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Updated Nov 03, 2023

How Virtual Reality Is Changing Construction

Virtual reality is being used in the construction industry to improve design, safety and training and to avoid costly overruns.

Danielle Fallon O'Leary
Written By: Danielle Fallon-O’LearySenior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
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While mainstream virtual reality (VR) is currently perceived as a tool for video games and entertainment purposes, developers and construction experts are finding practical applications for the technology in their field. Implementing virtual reality in construction has opened several avenues for improving design, pitching projects, and enhancing training and safety. These aren’t just ideas for the distant future; companies are implementing these ideas today, to much success.

How virtual reality is changing construction

Design and pitching

No matter how accurate schematics or concept renderings are, there’s no better way of perceiving how a project will turn out than an accurate, detailed render viewed with VR technology. Architects and designers are investing in VR technology that assists them in getting the fine details just right by putting them in the room they’re designing.

VR technology can help you and others on your team envision how the project will work out. Yulio VR is a program that allows designers to turn their 3D designs into VR-compatible renderings they can show collaborators and clients. It can sometimes be difficult to convey the scale and potential of a design, so virtually showing clients is much easier and more accurate.

Woodhouse Workspace is an office design firm that uses VR technology to show clients potential office layouts and different ways to utilize their building’s space. Keep in mind that implementing VR technology doesn’t have to be expensive. While high-quality VR headsets can cost hundreds of dollars, common mobile phones can be retrofitted to act as VR headsets, and a headset isn’t always necessary to tour virtual spaces. A desktop interface, such as how Google Street View works, can be used to move around the virtual space.

Teris Pantazes, co-founder of pre-sale home improvement company Settle Rite Financial Service, said that as VR and augmented reality (AR) tech becomes more refined and available, within five years it will be on almost every construction site and part of nearly every aspect of the process, no matter how small, like home repairs.

“As a construction veteran, I would appreciate the application in helping to design and walking through proposed repairs to try and troubleshoot issues that may arise during construction,” Pantazes said. “I can see the technology being used to make sure that [a] large bathtub fits [in] the early-1900s townhouse or a heavy piece of equipment can maneuver a hillside to reach a backyard.”

It can also find use during construction, such as AR tech that allows workers to speak with someone off-site and remotely walk them through the site, he said. Currently, the industry getting the most use out of VR is real estate, giving clients a firsthand view of their future home or commercial space before it’s built.

“VR tours are proving very popular and highly effective, and will only continue to gain traction,” said Daniel Cooke, formerly of VR production company Pebble Studios. “They are currently occupying a high-end space within the real estate industry, offering the luxury of being able to view a property interest from anywhere in the world. As production costs come down, this type of service will become far more common and eventually become the norm.”

Cooke said that as the technology develops, it will become cheaper and more available as well as more advanced, so much so that it’ll depict photo-real renderings and change how construction projects are pitched.

>> Learn more: How Virtual Reality Technology Is Changing Manufacturing

Safety and training

“VR, video learning and microlearning apps are beginning to be used in the construction industry to train more effectively than ever before,” said Samantha B. Rego, communication and public relations manager of Vector Solutions. “In such high-risk environments, quality training is paramount to prepare workers, improving safety and leading to less accidents on the job.”

Training and safety programs are being developed to make such training more accessible and safer for employees. Such programs can allow trainees to practice working the machinery in an easy and safe environment. They reduce the risk of injury and damage to equipment while allowing for trial and error.

“Workers in construction, especially equipment operators, require a lot of training, practical guidance and information on industry rules and regulations before they can operate equipment,” said Tom Wilkerson, president and CEO of CertifyMe.net. “Forklifts can be dangerous and cause about 100,000 injuries every year, and the main cause of forklift accidents [is] operators weren’t trained correctly.”

Pantazes said VR training can be valuable for workers overseas and in rural places. “In a previous position, I helped to build wind parks. Often, we were in far-flung places: sub-Saharan Africa, Patagonia. Training was important, because you could train local guys without having to send them off to training for weeks on end away from their families. This aspect will have a great impact on rural areas in helping with career training.”

Customer satisfaction

VR improves the customer experience by providing a way for the potential property owner to view and/or market a space before the construction is complete. It allows future property owners to experience what the property will actually look and feel like, to actually be in the space, see the views and understand the layout.

Labor costs

Along with the savings that VR provides for safety on a construction site, it can also reduce labor costs. This type of technology can be used in combination with intelligent construction machinery, which allows work to be conducted from inside the office as opposed to several workers physically being in the field. For example, VR allows site managers to preview the calculations of work areas, such as how much earth needs to be removed in specific areas, instead of placing equipment and operators on the site and simply instructing them to dig an area.

Timeline

Construction projects are notorious for being in a constant state of flux, which makes it extremely difficult to predetermine and maintain timelines; even small changes on a job site can delay completion by days or weeks. VR provides 3D models, which allow management to see the conditions as changes occur and instantly adapt to them.

TipBottom line
Leveraging other technologies, such as estimating and project management software, can also make it easier for construction companies to manage and update timelines.

Rework

VR simulation of projects allows for an up-to-date view of jobsite conditions. This process helps to prevent reworking due to miscalculations. For example, when the ground is being broken for the foundation, one of the most common mistakes is pouring the concrete slab in the wrong place, which ultimately requires subsequent work to replace or rework the misaligned foundation.

