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Breaking Ground and Barriers with Virtual Design and Construction

Russ Tamblyn
​Russ Tamblyn, CDM Smith's Director of VDC, shares a smarter way to approach infrastructure projects.

Virtual design and con­struc­tion—or VDC—is making its way through the ar­chi­tec­tural, en­gi­neer­ing and con­struc­tion (AEC) industry as a trans­for­ma­tive approach to de­sign­ing, building, and even op­er­at­ing and main­tain­ing fa­cil­i­ties. Russ Tamblyn, CDM Smith’s Director of VDC, explains the value of VDC and how it will change the way we work and interact with each other.


What is Virtual Design and Con­struc­tion or VDC?

VDC is a smarter way to approach in­fra­struc­ture projects. We use in­te­grated building in­for­ma­tion modeling (BIM) models to guide the whole life cycle of a project and track actual progress against expected results. The digital assets de­vel­oped during the planning, design, building and con­struc­tion of the project can then be carried into op­er­a­tion to make sure the in­fra­struc­ture assets are per­form­ing efficiently and effectively.


How does VDC improve the design and con­struc­tion process?

On some of the more complex design-build projects, anywhere between 25 to 30 dif­fer­ent models can be de­vel­oped by various parties through­out the life cycle of the project; yet we don’t fully leverage them. The VDC approach takes the data from these models, combines them into one dynamic model that evolves through­out each phase of the project. By com­bin­ing input from the en­gi­neers’ designs to con­struc­tion staff tracking con­structabil­ity issues or sub-con­trac­tors who’ve modeled their contract work, we will create an accurate digital version of the actual struc­tures and systems to be built. Each team member will have a mutual un­der­stand­ing of the current state of the project and can make better informed de­ci­sions.


Why is this sig­nif­i­cant for our industry?

Project teams in the AEC industry strive for efficiency and accuracy and currently rely on traditional processes to ac­com­plish these crit­i­cal­i­ties. We’ve been content with the approach of building in extra time on a project to redesign if some­thing un­ex­pected comes up, but VDC gives us the op­por­tu­nity to be pre­dic­tive rather than reactive. We will start each project with a VDC Ex­e­cu­tion Plan which will com­mu­ni­cate the 3D model uses to all stake­hold­ers. This feeds down­stream uses such as mixed reality tools like the Mi­crosoft HoloLens to identify clashes and tweak our design to best fit the needs of the project. 

Another benefit is the enhanced collaboration. Teams using the VDC approach on projects have the ad­van­tage of being able to resolve issues im­me­di­ately because they have the most up-to-date in­for­ma­tion at their fingertips and can immediately manipulate their 3D model to adjust for design and con­struc­tion changes. Making on-the-spot de­ci­sions will con­tribute to a more seamless project delivery and of course, a very happy client.

Where do we start?

VDC can seem complex, but it’s all about in­cre­men­tal change and un­der­stand­ing that some aspects of working in a digital en­vi­ron­ment will require cultural shifts within your team. You’re not going to have a big break­through overnight and es­pe­cially if you don’t have the nec­es­sary tools at your disposal or enough dis­ci­pline to whole­heart­edly execute major tasks. Having a VDC ex­e­cu­tion plan is a good start, but fol­low­ing through with it and holding project teams ac­count­able will ensure future success. We also need to have the right re­sources in place to support the process.

This doesn’t mean go hire 100+ VDC staff to get the work done. It’s just a matter of ed­u­cat­ing, training and sup­port­ing team members through­out the process. Pro­vid­ing access to the hardware and software tools and em­pow­er­ing team members to embrace new processes will make the VDC approach workable and efficient, not an additional burden.

Any final advice?

We are using the VDC approach on many of our projects today. As a design example, we are using 3D models to produce contract drawings and perform design reviews on our projects. On the con­struc­tion side, we are using 3D models to co­or­di­nate work with trade con­trac­tors and perform quality as­sur­ance/quality control ver­i­fi­ca­tion of a survey layout before work it is in­stalled in the field. Our chal­lenge is to plan properly, doc­u­ment­ing our plan versus what actually happens, then engaging our external partners to adopt these new processes when they add mutual benefit to a project.

We should all have an open mind and always shoot for con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment. VDC is about using our digital capital to its fullest po­ten­tial on our projects. This requires that we always strive to find a better way to do something: to capture data, to monitor performance or even identify potential issues before they happen on our projects.

Russ rec­om­mends these VDC re­sources:


Russell Tamblyn Russell Tamblyn
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