In June 2020, McKinsey & Company released a milestone executive summary, “The next normal in construction”, examining how disruption is reshaping the construction industry. The report identified the digitalization of products and processes as one of the major disruptors within the construction industry. Furthermore, it stated that “companies can improve efficiency and integrate the design phase with the rest of the value chain by using building-information modeling (BIM) to create a full three-dimensional model (a ‘digital twin’)—and add further layers like schedule and cost—early in the project rather than finishing design while construction is already underway.”
Traditionally, architects and engineers created a model of a facility and then handed it over to trade contractors. Next, trade contractors traced over and—in many cases—heavily modified the model to achieve a fabrication level of detail. This outdated approach to modeling is often wasteful, resulting in duplicate efforts, change orders, and schedule extensions.
Today’s integrated project delivery (IPD) mindset and virtual design and construction (VDC) processes allow architects, engineers, subcontractors, and vendors across many locations to work in a collaborative environment. Creating and using a shared model eliminates inefficiencies caused by handovers. This is an overview of the VDC technologies and workflows that form the underpinning of a modern, collaborative approach to design and construction.
Terms to know
An overarching concept. BIM is the digital representation of the physical environment. A technologically enabled, collaborative design that allows architects, engineers, clients, and contractors to work together in a single model—both simultaneously and in sequence.
A process or verb. The process of using shared models and technology in general to manage and improve the entire life cycle of a project.
A delivery method that fully integrates project teams to leverage the knowledge of all team members, thereby shrinking timelines, lowering costs, and preventing miscommunications. IPD unifies processes, systems, and tools from all project stakeholders into a collective environment that benefits from the experience, knowledge, and insight of the team.
Why use Building Information Modeling and Virtual Design and Construction?
BIM collaboration supports quality of design by quickly identifying issues with coordination and constructability. This results in improved project schedules, reduced field conflicts, and less re-work. It also empowers subcontractors with valuable information for fabrication, coordination, and installation in the field.
Using technology and digitals tools streamlines processes in the field, boosting efficiency and increasing productivity. It allows design and construction modeling to happen simultaneously—shaving weeks or months off delivery schedules. Early spatial planning also eliminates clashes and prevents schedule setbacks.
BIM collaboration allows for ideas to be shared freely between all teams and project stakeholders. It also helps design and construction teams to deliver on owners’ expectations by including them in the visionary process earlier.
How to use BIM and VDC for co-authoring and trade partner model integration
Historically, engineers authored designs in Revit software, while construction trade partners worked in 3D CAD. It was therefore a challenge to create a unified, cohesive set of drawings and models. Fortunately, increased development in Revit’s fabrication capabilities now supports both design and construction trade partners as they co-author a single model. As the construction industry embraces IPD, we see more trades expanding their capabilities to include Revit. While engineers create the overall vision, construction trade partners offer invaluable feasibility input and develop the model fully to constructability. Shared ownership of virtual design through BIM is the way of the future within the construction industry.
Increasingly, multiple companies and trade partners come together to deliver a single project. This presents the challenge of familiarizing all partners with the project’s VDC approaches. Doing so, however, exponentially increases successful project delivery. By working in tandem together, engineers and trade partners deliver better, faster work.
Onboard trade partners early
Trade partners play a critical role in bringing a facility from concept to reality. When onboarding team members into the VDC process, consider looping in the following trade partners:
- Clean room
- Fire protection
- Interior design
Include VDC capabilities in the pre-qualification process
Evaluate trade partners through a pre-qualification process to vet their VDC capabilities and see how these can be leveraged for a collaborative design project. Among prequalification factors such as quality, cost and schedule, also consider evaluating trade partners by their:
- VDC tools
- Collaborative design capabilities
- Build strategy techniques
Fortunately, as IPD becomes more popular, an increasing number of trade partners are becoming more well-versed in VDC technologies. Still, successful onboarding requires a BIM execution plan and general training on topics such as BIM360 Design Collaboration strategy, Revit, and Navisworks standards for all trade partners who are modeling during the design phase of this project. We provide Revit templates to subcontractors for access to all project specific criteria—including documentation standards, routing preferences and system specifications.
What BIM and VDC tools to use at every phase of design and construction
Less than ten years ago, very little of what’s happening right now in the world of VDC was possible. But thanks to the advances in cloud technology, we can now work in intelligent 3D design models, allowing us to share work in real time between multiple offices and stakeholders. Here’s how we’re using cutting-edge applications at every step of a project to leverage data from BIM models.
Before work can begin in a renovation or new build, the design team needs to know what already exists so they know what is possible. This involves capturing current site conditions and creating a 3D model. In the past, this was done through as-built drawings, conventional surveying, field measurements and, more recently, existing electronic files. But now, we’ve added a new tool to our arsenal: reality capture. Reality capture uses LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and Photogrammetry technologies to capture existing conditions (eg. ducts, pipes, ground obstructions, etc.) and convert the real-time facility into a Point Cloud, showing all existing elements for coordination in BIM models. Reality capture tools allow us to efficiently convert the physical space into digital renderings.
3D authoring tools are the key to fully leveraging the “I” (i.e. information) in BIM as a database of parameters, quantities, means and methods, progress tracking, cost, and schedule. These tools also provide a safe and secure way to bring in trade partners as co-authors. In fact, these co-authoring tools are replacing shop drawings for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing prefabrication plans.
For example, CRB uses BIM360 and Autodesk Construction Cloud platforms to host all design models, allowing team members to work live with trade partners to co-author models.
