A virtual mock-up isn't just a fancy picture; it's a problem-solver and cost-saver that helps ensure work is done right the first time. The opportunities for mitigating risk, identifying conflicts and improving onsite communication are plentiful—whether it's dissecting a potential moisture issue or mapping out what will happen when multiple trades converge in the same spot.

Messer’s Operations Technology Solutions (OTS) department has been developing virtual mock-ups for the better part of a decade, and lately they're making a big impact on projects like the CONRAC at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG).

Eliminating Rework and Waste

For the CVG job, the original intent was to create a structural mock-up of the garage, but the scope snowballed (in a good way) once the project team realized how the model could be optimized to eliminate rework and waste. For example, OTS incorporated drawings from four different subcontractors into a single digital file that could be manipulated and pulled apart to assess rebar placement, how slab edges come together, etc.

"If we hadn't done this due diligence, they could have run into issues of rebar hitting rebar and lockable dowels and post-tension cable heads in the same area," said Elizabeth Myers, virtual construction engineer. "We output clash reports so the subcontractors could redesign placements."

It's crucial to get ahead of these problems so operations and craft personnel can stay focused on observing and inspecting work in the field.

Myers meets with the CVG CONRAC design and operations team weekly to discuss issues that the model is uncovering. For example, the model was color-coded to illustrate how much concrete each section of the garage required. From there, the foreman could pull up the model on his iPad onsite to double-check quantities and elevations during slab pours.

Cost Impact 

"This project had an elevation change request of 7 inches that created a domino effect that could have seriously impacted garage access," said Project Executive Jason Shorten. "But the model provided visibility of this clearance issue, resulting in a manageable solution for little cost.” 

Models also can explain and validate change orders related to uncoordinated construction documents, speeding up drawing issues and change management. "The level of understanding you get from a 3D image that can be articulated and color coded is 10 times that of a 2D drawing," said Operations Vice President Nick Rosian. "This is particularly useful for coordination of different façade material requirements relating to sequencing, flashing, isolation and caulking,"

Don't Delay

The modeling process is highly collaborative—involving operations, craft, designers, subcontractors and fabricators—​and early involvement from all parties ensures the mock-up accurately reflects means and methods in the field.

"The earlier OTS is involved and we start to find issues, the less those issues are going to impact the project," said Senior Virtual Construction Manager Chris Mealy.

Looking ahead, OTS is eager to create more models that encompass additional scopes. "I believe as technology advances, you will see these being used more and more in conjunction with AR/VR onsite," Myers said.