AEC

Vico Virtual Construction Suite 2008 (Cadalyst Labs Review)

1 Jul, 2008 By: Jerry Laiserin

Multidimensional analysis and control capabilities transform the building process.


It's been said that everyone remembers his or her first time — especially the first time working with a new tool or technology that awakens new perceptions and opens new doors to what is possible. Perhaps it was a first-time exposure to CAD, spreadsheets, interactive graphics for gaming, e-mail, Web browsing, texting, instant messaging, wikis, or even YouTube. We think we've seen it all, then along comes a brand new way of interacting with the familiar that magically (and easily) transforms that familiar into a different way of seeing and doing. That's the reaction many folks have had after their first exposure to the full capabilities of Vico Software's Virtual Construction Suite 2008, a software suite that represents the latest generation of software thinking.



In the beginning of the computer age, highly technical and scientific vertical applications were available for analysis, accounting, process control, and so on, and general- function, horizontal applications that cut across all disciplines could be used for tasks such as text-processing. Whether vertical or horizontal, earlier generations of software tended to mimic the manual processes they were replacing (corporate re-engineering guru Michael Hammer called this "paving the cowpaths.") Accounting software mimicked double-entry bookkeeping; word or text processing mimicked typewriters and physical cut-and-paste editing; and computer-aided drafting mimicked the various manual drawing, pin-bar drafting, and reprographic methods that preceded it.

Making Change

Over the past few years, a shift has occurred as each new generation of software better reflects the process transformations made possible by a primarily digital workflow. For example, desktop publishing and Web publishing represent new forms of media communication that need not mimic print media. Blogs threaten to replace magazines and newsletters. Where e-mail by its very name connotes a digital simulacrum of physical mail, newer media (instant messaging, online chatting, and social networking) represent uniquely digital forms of communication. This is the same with software tools for design and construction.

CAD has been superseded as a design/documentation tool by model-authoring programs lumped under the label building information modeling (BIM). Although such tools can produce drawings that look like their predigital counterparts, the underlying models are purely digital artifacts, constructed and managed exclusively by digital processes. These models can be directly linked to or embedded with specifications data in a way that is significantly different from the cross-referencing of paper drawings and typewritten specs. The same applies to coordinating model representations among disciplines in the digital realm — a far cry from overlaying transparencies of architectural drawings and HVAC drawings on a light table to search for clashes. Similar principles apply to integration of models with schedules, cost estimation, and so on.

Vico Virtual Construction Suite 2008
Vico Virtual Construction Suite 2008

This new way of looking at the building process is popularly known as BIM, especially among architects and engineers, or as virtual design and construction (VDC) among general contractors, construction managers, and design builders. As an historical aside, the term BIM is not new, nor was it coined or originated by any software vendor. The term building information models first appeared, albeit in Dutch, in research on the construction industry as early as 1987. The nomenclature was first used in English in a 1992 paper in the authoritative Journal of Automation in Construction. This usage is fully 10 years before my own efforts to popularize the term BIM and standardize its usage among the leading software vendors. On the other hand, VDC is a term I associate with my colleagues at Stanford University's Center for Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE).

Whether known as BIM, VDC, or just virtual construction (VC, the term for which the name Vico is a contraction), the automation of previously manual functions has morphed into entirely new ways of working. The benefits, as can be seen with Vico's suite of tools, can be enormous; but the price of process change exists among all project participants. This trade-off is why Vico characterizes itself as a software and services company. Construction organizations adopting VDC need to bootstrap their process changes, and Vico provides both the tools and the guidance to do so.

What's In — and Out of — the Box

Vico's suite consists of the following six components:

  • 1. Vico Constructor 2008, to create VC models as the foundation for the other tools
  • 2. Vico Estimator 2008, for model-based estimating, more accurately than other methods
  • 3. Vico Control 2008, for location-based scheduling and linking time and space in new views
  • 4. Vico 5D Presenter 2008, to see model (3D), schedule (4D), and cost (5D) in one view
  • 5. Vico Cost Manager 2008, to monitor and control changes to a project's cost
  • 6. Vico Change Manager 2008, to track revisions for consistency across all representations

Taken together, the tools in Vico Software's Virtual Construction Suite 2008 represent the most comprehensive, best integrated, and most highly evolved VC applications currently available on the world market.

