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Unlocking Advanced Construction Technologies With Virtual Design and Construction

March 2024

Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) promises revolutionary solutions to persistent issues in the construction sector such as fragmented information, lapsed timelines, and lack of communication. Through the integration of digital technologies, collaborative approaches, and objective-driven management, VDC has the potential to transform how we design, build, and operate in an industry in which productivity and innovation growth have historically lagged.

What is VDC?

VDC is a collaborative approach that integrates advanced technologies, such as Building Information Modeling (BIM), with traditional project management practices. It creates a virtual representation of the entire project lifecycle, from conceptual design to construction and facility management. The visual and interactive nature of VDC models allows for flexibility and widespread accessibility to various project stakeholders. To unlock the full potential of VDC, it is imperative to adopt open standards such as openBIM. These standards play a pivotal role in promoting seamless communication between diverse software platforms. This article will look at how technology and construction skills are coming together to create new possibilities for the construction industry and shape its future.

The promise of VDC

In 2001, Stanford University’s Center for Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE) introduced VDC. It makes use of technologies such as laser scanners, drones, and 3D modeling to provide a comprehensive overview of construction projects. VDC transcends its initial focus on product and process by integrating the organization model. It uses multidisciplinary performance models for design-construction projects, offering a comprehensive approach to managing projects. This organizational approach, which originated from Professor Raymond Levitt's work on the Virtual Design Team in the 1990s, attempts to improve the integration of design and construction and address the fragmentation of the industry.

VDC's virtual models symbolize intentions and behaviors in projects, fostering an integrated approach to simulate the project through POP models. The evolution of the framework indicates a move toward taking organizational factors into account, utilizing collaborative tools, and making predictions about results. VDC is essential because it fits in with company processes and involves project stakeholders to improve communication and comprehension. The concrete advantages of implementing VDC are demonstrated by several successful case studies. 

One notable example is the El Camino Medical Office Building project in the United States. VDC allowed for zero design modifications to be made during MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) installation, saving $9 million and six months. Collaborative concurrent engineering was also highlighted in the Gjønneshagen Residential Project in Norway, which used VDC to cut the schedule by six months. 

The application of VDC in infrastructure projects in Asia through the use of LeapThought's FulcrumHQ platform is another example. In Singapore's Land Transport Authority (LTA), LeapThought has had a major impact on infrastructure projects in Asia. LeapThought digitalized LTA's Design and Engineering activities by deploying FulcrumHQ as a common data environment. This resulted in streamlined workflows, improved collaboration, and compliance with ISO 19650 requirements. Deployed on the Singapore Government Commercial Cloud, the integrated platform has enhanced information management, standardized procedures, and increased transparency. 

Understanding the key components of VDC

The VDC framework propels construction projects beyond client expectations by fostering coordination, collaboration, and communication—the three C’s of BIM. These components collectively form a strategic foundation, ensuring a comprehensive approach to project management.


A major problem in the construction industry is matching project objectives with client goals. Conventional methods tend to focus on reducing construction costs and shortening delivery times, which can cause a rift with clients who value sustainability, efficient use of space, and lower life span costs. VDC has become an important middleman, bridging the gap between project objectives and client goals.

The Simple Framework model is a combination of the conceptual stage that represents the initial client's needs and the technical stage that specifies how the project should address the client's needs. It advocates for a holistic perspective, emphasizing the imperative of concurrently evaluating total costs and building performance. This approach strives to yield an edifice that is not only structurally sound, but also aligned with specific client goals. A cornerstone of this framework involves the meticulous use of metrics, transforming abstract client objectives into tangible and measurable performance indicators.

These metrics cover a wide range of factors, including costs, schedule adherence, quality, safety, and environmental effects. VDC procedures highlight the importance of metrics by going beyond the limitations of retrospective reporting and exploring predicted insights. This proactive strategy highlights critical success criteria for projects, such as teamwork and efficient use of BIM. Once the project's goals and related work procedures are clearly defined, establishing these metrics takes precedence. This creates a strong basis for well-informed decision-making and the successful completion of the project.


