Virtual reality in construction has long promised to be a valuable tool for AEC professionals. However, early adoption was challenged by a lack of seamless integration into workflows, and the costs associated with both the hardware and software made its early use cumbersome. Until now.
With the integration of InsiteVR, a virtual reality software program, into the BIM 360 construction management platform, AEC professionals can improve communication and collaboration by reviewing models in a virtual environment. With one click, teams can access 3D model data via InsiteVR to review models with a VR headset, eliminating the need for screen share or physical mockups, driving efficiencies across construction projects.
The value of immersive viewing with VR has been proven by PARIC, a general contracting, construction management and design/build firm whom recently celebrated 40 years of excellence. The firm executes a wide range of complex projects, yielding $650 million in annual revenue. It credits its success to a key commitment: effective communication and coordination through best-in-class tools, technology and continuous innovation.
PARIC’s willingness to deploy cutting edge solutions has reduced risk and improved collaboration across its projects. PARIC recently expanded its digital journey to leverage VR by partnering with the InsiteVR team to integrate models hosted in BIM 360 for use in design review, coordination and clash detection.
Seamless Workflows: A Revolution for Virtual Reality in Construction
Looking to improve communication during BIM coordination meetings, the PARIC team had two primary goals for the use of VR:
- Alleviate ambiguity over complex issues
- Solve communication gaps between model versions
“We needed a seamless solution to focus on project issues, not the drama of using VR,” says Andy Leek, VP of Technology and Innovation at PARIC.
While the idea of immersive viewing was promising, the team ran into several barriers with its first trials. Use of other VR software typically required special model prepping, which was time consuming. The cumbersome and expensive hardware itself was a barrier. The cost of it in part, but more than that, having multiple users in the room all tethered by chords to their headsets made for a clumsy scenario.
PARIC was not deterred. Leek and his team partnered with InsiteVR and Autodesk for a solution.
“We are big advocates for a single source of truth, which for us is BIM 360,” says Leek. “We wanted a product to link up to BIM 360 to make our workflow better by leveraging a common model that everyone looked to.”
After teeing up the challenge, within four months, collaborators created a ‘one click’ solution, automatically syncing InsiteVR software with BIM 360. The workflow was presented at Autodesk University 2018, and since then, tremendous progress has been made on the integration.
Clash Detection and BIM Coordination within a Virtual Environment
A typical BIM coordination meeting at PARIC brings a handful of stakeholders around a table to review design versions and discuss potential issues. Previously, various perspectives were time-consuming to reconcile between 2D and 3D model versions. Now, with integration between InsiteVR and BIM 360, the team can quickly get on the same page to address complex issues.
“Everything is coordinated in 3D before building,” says Leek. “This is hard to do with a mouse and keyboard and impossible to do onsite.”
Using the immersive virtual model, meeting participants gather inside a multi-user view of the pre-constructed space. They see each other, wave hello, then walk through the model together to highlight clashes, just as though they were onsite together.
Within seconds, a pendant light clash with ductwork piping is detected and noted verbally as an open issue. Without having to leave the virtual environment, the verbal note is automatically captured and synced to BIM 360 for assignment and tracking. Then, with a point of a finger, a quick arrow is drawn to highlight the issue.
The team moves on to conduct clearance reviews and other assessments as though they are conducting an actual walkthrough of the space.
After the virtual session ends, the opened issues are automatically available in the BIM 360 platform, ready to be assigned to an owner.
Later, when the team comes back to the virtual model, their previous notations are still there for quick review of the opened issues in progress.
Streamlining Workflows With Immersive Modeling
Teams at PARIC have yielded time savings and enhanced coordination to more efficiently resolve design issues with the use of InsiteVR. To do this they clearly identified parameters for VR’s use within coordination workflows.
“It is important to know what you want to review, before starting the meeting,” says Leek. “You don’t want meeting participants in a 3-hour session with their heads constantly inside a VR headset. We really did not want VR to be the center of attention in our meetings, instead we wanted it to simply be a tool that’s used as a part of the process.”
PARIC identified clear use cases for VR, limiting use to addressing complex issues. Setting limitations and rules has targeted the use of VR towards PARIC’s original goals of alleviating ambiguity and closing communication gaps.
Leek sites a further benefit of a visual, virtual environment that illustrates a single source of truth behind a complex problem. “When everyone is inside the model focused on the issue, they are not on their phones distracted by texts and emails, rather, they’re looking for information related to the issue. You would be surprised how much faster coordination sessions move as a result.”
Efficiency Through Innovation
The fearless collaboration between PARIC, Autodesk and InsiteVR has helped develop a tool that supplements how issues are resolved on projects. Incorporating first person point of view provides extra insight into interpreting design challenges that may not be addressed on screen or paper. Implementing VR into your workflow increases confidence and decreases risk by providing a deeper understanding of issues flagged and seeing the best way to fix it with stakeholders.
Leek says, “connecting the entire ecosystem has been game-changing. We are no longer emailing or FTPing large files, everyone has ease of access to one source of truth, everything is date and time stamped inside the model, and last-minute changes are available at a moment’s notice without any additional prep.”
The introduction of this exciting immersive environment has unmistakably streamlined workflows at PARIC to save time, reduce risk and enhance collaboration across various projects. VR shows a lot of promise and can enhance construction and design workflows on any project regardless of size and scope.