This is a very common question that is asked when someone is first introduced to VDC. After all isn’t the literal interpretation of “VIRTUAL design and construction” a 3D model in which the building is VIRTUALLY built? Once again, this is a case of terminology causing confusion.
Often when this question is asked, the underlying question is really:
“Aren’t you already doing 3D / BIM? How is this anything different?”
The short answer is that 3D is simply a tool. A tool that can be used to enhance the traditional execution process, as SSOE has been doing for a number of years, or one that can be used to enable an improved execution process.
To illustrate the difference, let’s use a real life example. Take a recent project in which SSOE was able to shave 25% from the overall project schedule. This was done through a number of strategies, one of which was pre-fabricating elements of the process line and mounting them to skids for installation. This allowed construction of the skids to take place in a fabrication shop at the same time the facility was still being prepared—which was about 30% faster.
This strategy was developed as just one part of a holistic, tailored plan for this specific project developed to meet the client’s objective of schedule reduction while staying within budget. Could you technically say this strategy was accomplished using 3D / BIM? Yes. Without 3D modeling capabilities and the intelligence of the BIM model, this strategy could not have been executed. However, the software simply enabled the strategy. Without the early collaboration of all parties involved, resulting in a tailored plan with the clients objectives in mind, these strategies would never have been initiated in the first place.
The evolution of the design and construction process
The way we execute design and construction projects has evolved, in large part, to accommodate the constraints of the tools available—originally pencil and paper, and later 2D CAD programs. These constraints included a lack of intelligence in storing the data associated with the elements represented in the drawings as well as an inability to accurately represent scale, space, and detail.
The industry’s use of 3D / BIM up until very recently has simply enhanced the existing process with new tools. This definitely results in improvements, but we are still simply making incremental improvements to an outdated, inefficient process.
VDC recognizes that because of the capabilities of 3D / BIM (and many other advancements) we are no longer bound by the same constraints that created the old process. It gives us the freedom to revisit the ideal process and tailor an approach free of many of the constraints that used to exist. For example, with traditional 2D drawings, it would have never been possible to design to the level of detail required to prefabricate the process equipment in our example above—so it’s not an approach that would have been considered.
The result is a greatly improved process—one that may look a little different for each project.
What, specifically, is different?
In the abstract it makes a lot of sense to say this is an improved process, but I hear you asking “what, exactly, is different?” The answer is (as you might guess) complex. However, one of the major differences in how VDC utilizes 3D / BIM from how the AEC industry typically uses it today is the move away from just “virtual design” toward addressing the construction aspects of a project. This includes the execution strategy, involving construction knowledge in design decisions, and using data from the model to enable more efficient construction execution. The hidden benefit of implementing the construction side of VDC is that it also helps eliminate persistent wastes in the design process – rework due to overly expensive or difficult to construct design, poor coordination, etc. This is a significant way VDC supports a “Lean”er process of design.