Controllable factors and production objectives collectively contribute to the efficient and effective management of construction projects. Controllable factors, also called management choices, encapsulate the actionable decisions that a project team can make. These decisions are subject to frequent measurement, occurring on various temporal scales—whether hourly, daily, or weekly. The aim is to gauge the progress of these factors toward the ultimate project objectives. This continuous assessment provides real-time insights into how well the chosen management strategies are steering the project toward its intended goals.

Conversely, production objectives—previously known as production metrics—are numerical measures of project performance. These metrics cover an extensive range of factors that are essential to the success of the project, such as safety, visualization, timetable conformance, and the identification of the underlying causes of plan deviations.

Project management is deeply entwined with the link between production objectives and controllable factors. When starting a VDC implementation strategy, every business needs to determine what aspects of the project it is in control of, what process metrics to track and use for management, and what results will mean the project is successful. A dynamic framework that spans the project's whole lifespan is formed by the close relationships between controllable factors, production goals, and project outcomes.

Controllable factors represent the proactive actions initiated by the project team, serving as the levers that can be pulled to influence project direction. Conversely, production objectives, while not directly controlled by the team, can be measured and monitored over time. They act as barometers reflecting the performance of the project during the design, construction, and operation phases. This ongoing evaluation enables project teams to make informed decisions, assess whether objectives are being met or not, and, if necessary, make course corrections to ensure project alignment with overarching goals and client objectives. In essence, the synergy between controllable factors and production objectives establishes a dynamic feedback loop. This loop facilitates a continuous improvement process, allowing for adaptability, responsiveness, and the successful realization of project goals.


Integrated Concurrent Engineering (ICE) is a concept inspired by the collaborative approach used by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In ICE, stakeholders coordinate their efforts to develop interdependent tasks simultaneously. This can be achieved through regular co-location or targeted ICE meetings focused on certain project concerns. Whatever the application, ICE uses contemporary tools for collaboration in a designated workspace and often prioritizes in-person communication. This method facilitates real-time communication, which speeds up problem solutions. Because information is shared instantly across stakeholders, ICE results in quicker decision-making, increased project efficiency, and a decreased chance of conflicts.

The integration of BIM is fundamental in ICE sessions by providing a space for participants to interact directly with models. Notably, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a shift to virtual ICE sessions by leveraging digital collaborative tools. ICE's success is evident in its reduction of coordination and decision latency by fostering an environment where all VDC elements are integrated with measured metrics. Ultimately, ICE revolves around people, integrating contributions from various disciplines to optimize concurrency and find optimal solutions for the client.


BIM is essential to improving many areas of construction projects. BIM is a methodology to assist project information management and product design, not just a tool or model. Additionally, by offering a virtual representation of the building, BIM supports product design. Its importance goes beyond only making 3D and 4D models, though. Effective project information communication, modeler training, client counseling, resource cost measurement, and project outcome impact are all part of BIM. As a result, to guarantee competency, BIM training must be included in undergraduate Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) programs.

The term "BIM+" denotes advanced BIM applications, such as 4D planning, scheduling, cost estimation, virtual/augmented reality, and robotic process automation. However, the value of BIM is not solely in the models, but also in the collaborative learning and interactions that occur as models are created and tested over time.

BIM offers strong visualization, information integration, and automation to address information management issues. It enhances comprehension of project data by facilitating design, construction, and operation phases. This leads to increased productivity, reduced expenses, resource conservation, and sustainable growth. Additionally, BIM may help the AEC industry's industrialization process.

Within the VDC framework, BIM concentrates on tangible components; it does not cover the entire project, which ultimately allows VDC to handle more general project management concerns. BIM is more useful and practical when combined with Project Production Management (PPM) and ICE sessions. Sophisticated BIM solutions enable stakeholders to virtually navigate buildings and identify clashes. Combining this with construction documents (CDs) facilitates issue resolution in ICE meetings, enhancing the VDC process.

The collaborative aspect of BIM encourages better designer collaboration and communication, which helps projects succeed. The ability to walk through buildings (offered by sophisticated BIM solutions) coupled with issue resolution (offered by CDs) is a huge benefit to ICE meetings and the VDC process.

In essence, BIM extends beyond modeling to encompass a holistic approach to handling information throughout the project life cycle.


