Software enables 'virtual constructability'

August 11, 2010

A big stumbling block in getting true data integration through the life cycle of a building project has been the handoff of the design from the design team to the construction team. Even under the best circumstances, whatever the design team delivers to the contractor usually has to be digitally reworked to achieve true constructability.

Late last year, though, Budapest-based Graphisoft, creator of ArchiCAD, began offering Virtual Construction. Billed as a 3-D design system primarily for contractors, the system integrates a construction-grade 3-D modeling program with a full-function estimating system and ties it into project planning programs, such as P-3 from Primavera Systems, Bala Cynwyd, Pa.

Virtual Construction ties the cost and schedule data so essential to contractors to a 3-D model detailed enough to be used for constructability analysis. Ultimately, contractors can do model-based estimating, 4-D sequencing, and 5-D cash-flow analyses. "The goal for contractors is winning the bid, then managing the four Ms — money, methods, machinery, and manpower," says Graphisoft CEO Dominic Gallello.

The product line is built on Graphisoft's ArchiCAD, plus six years of R&D by YIT Corporation, a Finnish constructor with net sales of nearly $3 billion. The firm has an amazing record of creating material estimates that are 99.5% accurate.

"We have completed hundreds of projects with this technology and the results have been dramatic," says Ilpo Jalasjoki, CEO of YIT Construction Ltd. "We have cut our project planning and cost estimating times by up to two-thirds and have increased estimating accuracy."

According to Gallello, construction giants Kajima and Skanska have used the firm's ArchiCAD modeling program to do constructability analysis and win construction management contracts.

"When Skanska uses 4-D technology, with the model tied to the schedule, they are consistently winning the bid," adds Clay Freeman, Graphisoft director of construction solutions.

Virtual Construction's Constructor 2005 program includes a construction modeling system to quickly create accurate 3-D construction models, a 4-D Sequencer to automatically link the construction model to the project schedule, and the Graphisoft Estimator Connector, which extracts, links, and publishes model information to the estimator software, known as Estimator 2005.

Estimator 2005 includes a model-based estimating system designed to extract accurate quantity information from the construction model and produce estimates quickly and accurately. It also includes a traditional estimating system to support the transition from manual takeoff-based estimating to model-based estimating.

Traditional estimating features include production planning and procurement designed to divide the resources created by the estimating application in production zones and to produce procurement requirements, as well as 5-D reporting, which uses the construction model as the link between cost and time. The system produces cost-loaded schedules for financial analysis.

"The idea is to create a model that is accurate for construction purposes, then identify and eliminate most of the constructability issues that could add costs and time later on," says Freeman. The model can then be used to extract accurate estimating information quickly, "to get a good price and keep that bi-directionally linked to the estimate."

At this point, the model can also yield construction sequencing. Virtual Construction lets you know exactly when any project element is going to be built and when and what resources (manpower, materials, etc.) are going to be needed. This allows the model to drive procurement, and "as the project changes, you know how your delivery requirements change," says Freeman.

Graphisoft has been working with a handful of users over the past year, among them California-based Webcor Builders, which is currently constructing the new $300 million, 370,000-sf California Academy of Science in San Francisco. Graphisoft is taking the architect's 2-D paper drawings and building a 3-D Constructor model from them. Constructability is being checked as they proceed.

"Graphisoft's software and services offerings are revolutionizing the way we plan projects," says Andy Ball, Webcor Builders' CEO. "The tools provide a quantum leap in our ability to collaborate with the architect and the subcontractors, leading to huge reductions in inefficiencies, waste, and rework."

A couple of words of caution about Virtual Construction: Because the estimation function is so at the core of this new offering, you will have to switch from your current estimating program. Because you may also have difficulty finding construction-savvy staff to run the 3-D Constructor program, you may want to get started on just the estimating portion before adopting the entire technology. Graphisoft is also offering support services to enable you to use the product under the direction of your project team.

         
 

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