Written by Morgan Kaenzig de Denus, AMAST Content
Virtual reality is becoming increasingly popular in a variety of industries, including the construction industry.
It’s easy to assume that virtual reality’s (VR) usefulness starts and ends with gaming, but the truth is that VR has a lot to offer a wide variety of industries—including the construction industry. After all, VR has come a long way in recent years and, much like construction, centers around how people experience space.
So, what exactly is virtual reality?
It’s an artificial three-dimensional environment that people can explore and interact with. So, while 3D modeling enables users to view a detailed virtual project model, VR takes it one step further by immersing them in a computer-generated, 360-degree version of the project.
As you might expect, creating a VR experience requires lots of work (and money). You’ll likely need to collect visual references, license software, purchase and maintain advanced computers and servers, and recruit and pay developers to create cutting-edge graphics. However, investing time and money into VR is usually worth it, as the technology can help you:
Not only do construction sites require many pairs of hands, but they also often require many sets of eyes, including managers, supervisors, architects, shareholders, and company representatives. Traditionally, all of these people would need to regularly visit the construction site to perform inspections and review progress. However, VR enables them to keep an eye on projects from a distance, saving them the time and hassle of traveling to sites and accelerating the problem-solving process.
For example, if there’s a problem, construction won’t need to stop for hours—or days—until the manager has time to visit the site. Instead, they can throw on a VR headset from wherever they are to quickly assess the problem and offer a solution to keep construction running smoothly. This is particularly useful for larger construction companies that operate across the country or the world.
Over the last few decades, the construction industry has come a long way toward improving worker safety, but there’s always room for improvement. Since VR is virtual, it’s an incredibly safe method of training new workers.
Instead of taking new workers onto construction sites to give them practical—yet potentially hazardous—information and experience, construction companies can use simulations. VR training simulators enable workers to familiarize themselves with equipment and recognize the hazards of construction sites without putting themselves at any risk. Instead of watching a video or answering a question about how to solve certain complications, they can safely gain virtual experience in real time. This way, they’re prepared and far less likely to hurt themselves, or anyone else, when the time comes to start operating machinery in real life.
Effectively collaborating with team members is often tricky, especially in today’s increasingly remote world. However, VR offers teams the ability to see sites without traveling, enabling them to detect issues, ask questions, and make decisions based on the same information in real time. Team members will be able to give and receive feedback faster and communicate more clearly throughout the entire construction process. In some cases, they can even walk around the virtual environment together, performing inspections and asking questions as if they were there in the flesh.
Plus, any changes made to the model or VR simulation will appear in real time. This can help ensure everyone’s on the same page and eliminate the risk of a team member opening and editing an out-of-date iteration.
VR will also help team members learn sites in their own time. So, whether they need a few hours or a few days to truly understand a construction site, they won’t have to worry about disrupting other people’s tours or workdays. They can even preview specific tasks to prepare for their arrival at the construction site or draw attention to any issues they discover immediately.
Having this higher level of connectivity and efficient way of communicating essential information will enable construction companies to hire the best managers and designers—no matter where they’re located. So, instead of limiting their options to the best candidates within a 30-mile radius, companies can work with the best in the country or even the world.
All too often, projects run into problems mid-construction. Not only are these problems expensive, but they can also grind everything on site to a halt as designers and architects scramble to come up with solutions.
Luckily, VR enables designers to quickly test revisions without needing to physically revisit the construction site. People can even visit projects virtually before construction begins to detect potential problems, saving everyone time, money, and frustration. Plus, they can then see how any changes they make affect the project in real time.
VR can also help construction companies cut costs and maximize their profit margins, as it will give managers a clear idea of what they need to do and what steps they’ll need to take. With that in mind, they can determine how much material they will need and avoid paying for and disposing of material they’ll never use.
Construction companies can also use the information gathered from VR to more effectively plan workdays and ensure they have the right workers scheduled at the right times. Plus, VR can help identify and resolve potentially costly issues before they occur.
VR can also help on the client side. Instead of relying solely on diagrams and architectural renderings, clients, stakeholders, and investors will be able to see and experience their new building for themselves before the foundation is even laid. Not only will this give them a deeper understanding of where the project is going, but it will also allow them to more easily identify and communicate any changes they want to make before construction begins, reducing the likelihood of new changes mid-project and making it easier for construction companies to meet their expectations. Essentially, VR enables them to see exactly what they’re getting before construction begins.
Plus, once construction begins, clients can use VR to virtually visit the site, regardless of where they are in the world, to see how everything is progressing. If they notice anything that isn’t to their liking, they can quickly point it out, so builders can quickly adapt and redirect their efforts.
VR technology isn’t perfect yet, but it’s already changing the construction industry. It will likely only become more important and allow for even more advancements as we continue to advance the technology and discover new applications. Someday, VR may become a common way to cut project costs and save construction time—it may even become an integral part of all construction projects!
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