How VR can combat construction mistakes

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Construction mistakes represent 5–9 percent of total costs in the $11+ trillion industry, hampering productivity. Thankfully, multi-user VR is about to make precision building the norm.

Building design processes are about drawing, modelling, making blueprints and sections.

Envisioning.

But we don’t get to experience the building – until it has been built. And there’s the rub.

It means that mistakes often slip under the radar – until they’re set in stone reinforced concrete.

Published 25/04/2019 by Aleksander

Turning 0’s and 1’s into bricks and mortar

Based on a 2017 McKinsey report, lagging construction productivity costs the global economy a staggering $1.6 trillion annually. There are a number of reasons for this, but – like the report points out – the construction sector is among the least digitized sectors in the world.

While architects and engineers have long since embraced BIM (Building Information Modelling) – and rely heavily on it throughout the design phase – most construction sites are still paper territories. Put simply: The office is digital, the construction site is analog. Apparently, there is a significant downside to this. Some studies claim that construction workers spend more than 14 hours per week on suboptimal activities:

  • 5.5 hours looking for project data/information.
  • 4.7 hours resolving conflicts.
  • 3.9 hours dealing with unnecessary mistakes and delays.

Something needs to bridge the gap between design (office) and execution (construction site).

VR significantly enhances learning, reducing the risk of misunderstandings – and mistakes

“People remember information better if it is presented in VR
vs. on a two-dimensional personal computer.”
University of Maryland, July 2018

Many studies indicate that experiencing – or doing – is the best way to learn, whereas reading and listening is associated with lower levels of learning retention. The latter two are prevalent in construction, and incidentally, poor communication and construction mistakes go hand in hand.

Construction processes are often complex and high-paced. Consider the above diagram, made by Igor Kokcharov (Ph.D). Knowing that any given construction manager relies almost exclusively on reading, hearing and seeing, is it any wonder why mistakes are made?

Our minds will attempt to complete missing information with biases that differ from person to person. In a pressed-for-time-environment, suddenly you have a Tower of Babel on your hands.

However, if you’re in construction, and you employ VR as part of the toolkit, both pre- and mid-construction, you will gain insight at a completely different level than would ever be possible via blueprint or 2D screen. Just see for yourself:

The ways in which you can interact with the model in VR is almost infinite:

  • Activate layers from all disciplines – ARK, RIB, RIE and so forth.
  • Twist and turn objects and elements as you would in the real world.
  • Curious about the ceiling? Simply look up.
  • Scale the model as you please – even full scale.
  • Save and share views, add comments.
  • Invite anyone else in – from anywhere.
  • Look at other media, like PDFs, while in VR.

Meeting up in a building that doesn’t yet exist? No problem.

New software, like Dimension10’s, enables multi-user collaboration in VR.

This is where it gets really interesting. Because, unless you’re putting together a backyard patio or a playhouse for your kids:

Construction projects are multi-person projects.

The true magic happens when we collaborate. Thus, single-user VR obviously has its limitations.

Multi-user VR, however, mimics how engineers and architects work out issues in the real world – visualizing and discussing 3D models – except in VR, they’re completely immersed and interacting with a level of precision that can only be compared to the finished built environment. They can grab the model, twist it, turn it around, zoom, go full-scale, measure, comment or ride virtual lifts – you name it.

“Poor project data and miscommunication on projects is responsible for 48% of all rework in construction in the U.S., meaning that it will account for a total of $31.3 billion in rework in the U.S. alone in 2018.”
From the report “Construction Disconnected:
The High Cost of Poor Data and Miscommunication”

And that is just pre-construction.

Mid-construction, at regular intervals, they can overlay the 3D model with real 3D scans from the construction site and assess any deviations, as the project progresses. This makes it possible to address budding mistakes proactively, or at least correct them at an early stage, rather than reactively when the walls and ceilings are closed up and users already populate the building.

As the estimated rework expenditure in 2018 amounted to a cool $538 billion, the business case for added precision in construction should be a no-brainer. Multi-user VR can help tick many of the boxes that currently lead to a mismatch between what we intend – and what we actually build.

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Ready to try it out for yourself?