September 25, 2020

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a digital model is worth a thousand pictures. The information and value represented in the model sums up why Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) should be used on every project – especially during the design and preconstruction phases.

VDC services like design coordination are enabled by a data-rich Building Information Model (BIM) and applied design integration processes, which DPR uses to identify and resolve issues before construction begins. In the early design phase, better collaboration and information enables project teams to make more informed decisions about design intent and constructability. When issues are addressed at this stage of the project, it leads to better predictability, productivity and quality.

DPR leveraged the data-rich virtual model to conduct equipment and overhead MEP coordination on a large pharmaceutical project in Massachusetts.

Breaking Down Silos

“There’s a common misconception that owners receive a coordinated design from the design team as part of the fee, but in reality there’s a significant effort in between early design and construction devoted to coordination or making the design constructible,” said Hannu Lindberg, DPR’s national VDC leader.

This process isn’t done on every project, but the case for it is clear, according to Lindberg.

“Hundreds or even thousands of issues on a project, regardless of scale or complexity, could be solved earlier in the project lifecycle,” he added. “That translates to reduced risk and greater schedule and cost certainty for all project stakeholders, which almost always exceeds the initial upfront investment.”

Another common mistake is assuming that design coordination happens by default on projects set up for a high level of collaboration, like Integrated Project Delivery or design-build. While it happens more often on these types of projects, silos can still exist in execution. Lindberg notes that, too often, preconstruction budgets for design integration and preconstruction services tend to be on the lighter side, whereas the construction budgets can be inflated with design contingency, mainly due to unforeseen issues that could be resolved during the preconstruction phase, without the added cost impact, delays or rework during operations.

Coordination Metrics

Of the nearly 300 projects DPR currently tracks, DPR has identified over 150,000 issues ranging from existing conditions, to design specifications, to maintenance access, to constructability, to traditional trade coordination issues typically found through clash detection. Using the BIM Track platform, DPR can analyze issues by location, system priority, impact and other sets of criteria to calculate the priority in which design issues should be addressed and resolved. Assigning and tracking issue accountability for all project team members translates to more agile issue resolution. It also helps promote “right behaviors” through the ability to track progress and overall project team performance using data points, such as average time to resolve issues and issue accountability.

With this information, along with historical data about the company’s core markets, DPR can inform owners and designers of typical design challenges and equip them with the added knowledge to make better and more informed decisions. For example, on a recent life sciences project in Massachusetts, DPR converted an existing 261,000-sq.-ft. office into a multipurpose facility including labs, clean rooms, clinical spaces and a vivarium over the span of 15 months. The project stipulated liquidated damages, which made coordination even more critical to ensuring successful delivery. During the coordination process, more than 2,000 issues were identified and resolved by the project team, of which 150 were escalated into RFI’s without schedule impact.

After completing coordination, the DPR team reviewed 6 major roadblocks and assessed the averted impact to the project, and the results were eye opening: if not for VDC coordination and early trade engagement, the project would have hit a 14-week delay. In comparing associated costs for the six roadblocks to the cost for coordination services, DPR found a 200 percent ROI. Keeping in mind these metrics do not account for liquidated damages, the benefits of model-based coordination have been fully embraced by the team as a standard moving forward.

The project, which involved converting a former office space into a multipurpose facility, employed early-stage design coordination.

Now vs. Later

“Teams should consider what percentage of the total construction cost comes out of contingency versus the upfront cost for design coordination services” said David Stone, DPR's Northeast VDC leader.

When comparing the two numbers, DPR is finding that when VDC services are applied in the preconstruction phase, all that does is re-allocate a portion of money from one slice of the overall budget into another. The contingency might shrink, but rework is significantly reduced and project teams can easily recoup the upfront investment. In most cases the project realizes ROIs that generate more than tangible cost savings, as well a qualitative value due to timely coordination effort.

“There’s an objective and quantifiable return on investment,” said Stone.

The big takeaway: VDC services like design coordination shouldn’t be siloed, operationally and financially. By making slight adjustments to how project teams – owners, designers, contractor and trade partners – integrate early on, it’s possible to influence and mitigate the impact of design changes later down the road during construction.

“We’ve seen how leveraging VDC can avert additional costs to our customers,” said Lindberg. “We know that when the VDC process is implemented successfully on our projects, all project health indicators are a lot higher on those that embrace design integration and VDC strategies from the outset. For us the goal is to incorporate VDC into how we conduct business eventually on every project.”