Introduction to Virtual Design and Construction: What It Is and Why You Need It

Photo of Yevhen Surzhan

Yevhen Surzhan

COO & Co-founder

The AEC (Architectural Engineering and Construction) industry deals with projects of incredible complexity. They are time-consuming, require significant resources, and involve multiple parties that need to be coordinated flawlessly. Yet, AEC companies are somewhat reluctant when it comes to changing their processes, and the pace of innovation remains comparatively slow in the sector. According to this report, the ones that are embracing new tech and inviting outside software experts find themselves ahead of the competition with significantly improved team coordination.

A number of digital initiatives are helping AEC companies cut losses and maximize efficiency, and Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) tops the list. This innovative technology-backed approach to planning and construction revolutionizes the entire process.

Keep reading this article to find out:

  • What VDC is
  • The differences between BIM and VDC
  • How companies use VD
  • The benefits of VDC

Let’s start with the basics.

What is VDC?

building construction

Simply put, Virtual Design and Construction is a methodology for planning and managing the entire lifecycle of complex design and construction projects that involves using computer-generated models. Sounds a bit overwhelming? Let's have a detailed look.

If you're reading this article, you're aware of the intricacy of the engineering and construction process. Of course, it's always about completing the project. And doing it in a way that ensures the customer is happy, budgets are not overrun, deadlines are met, contractors work at a realistic pace, all safety measures are followed, and risks are managed. Wouldn't it be nice to have a system in place, backed up by the latest tech, that enables seamless coordination of all teams and helps achieve the project's objectives more quickly and efficiently?

Enter VDC:

  • A common framework for all parties to operate in, along with the technical solutions needed to get the job done.
  • Everything from blueprints to the construction schedule and expenses can be included in the virtual model long before actual work starts on the ground.
  • Designers, engineers, contractors, and stakeholders share a realistic 3D construction site and can all be involved in meetings to discuss their needs, make changes, and get progress updates.
  • The system continuously collects and analyzes data, which can be used later for decision-making and risk management.

VDC includes a virtual model and helps support a property throughout its entire lifecycle - from design and construction to maintenance and eventual demolition. But isn't there another similar process that's been on the market for some time? We're talking about BIM - Building Information Modeling.

While VDC is a relatively new approach in the AEC industry, you've probably heard of BIM or even had some experience with it. As the concept of BIM overlaps with VDC in certain ways, and so the two terms often get confused, we're providing a brief explanation to clear things up.

What is the difference between BIM and VDC?

technical measurements

Used to create a virtual model of the future project, Building Information Modeling encompasses the technology, the data environment, and the processes necessary for the system to function. Data, such as materials, cost estimates, and production schedules, are also stored in the BIM environment and are used for construction planning.

On the other hand, VDC offers tools for managing the entire design, engineering, and construction process. Using the BIM model, VDC enables better communication, real-time collaboration, data tracking, and progress control, resulting in a holistic planning approach.

To sum up:

  • BIM is a product design tool, an integral part of the VDC process. Its purpose is to produce a virtual model that describes the product itself, the organization that will work on it, and the process it will follow.
  • By applying VDC workflows, the teams leverage this model to manage the entire lifecycle of the construction project.

With proper implementation and support, any company in the AEC sector can enjoy the advantages of adopting BIM/VDC in construction and engineering projects. Whether it's an architectural firm, a mechanical engineering firm, or a full-cycle construction company, upgrading to the new workflow will save time, help reduce expenses, and open business opportunities.

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How are AEC companies using virtual design and construction?

VDC is a sophisticated methodology that employs the latest software, hardware, and management practices. While many business owners perceive VDC as too costly and convoluted, in reality, any AEC company can use the VDC approach to optimize each phase of the engineering and construction process. There is no magic – just a balanced and logical system that works every time.

These are the essential components of the VDC framework and what they're built to achieve:

  • Client objectives. The team needs to collaborate with the client to develop clearly defined, measurable objectives before the project takes off. After deciding what has to be done to achieve the client's vision, plans are made to determine exactly how the team should proceed. This module of VDC specifies and measures metrics like the project's lifecycle costs, schedules, etc.
  • Building Information Modeling (BIM). Before starting the actual procurement and construction work at the site, a virtual 3D model of the project is created based on the requirements and data collected during the initial planning phase. BIM serves as a product design tool that describes the project's content in great detail and tracks all interdependencies within the framework.
  • Integrated Concurrent Engineering (ICE). Stakeholders participate in virtual meetings and project teams conduct design and engineering work using 3D modeling technologies. Done regularly and in real–time, this ensures effective decision–making and dramatically facilitates interdisciplinary collaboration.
  • Product Production Management (PPM). Used to describe the production process, this module is a standardized way to specify milestones, responsibilities, and workflows for the teams. This is invaluable for keeping everyone working together and within budgets.
  • Project objectives. It's important to formulate a comprehensive definition of the project's outcome, along with the respective teams' commitments. Assessing the progress at defined intervals is equally crucial to prevent unwanted delays and financial losses.

As you can see, the VDC approach equips every participant of an AEC project with all necessary tools to perform their functions most efficiently. The advantages of the method are becoming apparent, and it's a good time to list them explicitly.

The benefits of VDC and why you need to implement it.

When it comes to virtual design and construction, benefits may vary depending on the project's scale and specifics, as well as the depth and quality of VDC implementation.
However, there are three key aspects VDC always has a positive impact on:

  • Budgets and schedules
  • Quality and safety
  • Communication

These gains are achieved by:

  • More accurate project estimates help land new contracts. Thanks to the advanced techniques of data aggregation and processing, VDC software can generate detailed models and assess the project from every angle with unprecedented speed and accuracy. This is a tangible advantage in the pre–construction phase, as it immediately provides owners with accurate budgets.
  • Collaboration during pre–planning prevents errors. With access to high–quality models and conflict detection features, teams can work in the BIM/VDC environment simultaneously and prevent errors that would otherwise incur additional expenses.
  • Effective communication results in better quality and reduced delays Changes are inevitable, and they can occur during the planning phase or mid–project. BIM/VDC models and applications enable the interdisciplinary teams to quickly exchange information and make adjustments on the go. The time saved translates into more revenue.
  • Adhering to VDC workflows enhances construction safety. The use of high–precision virtual environments can help identify safety concerns before and during construction. Safety requirements can then be implemented and conveyed to employees more efficiently during all phases of development.
  • 3D visualizations increase stakeholder engagement. Not everyone is good at interpreting blueprints and complex construction plans. Seeing a realistic virtual building design, however, is another story. This is a great way to keep all stakeholders informed, happy, and confident.

These are some of the significant benefits using the VDC methodology and software can bring. Don't forget – the VDC ecosystem can also utilize the latest technical means in construction like laser scanners and drones. Data gathered from those sources is incorporated into the model, which allows even better control over the project. The choice of BIM/VDC workflows and technology to be implemented is entirely in the hands of business owners and executive management.

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To conclude

The AEC sector has seen a number of major disruptions in the past two decades alone. Today, the industry must embrace innovation, and the timing is perfect: Deloitte's research shows that 76% of AEC executives are ready to invest in digital solutions in 2021. The longer it takes for architecture, engineering, and construction businesses to upgrade to modern BIM and VDC processes, the higher the cost they'll eventually pay. It's time to give some serious thought to the topic and start looking for a reliable BIM & VDC services provider.

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