AF GRUPPEN: COLLABORATING IN VR ON A NORWEGIAN FREEWAY

AF group Reviewing 3 D models 1

"The use of VR at AF Gruppen for communication, collaboration and visualization with its clients has been so successful that their internal design team has now adopted the technology for use in its own meetings."

Published 11/09/2020 by Torbjørn H.

This case study from Reality Check: How Immersive Technologies Can Transform Your Business by Jeremy Dalton ©2021 is reproduced with permission from Kogan Page Ltd. You can find their book following this link

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AF Gruppen is the third largest construction and civil engineering company in Norway. Headquartered in Oslo, it has 3,100 employees and operates in China, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

One of AF Gruppen’s projects involved constructing a new four-lane freeway connecting the west of the city of Kristiansand to the east of the town of Mandal in Norway. This 19 kilometre stretch of road involves integrating 47 different structures, including 5 double track tunnels and 8 double track bridges and is expected to be completed in autumn 2022. The project is worth 4.7 billion NOK ($480 million).

As you can imagine, this is an incredibly complicated and technically challenging project with hundreds of (and soon, expected to be more than a thousand) Building Information Modelling (BIM) files which provide detailed information on the geometry, components, and other data relating to various structures

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Highway E39 - BIM-Model and real photo from site

Throughout the project, construction will progress with sections of the road and adjoining structures in various stages of completion. Accurate and swift communication about this evolving state is of paramount importance to ensure the project timeline is met. Site managers, leaders, engineers, BIM specialists and other stakeholders regularly meet to discuss progress and plans for future stages. These design review sessions tend to precede the related construction by 3-4 weeks to ensure everything is in place by the time construction is ready to begin on that particular phase.

To aid these collaborative sessions, and visualize the construction in a powerful way, AF Gruppen uses virtual reality technology. On the hardware front, they employ four headsets: three at the project office in Kristiansand where they have 400 employees working, and one at their headquarters in Oslo where their designers are based. The software they use which allows them to import their 3D designs into a VR environment and collaborate with multiple stakeholders is built by a company called Dimension10 based in Oslo.

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Employees from AF-Group meets inside VR using Dimension10

From February 2019 to December 2019, Rune Huse Karlstad, BIM Manager and XR Leader at AF Anlegg (the civil engineering division of AF Gruppen) analyzed the impact of using VR technology to conduct design reviews in collaboration with the Center for Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE) at Stanford University. He analyzed eight VR design review meetings involving 16 stakeholders during that time and tracked metrics from users via a survey after each meeting in line with the Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) framework developed by CIFE, reporting results and iterating plans monthly.

The majority of users (56%) reported having a low level of experience of VR prior to these meetings (as determined by a rating of less than 5 out of 10). To manage this, 15 minute training sessions with individuals or pairs were run in Dimension10 to teach users the basics. A one page document and an instructional video was also provided as a reference guide to help users navigate within VR and how to start a meeting.

Some users had not even used a tablet before as their role did not require it but despite that many found the VR system to be intuitive, engaging and fun, enthusiastically contributing comments and feedback based on what they were seeing. In total, 62.5% of users found it easy to start and open the VR session and three quarters of users were able to locate and load the necessary BIM files for each VR review meeting showing that you do not need to have extensive experience in VR to take advantage of the technology. For the remaining users that found it challenging, a VR technician was on-hand during each meeting to assist as well as take relevant screenshots and record the meeting for future reference.

As is normal during design reviews in the construction industry, potential issues are identified and resolved. 75% of users agreed that VR helped them to understand these issues better. For 12.5% of users, there were no issues to discuss leaving only a minority of 12.5% that did not see the value of VR in this instance. Depending on the complexity of the feedback received in each meeting, any changes could take the designers anywhere from 1 hour to 3 days to implement, allowing stakeholders to return rapidly for a review. Any changes are automatically synchronized across all stakeholders’ systems overnight so they always have the latest version.

AF group Reviewing 3 D models 1
As is normal during design reviews in the construction industry, potential issues are identified and resolved. 75% of users agreed that VR helped them to understand these issues better.

From a travel perspective, meeting in VR was more sustainable, less time-consuming and less costly than a traditional meeting which could involve between 8 and 20 people needing to make a return flight from Oslo to Kristiansand. Despite this flight being just under an hour, the disruption in terms of time due to preparation, airport procedures, and local transport is at least 5 times that per person. All factors considered, the financial cost of each trip per person is $1,000 to $1,500.

To put this all together, for a team of, say, 15, to make this journey would require 75 people hours, cost nearly $20,000 on average, and output approximately 3 tonnes of CO2. This is for a single meeting which could last only a few hours. By using VR, the time spent would be contained to the time of the meeting, the financial cost reduced to nil, with a comparatively negligible impact on CO2 levels. Understandably, just over 80% of the users agreed that conducting these design review meetings in VR are effective enough to forgo the need to travel to and from the project office. The remaining 20% of users were based on-site at the project office so the question was not applicable to them. No users disagreed with the statement.

From a return on investment perspective, and from a purely financial standpoint, the cost of the hardware and software employed was recouped after only a handful of meetings.

From April 2019 to November 2019, the number of sessions hosted and the hours spent in VR for such meetings increased from 16 to 34 and 6 to 32 respectively, representing an increase over the period of 113% and 433%. This significant and sustained increase in the use of VR technology for collaborative design sessions is a strong indicator of the benefits that it provides.

The use of VR at AF Gruppen for communication, collaboration and visualization with its clients has been so successful that their internal design team has now adopted the technology for use in its own meetings.

“Even though we also use 3D models on standard screens today, VR technology opens up a new dimension that makes it easier for us to see what and where to build” - Rune Huse Karlstad, BIM Manager and XR Leader, AF Anlegg (civil engineering division of AF Gruppen)

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To keep up with Technology, more AEC-companies has adopted VR