Digital Realities in the AEC Industry

a meeting room in virtual reality for an architecture and design projectPicture courtesy: Our client designfunktion

The Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) Industry as a whole or with its separate components, all rely on project designs and reviews.  Experience has shown that it is often difficult for customers to project 2D views into a spatial structure in their imagination to assess whether the design meets optimal requirements and corresponds to their ideas. Consequently, numerous alterations are needed to satisfy clients before buildings come into existence. These in turn lead to huge amounts of CAD data which becomes increasingly difficult for firms to handle. At every stage of this process, virtual reality has an important part to play.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) has been the go to for AEC firms since 1970s.  With a combination of various tools and technologies, BIM aids the generation and management of digital representations of places, including their physical and functional characteristics. These representations or files, called building information models, can be extracted and exchanged among networks to support decision-making for any physical infrastructure project. 

Advancement in BIM produced the concept of Virtual Design and Construction (VDC). This occurs when a BIM 3D model, along with all its data aspects, is inserted into a game engine or virtual reality software, to be converted into a realistic model. This model can be experienced in an immersive, virtual environment by using VR hardware like headsets. The main difference with a BMI model would be the ability to walk around and interact with the prototype, using VR gloves, even before the foundations of the building have been laid. VDC has, therefore, proven to be better than BIM in terms of various aspects. Let us take a closer look at each of them:

 

Enhanced Collaboration

Any AEC project involves numerous stakeholders ranging from engineers, designers and architects to the clients themselves. VR is extremely helpful in this regard as it enables improved internal communication and customer dialogue. stakeholders of a construction project collaborating and sharing ideas and feedbackEngineering 4.0 demands phase-oriented models and feedback from experts of different fields. VR facilitates this information exchange among different departments and stakeholders through a collaborative multi-user platform. This ensures that the actual model succeeds based on the contributions received for the digital mock-up. In addition to this easy access to data, large CAD files as well as other engineering data and instructions are seamlessly managed, exchanged and worked upon together. Thus, the best engineering experts and designers, regardless of location, can collectively work on a project to produce the best results.

 

Cost and Time Effectiveness

One of the biggest advantages of using VR in AEC projects is the reduction of total time in project completion. This aspect is related to the above mentioned benefit of better collaboration among stakeholders. We already talked about the need for innumerable alterations to models in traditional BIM. On the contrary, VDC allows fast development cycles as an active process element, accompanied by early feedback of results which translates into saving of much precious time that would otherwise be wasted in iteration loops. Alternative product concepts can be developed quickly and product specifications can be decided mutually. Therefore, lesser physical prototypes are necessary while maintaining higher planning quality and reliability. All of these factors ensure a joint reduction in project cost and time, leading to profitable returns.

 

Better Customer Experience

Since customers are the most important stakeholders and the AEC project revolves around their expectations of the final outcome, VDC turns out to be a major source of advantage here. Clients find it difficult to understand the technical terminology of their counterparts. Moreover, not every room looks the same from every perspective. Therefore, without being able to effectively envision how the final building would turn out, customers are unable to contribute with respect to valuable ideas and suggestions and thus, end up feeling dissatisfied during the project phase or even after the completion.

man carrying out virtual tour of a building, with a VR headset and controllers

VDC avoids confusing explanations and technical details about 3D models and instead gives customers a better idea of the implementation through virtual representations of the interior and exterior both. Digital showrooms become the hub for Interactive presentations of the product to secure a common understanding with the client about the materials to be used and angles to be set. Not only can different variants be displayed in a simple way, but the model can also be demonstrated during operation. For example, a restaurant can be shown with customers at different times of the day to figure out its seating capacity.

Furthermore, VDC physically involves customers in the construction and design phase. They can conduct virtual tours of buildings and check the feasibility of furniture, alter sizes of rooms, change colors of walls, switch materials, fabrics and textures, etc. Comparison possibilities exist, e.g. for factory or building environments, to decide which one would be more suitable. Thus, an interactive VR experience convinces clients that they are making a more reliable purchase decision and gives you more satisfied customers.

 

VR Training

Like various other sectors including aviation, aerospace and manufacturing, VR can be used to train workers in the AEC industry as well. VR not only makes it possible to recreate scenarios but it achieves this feat in 3D using audio video simulation, referred to as 360 degree virtual reality. The result is interactive and immersive content that completely surrounds a user and enhances their role from basic passive viewing to active participation. VR training to increase on-site safety for engineers and plant workersThe multi-user experience aspect allows trainees to learn together, especially in situations that require group trainings during the construction project. Therefore, this immersive learning platform motivates and effectively educates your personnel while also leading to immense potential cost and time savings. The ability to learn realistically in a safe, comfortable and controlled environment ensures lower mistakes in actual projects and thus, higher safety on construction sites. Error reduction leads to lower consequential costs as well.

 

Better Project Management

Project management is hard, especially when it involves numerous stakeholders and is concerned with technical aspects like architecture, engineering and construction. Managers need to track progress along with ensuring that timelines are followed and expectations are met. VDC helps in identifying collisions, conflicts, and mistakes in an intuitive manner. Once problems are discovered, complex coordination issues can be resolved by placing consultants within VR spaces, exactly when and where they are needed. a female project manager successfully involving stakeholders

Thus, the time spent on-site, solving minor issues, is greatly reduced while on-site safety is increased via testing phases prior to implementation. Moreover, easy access to data and the ability to involve multiple users from anywhere in the world, ensure profitable and easily manageable projects.

 

Conclusion

To conclude, the once cost-prohibitive VR technology is now within the reach of almost all industries and the AEC sector is making good use of it. Advantages like convenient collaboration among various professionals, shorter iteration cycles for more cost-effective prototypes, and eventual customer satisfaction with projects promise that the return on investment in this leading technology will be worth it. This marketing video about an AEC firm’s use of VR is proof that VR is set to shape the future of this industry. We already have numerous partners from this sector, including Piterion, Aconext, AF Packaging Solutions, AMPROMA GmbH and designfunktion GmbH. We hope that you are next to deploy our software, STAGE, so you can create a win-win situation for yourself and your customers! :)