Open standards, such as those promoted by openBIM and buildingSMART International, are pivotal for enabling cross-functional and cross-disciplinary collaboration throughout all stages of the project and asset life cycle. Key standards include Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) and Building Collaboration Format (BCF).

In the built-asset sector, openBIM improves digital data management, sustainability, accessibility, and usability. The key lies in its use of open data formats such as IFC (which defines structure and exchange of building information) and BCF (for sharing issue and comment data) to ensure that all stakeholders involved in a project can access and understand the data. As a result, data silos are broken down and interoperability among project participants is facilitated by its promotion of a collaborative and vendor-neutral approach. By adopting openBIM, construction projects can experience numerous benefits:

  1. Enhanced communication and collaboration: OpenBIM fosters seamless data exchange between architects, engineers, contractors, and other stakeholders, leading to better coordination and fewer misunderstandings.
  2. Reduced errors and omissions: With everyone working from a single source of truth, the risk of errors and omissions due to miscommunication or outdated information is significantly minimized.
  3. Improved change management: Tracking and managing changes becomes effortless as all modifications are made to the central model, providing complete transparency and accountability.
  4. Boosted efficiency and productivity: OpenBIM streamlines workflow, eliminates data silos, and automates tasks, ultimately leading to faster project completion and reduced costs.

OpenBIM achieves common alignment and language by following worldwide standards in its workflows, which are designed to be collaborative and transparent. This means that everyone involved in a project can see the latest changes made to a model. It also removes the limitations imposed by proprietary vendor data formats or project phases. Enabling smooth digital processes facilitates decision-making at every stage of the project life cycle and enhances the accessibility of vital project data.

OpenBIM's guiding principles acknowledge interoperability as a critical component of the built-asset sector's digital transformation. Enhanced collaboration, sustainability, and long-term data strategy for constructed assets are made possible through the use of open and neutral standards, independent quality benchmarks, open and agile data formats, and flexibility in technology selection.


PPM applies Operations Science theories to enhance project delivery by focusing on understanding, controlling, and improving project workflows. It emphasizes the organization and control of project activities, introducing planned buffers—inventory, time, and capacity—to mitigate variability in flows.

PPM shares common goals with lean construction by aiming to optimize production systems while minimizing workflow variability. Introduced in 2014 by the Project Production Institute (PPI), PPM distinguishes itself from lean construction through a heightened focus on mathematical support and a unique approach to system principles. Located in the process section of the VDC framework, PPM works in tandem with lean construction to optimize process design by integrating the human element with physical work and an emphasis on activities. This approach reduces variability and provides valuable insights into producing processes.

Advanced technologies in VDC

AI, machine learning, and advanced computational BIM play a defined role in enhancing VDC components. These technologies enable predictive capabilities, aiding in decision-making, planning, and project management. Knowledge-based expert systems coupled with machine learning replicate human cognitive processes, supporting infrastructure design within the BIM framework.

The incorporation of field data into BIM and its field application facilitates more effective collaboration among diverse AECO teams. AI promotes sustainable development by equipping teams with proactive decision-making abilities and enabling waste reduction, energy optimization, and demand forecasting for civil infrastructure. Efficiency, safety, quality, and interior sound localization are all improved when machine learning is used in the building process. AI also helps with cost projections, building security, threat detection, and security system guidance.

AI in conjunction with BIM and digital-twin technologies can optimize several building and landscaping processes. These benefits include reduced waste, increased security, energy efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and shortened project durations.

While these advanced technologies offer transformative potential for VDC technologies, there are some potential challenges. Ensuring seamless communication between various project stakeholders is crucial for successful implementation. There are also some ethical considerations surrounding data privacy and algorithmic bias that need careful attention. However, by fostering open communication and collaboration, we can overcome these hurdles and unlock the full potential of these advanced technologies.

The VDC framework

The VDC framework combines various components and advanced technologies to create a cohesive and efficient project management system. Client objectives and project objectives form the foundation, aligning with controllable factors, production metrics, and ICE. BIM serves as an important tool within this framework, providing a detailed digital representation of the project.