As shown in figure 1, Vico Constructor relies on the ArchiCAD BIM model-authoring tool from Graphisoft for its underlying data and representation. For the record, some Vico tools, such as Constructor and Estimator, were originally developed by Graphisoft but were then spun off to Vico Software — a 2007 startup and a completely independent, management-owned, and venture-funded company — and were exclusively dedicated to the program and process needs of builders and building contractors. (Graphi- soft, under its corporate parent Nemetschek AG, chose to remain focused on Graphisoft's original core market of architects and designers.)

Figure 1. Although based on the ArchiCAD model-authoring engine, Vico Constructor adds extensive structural and MEP tools for complete construction modeling, plus the capability to import models from any IFC-compatible design tool. (All images courtesy of Vico Software)
Figure 1. Although based on the ArchiCAD model-authoring engine, Vico Constructor adds extensive structural and MEP tools for complete construction modeling, plus the capability to import models from any IFC-compatible design tool. (All images courtesy of Vico Software)

Although a working copy of ArchiCAD is in the Vico box, Vico Constructor goes significantly beyond ArchiCAD to include all of the structural and mechanical–electrical–plumbing (MEP) engineering disciplines and objects necessary to fully describe any building for construction purposes (such as cost estimation, scheduling, clash detection, and so on). Thus, builders can create their own models in Vico Constructor, whether by modeling from scratch (if architect- or engineer-provided models are insufficient or absent altogether) or by importing architect- or engineer-delivered models that have been created in any Industry Foundation Classes (IFC)–compatible model-authoring tool. (IFC is an internationally recognized model-exchange format supported by all leading architecture and engineering model-authoring software, including ArchiCAD, Autodesk Architecture and Autodesk Revit, Bentley Architecture, Nemetschek AllPlan and VectorWorks, and Vico itself). This capability enables builders using the Vico Virtual Construction Suite to focus on enhancing and optimizing their own information needs and business processes, independent of any architect's or engineer's choice of modeling tool (or even any architect's or engineer's choice of whether to model at all).

Massaging the Numbers

Vico Estimator (figure 2) draws on Vico Constructor models to generate highly detailed and accurate quantity takeoffs (QTO) and related cost estimates, literally down to the nuts and bolts. This ability is accomplished by a hierarchical decomposition of the model into assemblies and subassemblies, each of which has an associated cost/ composition recipe. Recipes are further divided into methods and resources. By these means, it's possible to swiftly and accurately estimate precise quantities of materials and labor for any and all building components. This fine level of detail can be reaggregated into a total estimate for the building.

Figure 2. Vico Estimator provides numerical and graphical analyses of budget alternatives, bid packages, and actual costs, all of which are related both logically and visually to Vico s underlying 5D model.
Figure 2. Vico Estimator provides numerical and graphical analyses of budget alternatives, bid packages, and actual costs, all of which are related both logically and visually to Vico s underlying 5D model.

Of course, other products on the market can generate QTO and cost from one or another proprietary architecture/ engineering model-authoring tool, but none offers the same degree of constructor-focused analytic capability that is built into Vico Estimator. Especially valuable are the abilities of Vico to analyze target costs and identify areas of greatest cost risk and biggest cost impact. In other words, Vico makes it easy to prioritize estimating and budget attention for an item that is 10% over budget and 10% of project cost, versus an item that may be 50% over budget but only 1% of project cost; the first item represents twice the cost risk to the overall project compared with the second item, and that relationship is immediately obvious in Vico yet often obscure or undefined in some competing products.

Vico Cost Manager carries these up-front analytic capabilities throughout the entire life of the project with the opportunity to compare bids with each other (projectwide or trade-by-trade) and to compare bid prices with various versions of budget. All these comparisons are accompanied by unique visual feedback on the progress of cost changes (for example, is Alternative B getting us closer to the latest revised budget than did Alternative A?).

