BIM and VDC for construction: What you should know

BIM and VDC
Construction software

What is BIM and VDC?

Technology is having a huge impact on the construction industry, primarily bringing about positive changes. The use of software, hardware, and various digital tools is making the sector more efficient, although there is still a lot of work to be done on bringing everybody on the journey. As the saying goes: it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks!

Part of these changes has been in the design aspect of projects. Anyone in the industry will be familiar with BIM (Building Information Modeling) and VDC (Virtual Design and Construction) but the rate of change that technology has brought about has led to some confusion over these terms and processes.

It has come about as new methods, software and processes have emerged. Some might be developments of older versions, whereas others might develop in parallel and appear similar but actually to be used for alternative applications.

What is the difference between BIM and VDC?

So let’s start by defining what we mean by BIM and VDC.

BIM, or at least the concept of it, has existed since the 1970s. However, it was only in the early 2000s that it became a standardised name for the digital representation of the building process.

The US National Building Information Model Standard Project Committee defines BIM as a “digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. A BIM model is a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle; defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition”.

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Building design was traditionally reliant on two-dimensional technical drawings. However, BIM expands this to 3D, bringing into play the spatial dimensions of width, height, and depth. Other dimensions have also been added – time and cost.

One of the neat aspects of BIM software is that it defines objects parametrically. This means that if an object is amended, dependent ones will automatically change.

Confusion has come where some question whether BIM is just a 3D version of CAD. And sometimes VDC is wrongly assumed to be the same as BIM.

BIM and VDC defined

But there are crucial differences. While traditional design methods were restricted to 2D drawings and schematics, CAD allowed this process to become fully 3D. BIM files are able to be information-rich models that can be passed from the design teams to contractors and engineers and then on to the client, allowing each person in the chain to add their own layer to the shared model.

So let’s come to VDC. This is arguably the most difficult of the terms to precisely define. It is still a way of planning and coordinating a project in a collaborative way and is closely related to BIM. But it is not the same.

In essence, VDC is building an entire project digitally before it is built using bricks and mortar, or whatever materials you are using. VDC will use BIM models to map out the construction process from start to finish. The method will concentrate on the construction process of the BIM model and will involve factors such as cost estimation, scheduling, and budget.

A large part of VDC involves the move from digital to physical and back to digital again. Among the things, VDC covers are 3D modeling, model verification, and point cloud modeling. The VDC application in relation to BIM means that project members model, build, scan, and then verify everything back to the model.

How to improve BIM and VDC adoption

So how to ensure that both BIM and VDC are more widely adopted? In the UK, for instance, BIM has the backing of the government. In a construction strategy, launched in 2016 covering up until 2020, the government announced that using BIM on publicly-funded projects would become mandatory.

“The advances in digital technology have created opportunities for increased productivity and efficiencies in construction and the operation of assets,” the strategy said.

“Utilising digital technology has been shown to facilitate collaborative approaches to drive innovation and reduce waste. Government will continue to capitalise on these advances to deliver construction projects more efficiently, including through Building Information Modeling (BIM) and improved insight into construction-related data.”

While main contractors, who can afford to invest in technology, have adopted BIM – what about getting buy-in from the wider supply chain?

Some firms that see the benefits and are early adopters have embraced BIM, but others remain reticent as they struggle to see the benefits that BIM can bring for them. Smaller contractors are wary of the money involved in investing in the technology, as well as the human resource involved.

In this instance, it’s important for a main contractor to take the lead in promoting understanding and knowledge of BIM among the wider supply chain. There has been a knowledge gap among clients and smaller suppliers around BIM and capabilities, meaning adoption on the technology has been slow – but this is changing.

Part of the problem has been switching between software packages such as Revit, Tekla, 3D, Auto CAD, and MicroStation. The lack of communication between these suppliers has previously meant, transferring between these models can cause issues.

The knock-on effect here is that tier 2 and 3 suppliers are unsure of what training to attend around BIM.

It’s useful for a tier 1 contractor to offer a clear roadmap to suppliers on the best way to being adopting BIM so they are not put off by the size of the task.

For main contractors, it can also be beneficial if they have a BIM champion within the company to help drive this effort.

As can be seen, there is still a significant journey for the whole industry to come on in understating and adopting these technologies. But with the State recognising the importance of BIM is it incumbent on all contractors, big or small, to get on board.

It is all about the data

At the end of the day, everything comes down to data. The feedback collected on site is the fuel for a successful BIM and VDC process. This comes as no surprise if we take into account that a 3D model is only as good and helpful as the data added to it.

And that is why user adoption on site is one of the most critical components of success. Thankfully, more and more industry stakeholders begin to realise the need for an agile and data-driven building process where everyone involved remains connected.

Read more: BIM software guide – 3D is nice but data is what you need

Like that, all project agents can be confident that they work on the latest version of the project avoiding costly mistakes and unnecessary delays. It is evident that the development of a strong and proactive data culture can get your organisation really far.

Data is the missing link to bring construction together but it’s something that can’t be CEO-mandated. It’s a long and bold paradigm shift that requires brave initiatives and heavy financial and resource investment. That’s a vital element considering that IT spend in construction doesn’t exceed 1%.

“When people begin to believe in the data, it’s a game-changer: They begin to change their behaviors, based on a new understanding of all the richness trapped beneath the surface of our systems and processes,” says Boeing CIO Ted Colbert.

Once people in the sector understand that data is more about decision-making and less about finding new fancy technology for our organisation, then construction can really become fact-based and escape the stalemate situation in which it is today.

Benchmarking your digital future

Finding the culture drivers who can lead this change is also of paramount importance. There should always be a vigorous connection between your data experts in the office and your personnel on the ground. In that way, you will be able to turn the digital technology you have on your hands into functional solutions.

With that in mind, LetsBuild launched a while ago the Construction Digital Maturity Ladder (CDML). Stakeholders in construction can take the 8 min online assessment for free and measure how far they are across their digital journey compared to their competitors and the rest of the industry.

“LetsBuild’s free and open-source model was launched with the purpose of creating a common language on how to talk about and work with digital maturity in construction,” explains Ulrik Branner, executive and board member at LetsBuild.

The feedback provided after the completion of the assessment will help organisations in construction to focus on their true pain points and come up with a digital strategy that corresponds to their needs.

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