To enhance and regulate workflows, PPM incorporates concepts from operational science. AI and machine learning are examples of cutting-edge technology that improve planning, forecasting, and decision-making. AI facilitates infrastructure design and streamlines facility management when used with geographical, real-time, and historical data.

This thorough integration makes it possible for varied teams to collaborate more effectively, which streamlines processes and improves project management. Increased efficiency, lower expenses, increased security, and the construction of sustainable structures are the anticipated results. Thus, the VDC framework ensures a comprehensive and progressive approach to construction projects, bolstered by cutting-edge technologies.

The importance of collaboration in VDC

VDC thrives on collaboration. The complex nature of construction projects demands a unified platform for effective communication and coordination. VDC emerges as the linchpin that enables this synergy. One of its key advantages is its capacity to identify conflicts early in the project life cycle. By creating an environment that brings together various stakeholders—from architects to engineers—VDC ensures that potential clashes are detected and addressed before they become issues on the site. This proactive approach significantly reduces the likelihood of rework, saving both time and resources.

Inefficiencies and poor communication are common problems with traditional ways of collaboration. VDC overcomes these constraints by offering a clear and peaceful virtual environment. This fosters a cooperative atmosphere while also speeding up the decision-making process. The use of cloud-based collaboration enhances VDC's functionality by permitting worldwide sharing and editing in real time. This is particularly useful for projects involving teams spread across various geographic locations. The effective resolution of language barriers and time-zone discrepancies guarantees that communication continues to be a driving force behind advancement rather than an obstacle.

While concerns about data security in cloud collaboration persist, robust measures and encryption protocols serve as safeguards against potential risks. Strategic adoption, coupled with comprehensive training programs and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as reduced timelines and cost savings, are pivotal in ensuring the successful implementation of VDC and cloud collaboration.

Looking ahead, as VDC and cloud collaboration continue to evolve, the incorporation of artificial intelligence and advanced analytics holds the promise of further enhancing efficiency and accessibility in the construction industry. An advanced unified platform, exemplified by solutions such as FulcrumHQ, emerges as an ideal solution for effective VDC collaboration by seamlessly integrating various aspects and stakeholders in the construction process.

Future opportunities provided by advanced technologies in implementing VDC

The future of VDC is intertwined with technological advancements that promise to reshape the workflows of AEC firms. Several key trends are poised to have a profound impact on how building teams operate:

  1. Prefabrication transformation: BIM procedures make it easier to collaborate on the prefabrication and installation of building components. BIM's adaptability to different designs makes prefabrication flexible and expedites the construction process. The creative application of BIM for drywall detailing by DPR Construction demonstrates the flexibility and efficacy of this method.
  2. Affordable 3D laser scanning: The increasing affordability of 3D laser scanning technology enhances BIM models with field-accurate information. This enables accurate site representation, improving efficiency and safety. Despite initial costs, AEC firms find significant returns in terms of cost savings and improved project outcomes.
  3. Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM): As prefabrication becomes more popular, computer-aided manufacturing is becoming more prevalent in the AEC sector. When combined with BIM procedures, technologies like CNC fabrication and modular building are revealing cost savings and process efficiencies. Projects such as B2 Atlantic Yards serve as examples of CAM technologies' potential.
  4. On-the-fly energy performance modeling: New software tools from Autodesk and Sefaira allow designers to perform energy analysis during conceptual design, reducing the time and cost traditionally associated with this process. Real-time data integration enables iterative design decisions based on instant energy-performance feedback.
  5. Advanced data management: Assemble Systems and Panzura are two examples of cloud-based collaboration tools that are essential for organizing, storing, and exchanging project data. These technologies offer safe online spaces to conduct takeoffs and scheduling, automate estimation processes, and publish model data.

These technological trends signify a shift toward more efficient, collaborative, and data-driven practices in the realm of VDC. The continued evolution of these technologies will likely drive further adoption and innovation in the AEC sector.

By embracing contemporary solutions, AECO experts can maximize productivity, cut costs, increase safety, and design high-performance, sustainable buildings. Using cutting-edge technology within the VDC framework is becoming not only necessary, but also strategically vital to stay ahead of the competition. Experts in AECO should take advantage of these game-changing resources and pave the path for future innovation.

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