When it comes to construction projects, the act of "laying the groundwork" starts well before teams make it to the job site. A strong project foundation begins with having a great project model that simulates the construction process and communicates the plan to stakeholders.
This is where Virtual Construction Specialists come in. They create and manage the virtual model of the project to bring design ideas to life and convey critical information to clients and stakeholders.
If you're wondering what it's like to work in this role, keep reading.
We met with Kacie Hokanson, Virtual Construction Specialist at Miron Construction Co., Inc., and asked her about her career journey. Kacie discusses what led her to the virtual construction realm and how she sees the role changing in the future.
Take a look at what she has to say.
Miron Construction is the largest general contractor in the Midwest. Its headquarters are in Neenah, Wisconsin, which is where I work. We also have five other satellite offices throughout Wisconsin and one in Iowa.
Miron is a fourth-generation family-owned company that's been operating for 105 years. In 2022, we reached $1.7 billion in volume, which is remarkable considering it was $750 million just five years ago. So work has been booming.
I work as a Virtual Construction Specialist, specifically in the early stages of preconstruction. I help project teams take their ideas and visually bring them to life using the 3D model. I mostly work with superintendents and project managers, creating site logistics and sequence plans. But occasionally I work with our business development team when they're pursuing a project by crafting animations to create a time-lapse.
It played out on its own, really. I was studying to be an interior designer at UW-Stout. And while I was doing that, I was tutoring Revit and AutoCAD to construction students.
The professor of the construction department offered me a job working on a grant, creating construction visuals using the models for educational purposes. I started working with him during the last year of my undergrad until his grant took off, and he got a job at Colorado State University and I followed to pursue my master's degree and to continue teaching Revit to his students.
He asked if I would join him to get my master's and continue teaching Revit to students there. I took the opportunity, finished my master's degree in construction management, and my now husband got a job in Neenah, Wisconsin.
I'm not from Wisconsin, so I didn't know the area very well. Fortunately, one of my graduate professors knew the director of virtual construction at Miron and thought the company would be a good fit for me. So through that connection, I was brought in for an interview and luckily got the job.
In general, when I work on a pursuit, there's a small timeframe to create the materials before the interview date. When pursuits do pop up, it's more of a "stop what you're doing and it's all hands on deck" creating this.
We like to use animations as the wow factor for the client, so there are a lot of hours and a few late nights. We do get it done on time, and the proud moment comes when we win the job. I get comments back from the interview team saying that the animation is what stood us out from the competition and why we were selected.
It's a remarkable feeling knowing that I played a role in helping Miron get work and continue to grow.
As construction changes, I see the Virtual Construction Specialists role specifically changing on how many projects we take on at one time. With more cloud-based software and integrations, I see our work being cut down compared to years past, which allows us to take on more projects and have more time to do R&D initiatives.
As technology changes, our way of doing things changes, too. It makes the process easier and faster, so we can do much more in a day.
I work with older generation superintendents and project managers who didn't grow up with this type of technology we see today. The old saying "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" is pretty relevant in my career regarding training them on new software technology.
Technology has proven to help the field in both productivity and production. But the initial hurdle of getting them to try it and trust the process could be a bit challenging.
As a Virtual Construction Specialist, it's my job to make sure we test the technology ahead of time and find a reason that can help the field do its job a little easier. Just because it's the coolest, latest gadget doesn't mean it's the right choice for the field crew.
Basically, in everything that we do, we want to make sure we have the end user in mind when we're testing it because they're the ones who are going to be utilizing it.
We do a lot with Autodesk Build. I love it, personally.
As for my favorite features, the integration, communication, and collaboration of the overall platform are the reasons I like it. With one click, you can jump between models, between RFIs, and between issues. It's all collaboration and communication in one area. The need to jump between platforms to get information is a thing of the past.
Autodesk is the leader in BIM software; we use it daily in our industry. So with our AEC collection and ACC, everything can link together and talk to each other to create a single source of truth.
Every stakeholder and the virtual construction can stay in one platform and still do their job efficiently, which is remarkable.
Being innovative is just who we are in virtual construction. We want to be on the cutting edge of technology, not the bleeding edge. So it's like what I mentioned before: our goal is to make our craftspeople’s jobs easier. And through innovation and trial and error, we can do that.
We try to stay on top of everything being rolled out, push the envelope, and try to break it. So we do a lot of software research and development.
My advice would be to be flexible and adaptable when it comes to technology. Technology is constantly changing, and there's not one way to do things anymore. So being open-minded to the new processes and always thinking of the end user and how it could benefit them will allow you to go far.