A Whole Other Dimension: Creative Applications of VDC

This article is included in the Great Things: Issue 6 edition of the DPR Newsletter.

Virtual design and construction (VDC) implementation is typically thought of as being integrated into the construction process and is often simplified to primarily mean the digital prototype and digital record of a building. But a robust VDC effort delivers value by going beyond the model and into a larger strategic approach.

Think of a fancy digital SLR camera with all its buttons and dials: just using the automatic settings will yield good pictures. Knowing more about how to use the full abilities of the camera, from the advanced imaging tools to traditional aperture settings and more will provide many more possibilities and an increase in the quality of the results. Applying VDC tools beyond the model itself offers a similar set of benefits.

Project teams properly leveraging VDC can change the way projects are built and deliver value throughout the design and construction process. DPR Construction project teams have paired knowledgeable team members with the right software and tools to deliver new applications and solutions that drive value across its core markets. In the increasingly complex world of healthcare construction, it’s easy to understand how VDC -- especially 3-D visualizations -– can be a game-changer.

Getting aligned more quickly

A digital graphic of noise levels inside the hospital on different days.
Extending the practical uses of VDC tools for things like noise mapping helps project stakeholders better understand the work being put in place. Courtesy of Jonathan Ruggeberg

“About two years ago, we had to perform a planned shutdown of MEP systems in an active hospital,” said Mike Kacal, a DPR project executive working on renovations at Houston Methodist Hospital. “It wasn’t complex, but with many stakeholder groups within the hospital, the team was confronted by a familiar challenge, aligning facilities managers and staff on what was happening, where, when, and how it would affect hospital operations.”

The solution? 3-D visual aids depicting mechanical systems and impacts created by DPR Superintendent Jonathan Ruggeberg using computer-aided modeling software such as Rhino and Revit. The team was able to use them as a shut-down communication tool with stakeholders across the hospital.

“Our ability to quickly model existing mechanical systems which were built long before the age of VDC helps us make it easier for our customer’s project manager to get hospital personnel aligned,” Ruggeberg said. “Administrators, nurses, doctors… they’re not going to have time to dig into the nuances about why there’s going to be an eight-hour water shutdown. The visualization brings it home for the layperson so the staff can focus on providing the best care to their patients.”

A 3-D model of some of the Houston Methodist Work that shows building systems through a number of floors.
3-D models helped align Houston Methodist project stakeholders much more quickly. Courtesy of Jonathan Ruggeberg

The upshot? Faster decision-making and, now, a standard practice for a project team that has won praise from the customer for a unique solution. That’s no small praise in a facility situated within the largest healthcare complex in the world, Texas Medical Center, where almost every major contractor in the region is working in some capacity.

“One of the benefits of having such a big campus is that there is room for individual project teams to try things and then we can scale them, said Kevin Edwards, senior project manager for Houston Methodist Hospital. “This was a great method and it’s something that will help the entire project team working on projects at Houston Methodist moving forward, from A/E to owner.”

“After a hectic project, we just thought ‘there has to be a better way,’” said Kacal. “And in finding that way, we are reducing the chances of schedule creep, which all too frequently happens because of a long decision process. Now, with our 3-D visualizations and 360-degree photos, stakeholders can point and choose their preferred option for work to move forward very quickly.”

Virtually there

A digital model of the Midlothian Central Utility Plant systems.
3-D visualizations helped connect Methodist Midlothian project partners over a large geography when in-person meetings weren't possible. Courtesy of DPR Construction

In North Texas, DPR’s team building Methodist Health System’s new Midlothian Medical Center applied 3-D visualizations throughout the project. With pandemic travel restrictions, the team found ways to leverage them to make sure disparate partners could collaborate.

“The project had a fully pre-fabricated central utility plant being prefabricated in Cincinnati and the owner’s facility group had no previous experience having a pre-fabricated utility plant. It presented a unique challenge to show the plant layout, details virtually before it got built,” said Ashish Gupta, a DPR project manager. “So, we needed a very detailed model to capture every detail to capture serviceability, clearances and even finishes to help end users visualize the space.”

A significant part of the entire VDC program were virtual mockups, designed to allow stakeholders to gain alignment until it was possible for people to view a room mockup in person. This also prevented rework, as options could be pre-approved prior to material procurement.

“We had six different types of patient rooms, so we built each in a virtual reality setting,” said Chris Grossnicklaus, Healthcare Studio Leader for Corgan. “No matter what role on the project or as the end-user, stakeholders were able to walk through virtually and make changes before we ever did a physical mock-up. Because of the VR work, the physical mock-up turned out to be exactly what the end-users wanted, with minimal changes.”

Side-by-side images of a patient room wall in the model and in reality.
Side by side: A completed Midlothian patient room (left) along with a visualization of what is behind the wall (right). These tools ensured quality during construction and can be a tool for facility operations afterward. Courtesy of DPR Construction

The same technology, including 360-degree photos and corresponding software, powered virtual quality assurance inspections throughout the life of the project as well. The owner’s furniture and equipment vendor was located remotely and, with pandemic travel restrictions, the group relied heavily on weekly updated 360 photos to perform QA/QC and also to plan for equipment delivery at the right time.

“We’ve understood the value and have been looking for construction use cases to put this technology to its best use for a while,” Gupta said. “The pandemic accelerated acceptance and the owner really sees the value. They have a full record of construction their facility managers can use, too. It’s a win for all.”

Passing the test

Similarly, as DPR Superintendent Tommy Cook was working on three simultaneous healthcare facility renovations in West Palm Beach, FL, the team was faced with a challenge: how could Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) inspect their facilities virtually at a time when in-person inspections were halted?

“A lot of folks would have started a Zoom call and walked around with an iPad,” Cook said. “We didn’t feel like we could get to the level of detail AHCA wanted that way.”

Picture of a nurses' station in one of the healthcare facilities.
Detailed imagery helped enable inspections and were used by the customer afterward...
A 3-D visualization of the same nurses station previously pictured.
...and were based on a highly-detailed 3-D model. Courtesy of DPR Construction

The team got to work creating a highly detailed 3-D model of the entire facility and pairing it with 360-degree photos. They also created a variety of videos that focused on the elements AHCA would want to see even more closely.

“We had a behavioral health facility inspected and approved by AHCA in 90 minutes instead of the usual four or five hours and kept the project moving on schedule without rework” Cook said. “This visualization really delivers an actual glimpse of nearly every detail of the building.”

That opinion was seconded by the customer, who decided the model was the perfect tool for offering facility tours to the families of potential patients. “It’s a sensitive environment and not the sort of place you can tour beforehand even in non-pandemic times,” Cook said. “For the customer to see this output and believe it’s ideal for a virtual tour of the facility to bring confidence to patients and families… that’s the ultimate compliment for our team’s VDC work.”

If you can make it here…

“There are not many built environments more complex than a hospital,” said Hannu Lindberg, who heads up DPR’s national VDC efforts. “The 3-D visualization solutions being leveraged in these ways can yield the same benefits on any project type.”

And teams believe they are just getting started.

“A model is only as good as the people contributing to it. Great people collaborating through these visual mediums and applying their designer or builder knowledge to it takes it to the next level,” Lindberg said. “When project teams embed integrated VDC processes and talent onto their teams, the customer always sees more benefit. It is amazing to watch as our teams continue to leverage the tools in new ways to drive agile communication and improve outcomes for all project stakeholders. It drives digital transformation in the industry.”