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How Virtual Reality Is Changing Construction

business.com editorial staff
business.com editorial staff

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

  • Virtual reality is being utilized in a wide range of industries, including the construction industry. It can be used as an effective tool for safety and training and avoiding costly overruns.
  • The use of virtual reality in the construction industry gives management as well as employees a clear, more realistic view of what to expect on the job site.
  • Virtual reality can help ensure the safety of employees, provide a rapid view of what can be changed to improve productivity, and allow management a clear view of designs and construction sites before building begins.

While mainstream virtual reality 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.

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 virtual reality 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 that 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 be 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 homeowner and contractor network EFynch, said that as virtual and augmented reality 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 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 offsite 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 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.

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. CertifyMe.net, a forklift training and certification company, has a VR training program that allows trainees to practice working the machinery in an easy and safe environment. It reduces 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, owner and founder of CertifyMe.net. "Forklifts can be dangerous and cause about 100,000 injuries every year, and the main cause of forklift accidents were because 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

Virtual reality 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.

Reduced labor costs

Along with the savings that virtual reality 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, virtual reality 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.

Fewer delays in 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. Virtual reality provides 3D models, which allow management to see the conditions as changes occur and instantly adapt to them.

Reduction in rework

Virtual reality 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.

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