It’s easy to see how VR technology will improve the construction industry. While the technology is in development, the industry is still putting it to use. As VR finds its way to more construction sites, design firms and training companies, it will likely change the construction process forever.

More innovative tools for the construction industry

Estimating software

Construction companies no longer need to create manual spreadsheets for bid estimates, thanks to estimating software. Contractors can use estimating software to create bid estimates, collect data and documentation, and manage projects and their schedules. Many of these programs include features such as cost comparisons, instant takeoffs for estimate adjustments, blueprint viewing/editing and mobile access.

Here are some of the best construction estimating software options:

  • CoConstruct: A top name in the industry, CoConstruct offers a suite of construction estimating features at an accessible price point. Its end-to-end integration allows for a streamlined bidding process, including automated reminders, single-entry estimation and real-time schedule management.
  • MeasureSquare: MeasureSquare is a cloud-based solution that focuses on floor planning and design projects. It integrates with various third-party software to manage estimate spreadsheets, sales, orders and inventory.
  • STACK: With four service plans, including a free one, STACK is among the most affordable estimating software options. The software integrates with multiple storage and project management solutions, and users can upload estimate data from anywhere with STACK’s mobile compatibility.

The ideal estimating software solution for a company will depend on various factors, including the scale and volume of projects, how many employees or users will be accessing the software, and budgetary considerations.

Credit card processors

Construction credit card processors offer a convenient solution for customers making payments on their projects. Most credit card processors are independent sales organizations (ISOs) or member service providers (MSPs), which can be coordinated with a company’s merchant account. ISOs/MSPs are ideal for businesses that process $3,000 each month as well as those with varied transaction amounts, both of which tend to apply to construction businesses. 

The other common credit card processor type is a merchant aggregator or payment facilitator; these tend to be best for companies that process less than $3,000 monthly with steady transaction amounts.

Did You Know?Did you know
The key difference between an ISO and an MSP is the payment network. Visa uses the term “ISO,” while Mastercard uses “MSP.” Both refer to third-party payment processors that work with companies’ merchant accounts.

Construction companies looking for the best credit card processor providers might consider the following solutions:

  • MerchantOne: MerchantOne has garnered praise for its variety of payment options for customers, including mobile payment. Users also appreciate MerchantOne’s flexible pricing models, quick access to funds (typically by the next business day) and overall ease of use and navigation. Learn more in our MerchantOne review.
  • Payment Depot: Growing construction businesses or those with high-volume transactions can turn to Payment Depot. This credit card processor is not only designed to manage large payment volumes, but it also offers multi-tiered, subscription-based pricing at wholesale processing rates. Learn more in our review of Payment Depot.
  • Chase Payment Solutions: As one of the largest acquiring banks in the U.S., Chase offers some of the quickest payouts among credit card processors, as well as easy integration for current Chase account holders. Learn more in our Chase Payment Solutions review.

POS systems

A point-of-sale (POS) system isn’t just a digital cash register; it helps construction businesses of all sizes easily manage transactions and inventory. Companies can choose from POS software, hardware or both, depending on their organizational needs. [Discover asset management tips for your construction firm.]

Some of the best POS systems include:

  • Clover: Clover is an all-in-one POS system and credit card processor, making it an appealing option for businesses that want to keep their solutions streamlined. In addition to managing purchases and inventory, Clover also offers sales reporting and integration with QuickBooks. Learn more in our review of Clover.
  • Square: One of the best-known POS solutions for small businesses, Square serves companies of all sizes across varied industries. It offers customizable free and paid plans, as well as various add-on services and integrations. Learn more in our Square review.
  • Epos Now: Another all-in-one POS solution, Epos Now integrates with hundreds of third-party applications, including other payment processors. Epos Now also offers multiple hardware options and a straightforward onboarding process, making it easy for teams to learn and use the POS. Learn more in our Epos Now review.

Smart helmets

Smart helmets are hard hats with integrated smart technology. Designed specifically for workers on construction sites, this wearable tech combines the strength and safety of a traditional hard hat with the efficiency-boosting features of smart technology.

Smart helmets come with built-in features like sensors, AR and tracking tools. The tech can send alerts for dangerous conditions or a worker in need of assistance. Some smart helmets also offer site planning tools for engineers, such as reviewing blueprints and even creating new images (via AR) directly from the visor.

Other notable features of smart helmets include:

  • Thermal vision: Workers can analyze temperature data on the worksite, increasing workers’ safety. 
  • Data collection: Smart helmets can track multiple types of data, including employee health and peak productivity times.
  • Live instructions and support: Teams can view augmented instructions with visual aids from the helmet’s visor, as well as receive remote support from experts in real time.
  • Preventative safety features: Sensors on the helmet can identify potential crashes on a job site and even warn users to slow down, reducing the likelihood of accidents.

While smart helmet technology is still in its early stages, it offers the potential for increased efficiency and safety on construction sites.

Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Danielle Fallon O'Leary
Written By: Danielle Fallon-O’LearySenior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
Danielle Fallon-O'Leary is a longtime marketer with a passion for helping clients strengthen their online brands. She has managed clients' social media accounts, developed marketing campaigns and compiled key data for analytics reports. Other projects have included newsletter curation, workflow management and search engine optimization. Along with her marketing responsibilities, Fallon-O'Leary has had an up-close look at other aspects of small business operations, including invoicing and accounting, employee recruitment and training.
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