VEC Employs 3-D, 4-D, 5-D Modeling on Projects

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Augmented reality and virtual reality – terms normally associated with the video game industry – have become phrases electrical contractors hear often.

Advances in technology have enabled electrical contractors to deliver more sophisticated products to their customers and provide more efficiency in new construction projects.

“We do a lot of what’s called BIM, or building information modeling, along with augmented reality and virtual reality,” says Adam Davis, director of design and drafting at VEC Inc., Girard. It’s more likely you’ll find design engineers peering into a computer screen rather than poring over schematics spread on a large drawing table.

“3-D imaging is a tool we use, but there’s also 4-D, adding the element of cost into the 3-D model, and then 5-D, which is adding a schedule,” Davis says. VEC, a multifaceted design-build company, develops 3-D models on specialized software that attends to every electrical detail in a building project, down to a light switch.

Davis says the use of 3-D modeling has dramatically changed his industry. “The collaboration tools have really improved,” he notes. It wasn’t that long ago that the virtual design process was more compartmentalized and 3-D modeling software could handle only so much. That meant that contractors had to work from several virtual schematics.

“It was clunky,” Davis says. “Coordination was tough and it was done piecemeal.”

Software has advanced to where the entire project is integrated into one 3-D package, making it easier to see how the electrical work relates to the construction job in its entirety, Davis says.

To offer an example, he pulls up a 3-D model of the Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course in Austintown. “There was a coordinated 3-D model for the racino project,” he says. Via a computer, the contractor can manipulate the image of the entire complex on a screen and, with a click of a key, remove a virtual wall or ceiling to uncover the electrical design behind it.

“We did a lot of virtual processes from construction,” he says. “The electrical, mechanical and HVAC systems – there was even a beverage conduit system. We had to coordinate all the areas of this project, but we used 3-D models to make it all happen.”

VEC uses the same process on other projects, including major jobs such as Vallourec Star’s $1 billion pipe mill in Youngstown, Matalco’s $125 million plant under construction in Lordstown, and numerous other projects linked to the oil and gas industry.

These software models help builders and contractors during construction. And, just as important, they help the project owner maintain and manage a facility long after construction is finished, Davis says. “When there’s a light out, they just click on the model,” and the needed information, such as the type of bulb needed, appears on the screen, giving the maintenance department all it needs to resolve the problem.

In the not-so-distant future, these models could also be used to assist first-responders when an emergency arises, Davis notes. Virtual images of the design of a building would be projected on the inside of a firefighter’s safety mask, for example, so he could navigate his way through a corridor filled with smoke. “There’s a company that we’ve worked with out of California that’s developing these displays for first-responders,” he says.

Meanwhile, Davis says, he sees a steady amount of opportunities where VEC can bid on new construction projects.

“The oil and gas industry is still driving a lot of our business,” Davis says, despite the slowdown in that market. VEC has landed several contracts from energy companies involved in well-pad construction and infrastructure work.

“That business is down a bit,” Davis relates, “but it’s still a huge part of what is happening regionally.”

According to market research published by IBISWorld, the electrical contracting industry is expected to fully rebound from the Great Recession over the next five years. This growth, the report says, is fueled by a rebound in residential and commercial construction along with retrofitting and renovation projects aimed at improving energy efficiency for customers.

The industry earns $150 billion in revenues annually and is expected to grow 5% a year through 2025.

Pictured: VEC Inc. used 3-D modeling for electrical projects at Vallourec, Matalco and Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course, says director of design and drafting Adam Davis.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.