BIM and Virtual Construction – The Same or Different?

Can the terms BIM and Virtual Construction be used interchangeably in the construction market or do they carry different meanings that can impact how the team interacts? 


Are BIM and Virtual Construction the same?

BIM (Building Information Modeling) and Virtual Construction are sometimes used interchangeably in the construction community.  Recently a customer asked me to explain how BIM for trade contractors is different from BIM for the design team and the general contractor. I would propose that it is the difference between the approach to “BIM” between the design team and the construction team. There are three key considerations that are critical to trade contractors during construction coordination that are difficult to analyze during the design process.


  1. Coordination for Constructability

One consideration that differentiates “Virtual Construction” from “BIM” is the need to design, coordinate, and validate support methods, including hanger locations, spacing, seismic bracing and accessibility to work areas.  Appropriate clearances must be maintained not only for service access but to provide a safe and productive work environment for the field teams.


  1. Coordination for Fabrication

While some projects set specific goals for pre-fabrication during BIM discussions, a primary goal of Virtual Construction is maximizing fabrication opportunities to facilitate   better planning for safety, quality, and productivity by moving work into a controlled manufacturing environment.


  1. Coordination for Budget Control

A final consideration that faces trade contractors is the cost impacts associated with developing a “clash-free” model with other trade contractors. Virtual Construction coordinators must work together to develop the lowest cost solution for the project and not necessarily the easiest solution or most cost effective solution for their company.  This is a key distinction in maintaining the overall project budget for the owner.


While Virtual Construction and BIM are related, they are different.  Virtual Construction not only considers space allocation of the different systems, but places a specific focus on constructability, efficiency, and safety while managing the overall project cost.  As the Contractor and Owner move the project from design to construction, conversations need to shift from simple space coordination to how best to build the project.


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About Dan Cotton


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Dan Cotton is the manager of Virtual Construction at McKenney's and is responsible for our BIM and CAD modeling teams. He has been a member of the LEAN Construction Institute (LCI) since 2011 and is currently a core team member of the LCI’s Georgia Community of Practice. Dan holds a Six Sigma Green Belt certification from Georgia Tech and led the LEAN efforts at McKenney's from 2010 through 2013. Prior to his involvement in Virtual Construction and LEAN, Dan was a project manager in the McKenney's New Construction division for six years.

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