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Virtual Design & Construction Practice Guide | Alicia Cox, VDC Manager, Jack Moran, LEED AP, Manager of VDC Services Consigli Construction Company

The use of Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) technologies is an increasingly integral part of design and construction practices. While the use of Building Information Modeling (BIM)  and other VDC technologies have been standard practice at Consigli for more than ten years, new technologies and applications are continuously emerging – some are good, and others are solutions looking for a problem.  Companies must develop a process to research and evaluate the value of these new tools on an ongoing basis. However, in an ever-changing technology landscape, it is always important to keep getting back to the basics.


Augmented Reality for Quality Control


The key is to first define project goals and then determine the right technology application for success. Every project should start with a BIM Execution Plan (BEP).

A BEP does three things: (1) defines goals for project success; (2) determines the BIM/VDC applications that will be used to reach the goals; and (3) specifies the roles, responsibilities, standards and procedures to be followed by team members.  Creating the BEP should be a collaborative effort, involving the owner, design and construction teams. It is a “living” document that should be continually updated as the project evolves.  


Even early conceptual design models provide value to the construction team. They can be used to better understand the design intent, guide preliminary cost analysis and aid in constructability reviews. As the design continues to develop, the level of detail and accuracy will increase, and so will the benefits to the construction team.


Building systems coordination is the most common application of BIM. Design models depict overall design intent, such as general layout and routing of systems, and sizes and configurations of major elements, but these models are typically not developed to an installation level of detail. For purposes of construction coordination, every item that will be installed in the building must be modeled accurately to their true dimensions. Modeling accessories, connections, insulation, hangers, etc. are critical to ensure everything fits. Non-physical elements, such as required clearances and access zones must also be included in the model. This effort will not only assure a successful and more efficient installation with reduced re-work and waste, but also enables prefabrication.  

MEP-FP Coordination

3D site logistics/site utilization models graphically represent the layout of the project site and sequence of work. They are a valuable communication tool, describing the limit of site fencing, access points, trailers, parking, etc., as well as locations of equipment laydown area traffic patterns. They are used to communicate the project plan internally, as well as with the owner, design team, regulatory agencies and, in some cases, the surrounding community. But they are not just communication tools, they are working tools that help the team plan their work, test their assumptions and look for ways to work more efficiently, with the minimal footprint. They are “living documents” that get reviewed and revised throughout the duration of the project.

Logistics & Animations

A rapidly growing application of VDC is the use of reality capture. Using laser scanners, drones and three-dimensional camera systems, real world conditions can be brought back to the office and allow for verification of existing conditions and support the creation of physical models. With the data captured, field conditions can also be verified, models can be compared to real-world for quality control and coordination. Reality capture can also be used for quality control and documentation of construction progress and as-built conditions, which may include in-wall, above-ceiling and other, to be concealed, conditions. This information can then be shared with Owners for their use. 


Laser Scan of Existing Conditions & New Steel Coordination


If a picture paints a thousand words, then visualization of 3D models reveals some greater order of magnitude. Whether simply flying through the design or coordination models or construction-level virtual mockups, 3D visualization aids in helping all project stakeholders understand what is to be built. Time can also be applied to the model by connecting model elements to the project schedule.

Commonly referred to as “4D,” this visualization of the schedule helps project teams test their schedules, finding potential conflicts and opportunities for improved efficiencies. Virtual reality (VR) goes a step further by immersing the viewer “inside” the models. Augmented reality (AR) overlays models on the real world. With VR and AR, the team can get a more precise understanding of the project, not only how it will all fit together, but also a sense of the finished product. This technology also can be used to perform quality checks to ensure the built environment aligns with the virtual environment.   

The key difference between a simple 3D model and a building information model is the associated data.  A true building information model is a digital twin of the structure to be built. Information about its construction and performance characteristics are embedded in the model elements. This allows designers to evaluate energy efficiency, compliance with building codes, etc. This data is not only beneficial for the design of the project but can also be turned over to the owner to support facility operation and management. If this is to be a goal for the project, determining the specific needs – uses, required data and how it should be organized – should be planned jointly with owner and their facilities team, designers, construction team, commissioning agents, etc. and included in the BIM Execution Plan.   

Any technology application or process Consigli deploys is measured against the following criteria: does it help us build more safely, maximize efficiency and provide a better experience for our clients? We do not take a “one size fits all” approach, and every application supports specific project goals. A well-planned and well-executed BIM/VDC program will benefit any project. 

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