Two important keys to doing good business in the construction industry are knowing your customers and their needs, and collaboratively visualizing those needs. This ensures consistent, high-quality delivery that pleases customers and increases the bottom line. This is why many construction companies are incorporating virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) into their general contracting work — and why those who aren’t yet, should.
These innovative technologies have recently made a resurgence with the launch of the first consumer-ready Oculus Rift headsets — the first time this technology has been available to individual consumers and business users. While tech brands like Samsung have contributed to the growth of VR by marketing it as the next generation video gaming, construction companies are actively demonstrating its use in their own industry. While the possibilities will grow as the technology continues to develop, VR has already proven immensely useful in construction. Here are three ways this technology can help streamline complex, technical construction projects.
One of the most important, yet often most difficult, aspects in construction is for a project team and project owner to have a clear idea of what a completed project looks like. But one of VR’s most significant applications in the industry — building information modeling (BIM) — helps ensure contractors, teams, and customers are on the same page.
BIM turns a series of images into more detailed 3D pictures to create a model of the building space. The model is then used to take a customer or owner on a virtual tour of the project before breaking ground or beginning renovation.
While traditional visual mockups can be costly and time consuming to build and revise, VR allows owners and users to see the building space before the construction even begins, and visualize clearly what the project will eventually look like. This experiential process adds immense value to a project.
Adding virtual reality to a virtual mockup promises to give end users more of a ‘feel’ of the space, and connection to the project, than a 2D drawing ever could. It also opens up participatory design discussions with opportunities to virtually insert end users into a 3D space that they can walk around and experience.
For example, at a major renovation project for a high-production hospital, DPR Construction was faced with the challenge of showing the design and layout of operating rooms within the 85,000 square foot project to doctors, nurses and other hospital staff who were constantly on call at the Level 1 trauma center. There was no space in or around the hospital for a physical model, so DPR created an immersive virtual reality mockup using the Oculus Rift. The VR mockup only required two tools: a laptop and a headset. This process allowed end users to explore a full-scale, highly detailed operating room environment, and enabled the team to solicit invaluable design feedback from the people who would be using the hospital most.
In the construction industry, communication among owners, teams and end users drives decision-making. While it can be difficult to visualize a space on paper, VR’s 360° design makes it much easier to understand and react to a rendering, enabling the builders to better understand the end users’ most pressing needs and concerns.
A visual immersion into a project space fosters a more collaborative work environment, which allows more opportunities to share ideas and openly discuss potential challenges so everyone involved is aware of necessary adjustments during the pre-planning stages. Incorporating VR into a project can provide an intuitive, streamlined approach to greater collaboration and coordination among all parties involved.
The Future of VR in Construction
Virtual reality will continue to evolve within the next year, and the reaction within the industry will shape its place in the construction and design process. It’s likely that within five years, using virtual reality environments to mock up live design modifications —moving walls, adding furniture, altering finishes and more — will be commonplace, further enabling opportunities for creative and efficient design. Today, VR is most commonly used for visualization, but tomorrow it could be leveraged for real-time analysis and problem solving. It could be ubiquitous, an integral part of every construction process.
John Arcello is part of the DFW Business Unit Leadership Team at DPR Construction and has been intimately involved in its Advanced Technology / Mission Critical National Core Market team. DPR Construction is one of the country’s top technical builders and data center and telecommunications contractors in the U.S. (ENR 2016). Arcello has more than 16 years of experience in the delivery of mission critical, semiconductor, life science and healthcare projects, including industry leaders such as Digital Realty, Infomart, USAA and Facebook. www.dpr.com