is not if you’ll adopt VDC in some form, but when. That genie is not going back into the bottle.

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