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3 Key Benefits of Building with Virtual Reality

Posted by Patrick Krzyzosiak on Thu, May 08, 2014 @ 14:05 PM
Patrick Krzyzosiak
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As virtual reality technologies become more commonplace, there is a growing demand for a spatial understanding of the future building and its' workspaces.  From a builder’s perspective, there is increasing pressure to perform more efficiently without sacrificing quality and safety.  The only way to enable these efficiencies is by rethinking the project delivery method. 

It is pretty well understood that every project requires a different set of skills from from each stakeholder.  When rethinking a project’s delivery, a majority of the important decisions occur early on in the design phase. Let’s suppose all the stakeholders are included at this phase allowing for more accurate scope and geometric detail. Together, project stakeholders could make decisions that would lead to dramatic effects on the physical construction of the project in the areas of timing, delivery and cost.What if a virtual reality prototype was generated to support critical project decision-making? What would be the impact?

Stepping back for a second, from a builder’s perspective, there is an equal concern and desire to know a project’s required timing, delivery and cost usually discovered at the design phase. These factors need to be factored in for BIM integration as well as furthering the process of refining scope, sharpening project costs, setting the schedule, reducing project risk and streamlining procurement.

If the builder requires the information to help develop an approach for construction, why not work through these areas together?  If the team could figuratively build the workspace in a spatial, virtual environment first, could the team mitigate the issues that would ultimately impact physical construction in real time?  It seems logical to conclude that any visitor entering the virtual reality environment could interact with the project model prototype and test the design prior to physical construction, it could very well result in many project delivery efficiencies.

In the video above, Andrew Beall of WorldViz is walking through the lobby of UCSF Mission Hall: Global Health & Clinical Sciences Building, a project currently under construction.

The following are 3 key benefits of building in a virtual reality environment.

(1.) Enhanced Design and Construction Collaboration:

The general contractor is typically not present during the design phase. As a result, the building information modeling effort was redundant thus wasting both valuable time and project funds. Today, the general contractor can be even more effective upon project program kick-off by working with the architect to design and build the model that will be used to generate a virtual reality prototype.  The virtual reality environment allows the architect and general contractor to walk through the project together to identify potential issues and improvements early on.  This is also a time when we can also discuss alternative design solutions. In addition, the owner and future occupants have the ability visit their workspace and provide feedback on function and aesthetics. This environment provides a place for team interface and interactivity at the design phase. 

(2.) Streamlined Delivery of Construction Services:

The spatial virtual reality experience allows for a more interactive inspection and validation. The team has the ability to make a design change in an immersive environment in real time. The idea is to make the project changes at the design phase to reach an early consensus and gain owner acceptance and approval. As a result, there will be fewer scope changes, increased scope accuracy and reduced subcontractor and trade contractor default. When this kind of progress is made early on in the design phase, there is a reduction in design change, time, and cost savings for the owner.

(3.) Ability To Be More Proactive and Predictive

Once a design change is made in the model, that change is instantaneously updated in an integrated schedule that allows the team to see the resulting earned value.  This real-time integrated schedule also allows the team to monitor the real-time progress of construction.

Today, the power of model-based cost estimating is also greatly under-estimated particularly in areas of timesavings.  If model based cost estimating practices are in place early on in the design phase, there is a tremendous opportunity to save time, compare quantity takeoffs, save value project time and increase the accuracy of project estimates. Because the design model has the potential to provide greater scope accuracy and geometry, it becomes a more reliable representation of the project for bidding purposes.

There is no doubt building with virtual reality makes great strides in project delivery efficiency.  In sum, a virtual environment allows a builder to proactively work together with the design team on the key areas that tend to be established during design development, including: (1) project communications, (2) scope control, (3) preconstruction, (4) design/construction workflow and (5) operations and maintenance. Being able to visualize the final project and expected outcome in a virtual environment prior to physical construction equates to a dramatic shift from a traditional delivery to a more proactive and predictive approach.  

As an industry, we need to realize the benefits working within a spatial environment. The design and construction community needs to have an open exchange about how to incorporate these methods that allow for improved project performance.

What are your experiences with building in a virtual environment? Tell us in the comments section!

Topics: Design Phase, Virtual Reality, Virtual Design and Construction (VDC)