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5 benefits of embracing VR in the construction industry

By Charles Thomson
May 5, 2020
Virtual Reality is benefiting a range of sectors already. In this article, we explore the benefits that VR is bringing to the construction industry.

As virtual reality continues to improve, its viable commercial use cases have started to come into their own. The application of simulations in a virtual world turns out to have massive benefits for an industry which is tied so closely to actual physical space: construction.

For all its sci-fi surface appeal, VR is hardly just another techno fad. VR offers real benefits to people working in all aspects of the building process. This is our list of the top benefits of VR adoption in construction. Whether you are still looking to invest, or investigating advanced use cases for this new technology — you have come to the right place. 


1. Reduce on-site visits

Often it's not just the main construction personnel who need to be present at a construction site, Managers and Supervisors must keep a constant eye on the project. Other key team members, such as architects, designers, and even shareholders or company representatives can benefit from visiting the scene. Utilisation of VR enables anyone to inspect the project without having to travel to its real life location.

When a problem comes up during construction, it can be resolved much more quickly. Instead of halting progress for hours or even days waiting for the manager to attend the site in person, the necessary manager can simply don a VR headset, assess the problem, and provide a solution. Maximum efficiencies can be realised, freeing them to work on multiple projects at once, simply by reducing the number of visits they have to make to the site.

This becomes particularly key as larger organisations operate on a global scale; the advice and recommendations of experts can be obtained without having to transit experts to the physical site location. Thus project savings in terms of both time and money can be achieved.


2. Fix problems before they occur

Virtual inspections of a project allow for an abundance of errors to be found and fixed before the building begins. A problem discovered during construction is much more difficult and expensive to fix and can result in massive delays. Improved accuracy and high level of detail offered by virtual models is a major asset.

VR can cut down on the cost spent on unnecessary supplies as well. VR gives a construction worker or manager a better picture of exactly what needs to be accomplished. This means a lot less extraneous materials ordered, as the exact amounts and feasibility of reuse can be determined beforehand. Waste is reduced and so profits are increased.

Similarly, rework can be reduced as much as possible. A construction worker or manager can use augmented reality (AR) hands-free glasses or headsets that overlay the virtual plans onto the actual physical space, allowing for precise installation  and placement of components, which are key in avoiding typical setbacks. 

For example: a new fixture needs to be installed. Using a headset, the construction worker can literally see how it's supposed to look, and where exactly the fixture needs to go. This avoids the time consuming and costly job of removing the fixture and repairing its opening when they discover down the line it isn't in exactly the right place.

The use of augmented reality headsets on the job overlays the 3D model with the real world, allowing users to view spatial relationships with pinpoint accuracy, and identify issues with the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems before they occur. AR headsets offer additional tools, such as annotations — basically virtual "sticky notes" hovering over certain spots of the project, visible to every member of the team wearing a headset. In fact, anything contained in the BIM database can be made visible in a virtual environment.

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3. Improve Customer Experience

What could be a better offer to your client than a guided tour through their new building before construction has even begun?

Building owners and shareholders no longer have to rely on diagrams and drawings to envision the finished product. This gives them greater understanding of the project and a greater ability to communicate exactly what they want before construction is underway, cutting down on potential changes in the midst of the project. The contractor in turn is able to manage and meet the client's expectations.

VR also brings the clients closer to the construction in progress. They can make virtual visits to the site and see for themselves how on-track the job is going. This is especially helpful for clients who travel or do not live in the area of the building. VR allows them to absent themselves without worry.


4. Better Training and Safety

Construction companies can use VR to train staff. Whether they've never used a particular machine or just need a refresher, operators of machinery can start training in a controlled environment before the job site is even ready.

Training simulators create a 3D environment where operators learn how to use their tools. Trainees also gain experience making quick decisions and overcoming unforeseen complications in real time, with no physical danger. This maximizes operators' proficiency before they even begin operating the machinery in real life, which leads to less safety risk and minimal damage of equipment due to misuse.

Increased safety is another benefit of VR. Better planning means fewer accidents and a safer environment. On top of that, VR allows some machinery to even be operated remotely, so that danger is mitigated by having fewer people on premise. Operators can control their machines safe from the elements using remote access to the VR environment.


5. Upgrade Collaboration

A new building or renovation job can include any number of people responsible for various aspects of the project, from design through construction. The problems that inevitably arise from different specialists working with different information are quelled by BIM systems, which store all information about a project centrally and offer models that can be worked on by any team member. Changes made are then reflected in everyone's models, regardless of how the information is represented.

The cloud has made working with BIM ideal, allowing the central database to be accessed remotely. Alterations, notes, and questions are reflected in real time for everyone working on the project, which means multiple team members can be working with a 3D model simultaneously. This streamlines communication and efficiently ensures everyone is on the same page.

The potent combination of cloud computing and BIM is made yet more powerful with the addition of VR. The detailed model offered by BIM becomes an immersive 3D environment which anyone working on a project can enter. Teams can walk around and inspect the project together, just as if they were actually there.

Essential to this process is good data. Laser scans and point cloud data sets allow for detailed, hyper-accurate 3d models that can then be explored virtually. If high quality scans of the project site can be ensured, no one but the builders need actually set foot on the location.

This means a construction company can get the best people on the job without geographical considerations, eliminating time consuming travel. Managers, designers, and the like are freed to take on more projects at once. This radically increased efficiency spells a major change for the whole construction sector.


VR is improving accessibility and quality control 

VR is taking the current use of 3D models to the next level. Building information modelling systems can already create hyper-accurate digital representations of a construction project, including pertinent details besides just the physical dimensions, in a way that can be accessed remotely by all members of a construction team. Now VR allows you to actually enter the space, walk through and inspect every detail, before construction has even begun.

Given good data and the proper modelling system, construction companies can offer fully immersive virtual models of a project at any stage. Virtual reality is poised to become the reality of the construction industry.

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Tags: VR