BIM vs VDC: What’s the Difference?

  • November 2, 2020

There’s never been a more exciting time to be part of the construction industry. Innovations are rapidly advancing the AEC and MEP sectors and every phase of the design and build process, resulting in increased productivity, improved schedules, and enhanced safety. 

But technology adoption is still relatively new for many organizations in the historically slow-to-adopt construction industry. So, it’s no surprise that there are still a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding the technologies and concepts that are advancing the industry –– and how they can effectively be applied in the real world. 

One of the most common misconceptions is that BIM (building information modeling) and VDC (virtual design and construction) are interchangeable. While they are closely related and often interconnected, they are not the same. 

So, to clear up any confusion, let’s break down what BIM and VDC are, and how they are used to increase collaboration and improve the construction process. 

What is BIM?

BIM stands for building information modeling. It refers to a highly accurate, digital representation of the physical characteristics of a building or structure. Typically, BIM is used to understand the current dimensions of an existing structure, or to examine the design intent on something that has yet to be built. BIM is used to assist in planning and coordination, leading to greater construction efficiencies including reduced rework, lower materials and labor costs, advanced clash detection, and off-site prefabrication. 

A building information model can go far beyond just dimensional characteristics and include BIM 4D (time), BIM 5D (cost), BIM 6D (sustainability), and BIM 7D (facility management applications). 

An additional benefit of BIM is to create a 3D model that allows users to design in a virtual world to better understand relationships between spaces, materials, and various systems within a physical structure, and how real-life elements will impact a building. The models are composed of BIM objects, which can be intelligent, have geometry, and store data. When BIM elements are changed, the entire model is updated to reflect the change, ensuring that all parties involved in the project can have access to up-to-date information in a collaborative environment. Every aspect of the project can be linked to related, unified, and centralized data, helping to reduce the risk of information loss and improve overall project efficiency.

But while the 3D model is considered the foundation, BIM is actually more about a process than a product or tool. Yes, it uses software to create a computer-generated 3D model, but BIM is largely defined as a complex, multi-phased process that gathers data from different stakeholders to model the components and tools that will be used during the construction process — and possibly for the life of the asset. The BIM process enables document management, coordination, and simulation during the entire lifecycle of a project, from planning to building to operation and maintenance.

What is VDC?

VDC stands for virtual design and construction, and contrary to popular belief, VDC is not a different component from BIM but is the larger overarching methodology that can use BIM to plan construction. VDC is an overall process of utilizing computer technology to make the construction process more efficient, whereas BIM is one of the tools that can be used in the VDC process. Simply put, the VDC process enhances coordination between all participants to not only use technology to build more efficiently but to digitize the asset for future renovation and operation.  

VDC enables construction companies to use highly accurate computer 3D models, typically developed using BIM, to create a digital twin in advance and verify along the building process. It also allows contractors to more accurately estimate the material quantities and costs associated with completing a project, and it facilitates increased communication and collaboration that prevents task silos and helps avoid costly rework — which typically accounts for more than 10% of construction costs.

However, VDC doesn’t always have to involve BIM. It can take other components of a VDC process like prefabrication, planning, and building documentation to improve on inefficient old-school methods. It is an umbrella methodology that incorporates principles of BIM for better information sharing, collaboration, and communication. 

Complementary technology that’s redefining construction

While still in its relatively early stages, BIM and VDC are becoming the industry standard for design and planning in construction. Whether used in conjunction or independently, BIM and VDC are revolutionizing collaboration and communication in construction. Both help inform decisions that lead to greater predictability of time, cost, and quality of construction projects.