As part of this platform, Revit is a key tool CRB uses to co-author models with our trade partners. We have formed strategic partnerships with trades allowing us to model fabrication-level parts in Revit. This leans out the modeling process by reducing the need for a model handoff and gives the trades a sense of ownership of the overall design.
In the spatial planning stage, teams arrange equipment and systems in the model using utility point-of-use maps; room cards or room data sheets; and spatial allocation zones. This allows them to analyze space and understand associated complexity, standards, and regulations.
BIM holds all spatial planning metrics throughout the project. Therefore, items such as square footage, department assignments, headcounts, and assets in rooms can all be tracked as parameters in the model. The more data that lives in one place, the more powerful the analysis can be. By combining all of the supplied data into a BIM setting, we can leverage those metrics together as opposed to making separate calculations and figuring out how they function together. We can also identify scope, allocate space for all stakeholders, and map out any gaps within the model.
Model coordination, also known as clash detection, has evolved to the point that teams are now thinking, building, and coordinating in 3D. Modeling offers an understanding of the sequence and flow to help with:
- Site logistics
During the model coordination process, conflicting modeled systems are analyzed, communicated via coordination meetings, and ultimately resolved. The final model becomes the driver for installation, so a model sign-off process is necessary as various areas reach readiness for fabrication and installation. After signoff, these elements are locked into the model and cannot be changed.
CRB created a custom clash trending analysis dashboard in Power BI to report and track model coordination progress and facilitate weekly meetings. We are also building additional dashboards to leverage model data for Target Value Delivery (TVD), facilities planning, and construction progress tracking. This is key in extracting maximum power from the data to fully understand the model’s status.
Model review and visualization
The model review and visualization process loops in facility owners, offering them an opportunity for feedback before design decisions are irreversible. During model reviews, stakeholders can provide feedback to question or validate design aspects. This step is critical in reviewing operability, maintainability, and constructability. Cutting-edge virtual reality applications offer stakeholders an immersive and realistic understanding of the design model prior to transitioning from design to construction.
4D modeling and scheduling
There are two levels of 4D modeling and scheduling. The first is a high-level visual aid and valuable from a marketing point-of-view, while the second is utilitarian and firmly ties the schedule to the model thus taking it from 3D to 4D. A utilitarian 4D model shows the construction sequence, installation, and space requirements in a building/site or to plan the phased occupancy in a renovation, retrofit or addition. For example, CRB uses it to simulate equipment rigging and plan its path of travel while showing what impact it will have on the building.
CRB uses Navisworks on projects and ties it to a schedule to show a high-level sequence of construction. It is part of the design/assist ONEsolution workflow, allowing systems/areas of the model to be released per the construction schedule.
5D cost estimation
While 4D modeling ties schedule into the model, 5D cost estimation ties in the budget. BIM allows us to generate accurate model-based Quantity Take-offs (QTOs) and cost estimates throughout the entire lifecycle of a project.
CRB uses Assemble, part of the Autodesk Construction Cloud, so our estimators can develop and confirm estimates based on the model. Using dashboards, we can also regularly measure how the quantities are performing against the target. We can also generate variance reports to track model progression, help stakeholders understand change/cost impact, and adjust scope as needed.
Of course, model-based QTOs are very reliant on the quality of data going into Revit, so we work closely with pre-construction teams and trade partners as they create cost estimates to ensure accuracy.
Field VDC technology
According to the McKinsey report, “using digital tools can significantly improve on-site collaboration.” There are many VDC hardware and software tools available to coordinate, visualize, and report on construction quality and on-site safety. Here are some additional tools that help leverage VDC’s full benefits.
Arguably, the most essential VDC hardware tool is now an iPad. At CRB, iPads are the main platform used on-site, with each one kitted out with cloud-based software such as PlanGrid and the BIM360 app to resolve any coordination issues. See a potential construction issue? Take a photo of the issue and instantly assign it to the subcontractor. No pen and clipboard? Make your notes right in the model. Spot a safety hazard? Report it on right away. iPads do a beautiful job of supporting interactive and collaborative VDC on-site workflows.
Construction cameras can provide a livestream or time lapse video of construction progress. This allows stakeholders to monitor progress and do a virtual site check-in online.
360 cameras offer stitched-together walking tours (like the ones we see on Google street view). These can be very valuable to off-site team members understanding what’s happening on-site. The 360-camera technology also allows us to get 360⁰ panel views tied to our floor plans so we can understand what’s there, what’s installed, and the overall status of the project. We’ve leveraged this technology frequently during COVID-19 to get our eyes on site without having to be physically present.
Microsoft Hololens, an augmented reality application, overlays a virtual design into real world surroundings. One way it can be used is with a single person wearing a headset on-site and joining a conference call where all attendees can see what they’re seeing. The program allows for specifications to be called up on-screen and supports on-screen and in-air markups.
Another way to leverage the usefulness of augmented reality is by overlaying digital plans into real life environments. This ‘model in the field’ approach is especially useful for remote site collaboration—such as during verification of installation.
Finally, keep an eye to the sky for drones. Drone scanning is an emerging technology that we expect to see used more widely in the near future to assess ongoing construction.
The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly accelerated this transformation. When the pandemic ushered in stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, and other logistical obstacles, digital collaboration and remote access to construction sites became paramount. This provided an opportunity for us to intensify our reliance on VDC workflows and tools, thereby demonstrating their validity and value. The future of design and construction is already here—and it’s cloud-based and collaborative.