The Art and Science of Digital Delivery

by | Jun 9, 2020

Digital tools are the bread and butter of construction management, used to track schedules, budgets, checklists, daily journals, RFIs, etc. About 25 years ago, design engineers began a wholesale conversion from 2D flat drawings to 3D digital design tools. The benefits of converting to 3D included clash detection, electronic tracking of bits and parts for an electronic equipment and materials inventory, and easier owner visualization.

Eventually, schedules (4D) and resource loading (5D) were added to the models. The benefits for the contractor and owner included reduced rework, fewer change orders, better schedule adherence, and stronger budget control. Creating and managing these 4D and 5D models is called Virtual Design and Construction (VDC).

MWH integrates VDC into all of our projects. VDC is successfully being implemented on a solids handling system upgrade project with the Denver Metro Wastewater Reclamation District (Denver Metro). The project includes the construction of a new solids handling building with two large solids holding bins inside the building. The original plans called for the bins to be placed in the building via crane after fabrication. As the building began to take shape, the team developed a digital rehearsal of the bins’ installation. It became clear from the digital rehearsal exercise that inserting prefabricated into the building as planned was not going to be possible. Using VDC, MWH determined the best solution was to fabricate the bins on site.

In this case, the 3D model showed no static clashes (clashes in the as-built facility). But the construction 4D model showed the dynamic clashes (clashes in getting “stuff” from the yard into the facility), which was then corrected at the desktop, not in the field. The issue was identified and resolved long before any impacts on schedule or costs occurred.

We used a combination of commercially available software and hardware tools, assembled by the digital delivery team, to meet the needs of this project. Since every project is different, every project team customizes a set of tools applicable to their specific project. This includes design, scheduling, visualization, and recording (drones and laser scanning). Knitting these tools together to address the needs of each project is truly the art in VDC digital delivery.

Perhaps the most important application of VDC is improving safety of the site and the construction activities that take place there. Safety in the construction industry has improved significantly over the past decades. However, industry research shows that the safety tools and planning methods currently in practice have reached or are very close to reaching their full practical safety improvement potential.

To further reduce safety incidents, our industry needs a breakthrough in safety planning that surpasses current best practices. VDC could make this breakthrough possible by visualizing rehearsing construction activities before they occur. In addition, construction safety research has recognized that the ability to influence safety in a project is highest at the earliest stages of the project (i.e. the design and planning phases). Decreasing labor time in the field is one of the most important safety benefits of VDC.

MWH Digital Delivery™ is advancing the use of virtual planning for safety through digital rehearsal. Digital rehearsals use 4D scheduling to visualize the sequencing of construction operations before performing the work in the field. 4D scheduling integrates the elements of 3D modeling, scheduling, construction equipment, temporary works, and workspace awareness to dynamically simulate field operations. The construction team and trade contractors collectively view and analyze the simulation daily to effectively prepare for the safe performance of the day’s work.

MWH Digital Delivery™ eliminates or minimizes rework, change orders, schedule extensions, and budget overruns. But most importantly, it helps keep our people safe!

Dr. Marco Aieta, Senior Vice President and Director of Engineering, MWH

Dr. Marco Aieta is an internationally recognized expert in water and wastewater treatment process engineering, design, and construction. He has been involved in the development of over 50 water, wastewater, and water reuse treatment plants worldwide, in capacities up to two billion gallons per day.