Vico Change Manager ensures that project changes are reflected wherever they need to be for construction, schedule, and cost-estimating purposes. Here, too, Vico's VC Suite focuses on the change-management needs of general contractors, construction managers, and design builders. In its construction-focused specificity, Vico's Change Manager actually is more sophisticated than the simple, automatic drawing updating that in some proprietary architecture/engineering model-authoring tools serves the design and documentation management needs of architects and engineers before a job gets into the field.

Space–Time Continuum

Vico Control (figure 3) is, as the name implies, the operational core and project control center of Vico's VC Suite. The premises underlying Vico Control go radically beyond the simple notions of 4D CAD and schedule simulation offered by competing products, as well as various scheduling add-ons to or plug-ins for proprietary architecture/engineering model-authoring tools. The critical breakthrough in Vico Control is a common work-breakdown structure (WBS) view for both cost and schedule. This view is Vico's justification for the label 5D (a term I find otherwise objectionable, but in Vico's implementation it has legitimacy).

Figure 3. Vico Control is based on a detailed work-breakdown structure for both cost and schedule (upper image) combined with a location-based flowline view of project sequencing and scheduling (lower image). The result is unprecedented visibility into and management of schedule risk.
Figure 3. Vico Control is based on a detailed work-breakdown structure for both cost and schedule (upper image) combined with a location-based flowline view of project sequencing and scheduling (lower image). The result is unprecedented visibility into and management of schedule risk.

By itself, a single WBS for both cost and schedule is a significant transformation in the way most builders conceptualize and view their work. However, Vico Control goes much further, with a location-based flowline view of project sequencing and scheduling. By combining tasks and locations in a single view, Vico Control can provide — among its many unique capabilities — easy visibility into otherwise costly starts and stops in the workflow of any crew or trade as the job progresses. As well, the slope of the flowlines intuitively shows the speed of the work by trade and location. A project manager or superintendent using Vico Control is never more than a few clicks away from easily understood graphic comparisons of plan to actual to adjusted, with look-aheads organized by zones or locations within the overall project and by elements, tasks, or methods within each zone.

Vico 5D Presenter (figure 4) provides high-level, condensed views across all this project detail in a format suitable for reporting to the building client and/or to senior management within the general contractor, construction manager, or design builder organization. Across the board, Vico's approach is to make information presentation both denser and more understandable, for better decisions and action at all levels within the project team.

Figure 4. Vico 5D Presenter combines model (3D), schedule (4D), and cost (5D) information in an information-rich, integrated display that is well suited to presentations for — and decision-making by — building clients or general contractors, construction managers, and design builders senior management.
Figure 4. Vico 5D Presenter combines model (3D), schedule (4D), and cost (5D) information in an information-rich, integrated display that is well suited to presentations for — and decision-making by — building clients or general contractors, construction managers, and design builders senior management.

Happy Ending

The result, as hinted at the outset of this review, is a new-generation way of looking at and managing construction process and progress. Almost everything else on the market is still in the "paving the cowpaths" mode of separately automating the 3D of CAD (typically via whatever proprietary model-authoring tools the architect or engineer chooses, irrespective of their suitability to construction practice), plus automating the fourth dimension of schedule and the fifth dimension of cost and then linking these dimensions in a digital replica of traditional construction workflow. Vico's VC Suite simply slices through that old paradigm with a totally integrated and completely construction-centric way of working.

Of course, the shift away from old paradigms requires process change within any organization and its work culture. Vico offers extensive consulting services to organizations ready to explore new and improved ways of working. More than just training, this transition entails a kind of learning by doing, in which Vico clients progressively take on more direct involvement as their familiarity grows and their understanding deepens.

Vico also provides extensive online tutorials, frequent Webinars, and an extremely generous schools/education program that will ensure that the emerging generation of construction industry leaders have mastery over and are comfortable with this new way of viewing and managing projects. Free downloadable trial versions of the software are available at www.vicosoftware.com. For qualified users, educational versions are available free of charge. Highly Recommended.


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