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VDC Series: Virtual Building at the Design Phase

Posted by Patrick Krzyzosiak on Thu, Jun 02, 2016 @ 15:06 PM
Patrick Krzyzosiak
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It almost goes without saying; a majority of important project decisions are made at the design phase. Traditionally, all project stakeholders do not participate at this phase. For argument sake, let’s imagine a scenario where all project stakeholders are involved during the design phase. You’d expect get a clearer picture on project scope and geometric detail. Decisions on physical construction would lead to greater outcomes in terms of timing, delivery, and cost. Add virtual building into the mix and you’ve got an environment that sparks proactive engagement and, ultimately, greater results. This post makes the case for building in a virtual environment.

First, consider the traditional activities typically associated with the design phase. Subsequent to the schematic phase, the project’s design phase develops the details further. All areas of design including architectural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing are clearly explained and coordinated in preparation for developing the construction documents. Traditionally, the construction project manager will work together with all stakeholders to identify cost-saving opportunities and improve constructability. Towards the end of the design phase, a client would expect drawings illustrating the project, as it would appear upon completion. In addition, the design drawings clearly describe the site plan, floor plans, and exterior elevations.

So why would you build in a virtual environment?

Build it twice; once virtually and once in the field. Virtual Design and Construction VDC practiced at the design phase offers up a much greater perspective. During design, the VDC practice oversees building information modeling (BIM) for the building’s design, structure and mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. These BIM models essentially create an environment where project stakeholders construct the building virtually prior to actual construction.

Building virtually allows project stakeholders to flesh out a project’s true design intent. Virtual walkthroughs allow project stakeholders to visibly evaluate a space, identify issues, create solutions, and make changes. In this respect, the team is engaging in predictive decision-making.

Virtual Mockup, Flashing Details

Virtual Mock-up, Flashing Details

 VDC creates an environment for building virtual mock-ups and simulate fabrication. A virtual mock-up is a model of what will go on or into the building’s design, constructability, and fabrication. The mock-up also contains information needed to simulate fabrication, basically behaving as a pre-building system evaluation without the cost of physical investment. Mock-ups are particularly beneficial early on in the design phase through to fabrication and construction sequencing. The design phase is an ideal time to take advantage of the design’s early flexibility and then develop fabrication specifications, define performance compliance, and develop assembly and installation procedures.

Virtual building includes MEP coordination. Project stakeholders experience tremendous gains when applying virtual building techniques to MEP coordination. MEP coordination aims to provide an efficient MEP system that can be installed in the most efficient manner, i.e. the best building process in terms of systems manufacturing and building. Some key areas to measure MEP performance with virtual building practices include:

  • Total hours spent installing systems in the field
  • Total hours spent on rework in the field
  • Total field conflicts with various systems
  • Percentage of prefabrication enabled by process
  • Percentage of actual prefabrication utilized by each trade contractor
  • Total change orders

Many projects report dramatic results in these areas when applying virtual design and construction practices.

Gaining insight into the building’s design and space allows for a more reliable real world outcome. While there is a lot of upfront work associated with virtual design and construction practices, the benefits are immeasurable in terms of team collaboration, efficiency, and performance. Virtual building at the design phases allows the team to more effectively prepare for physical construction by more thoroughly defining the requirements, planning construction activities, setting expectations for building performance, and establishing construction performance metrics.

Still need to be convinced that you need to build virtually at the design phase? Traditional delivery methods will not be totally eclipsed any time soon. However, there is power in knowing what can be done with today’s construction technologies. For further understanding, also read 10 Solid Reasons Why VDC Is Essential During the Design Phase.

What are your thoughts on virtual building? Have you engaged in virtual building at the design phase? Please share your experience with us in the comments section.

Topics: Design Phase, Virtual Design and Construction (VDC), Best Practice, virtual building