How McCarthy Saved Time and Money On Design With Virtual Reality in Construction

September 6, 2019 Lauren Ginsberg

Founded over 150 years ago, McCarthy Building Companies has never shied from innovation. As technology continues to move faster and faster, savvy construction firms like McCarthy push the limits of technology and construction. With the implementation of tech like virtual reality in construction, the goal is always to find solutions that offer the practical benefit of a higher quality job, completed faster, and for less cost.

McCarthy used virtual reality to obtain such benefits on a complex project for Providence Tarzana Medical Center in California. The project combined renovations to existing structures with a new building on the Tarzana campus. The project also had numerous stakeholders involved. This complexity was the cause of a lengthy and expensive buy-in process in the final design stage.

Traditional methods of physical mock-ups and drawing review were slowing down progress. So McCarthy decided to leverage its EBA with Autodesk to maximize software usage and generate 3D renderings in Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). These virtual solutions gave all parties an easy way to view the designs, saving McCarthy and Providence time and money.



McCarthy generated 3D renderings in Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).

Image courtesy: McCarthy Building Co.


Design Before Virtual Reality in Construction

The many working parts in a hospital require multiple design approaches and multiple stakeholder reviews. McCarthy has to solicit design buy-in and approvals from all key players before construction begins.

Many rooms of the hospital are exact replicas of each other, so the McCarthy team does a physical mockup of one room to represent them all. Other areas such as an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) have a variety of outlets, medical devices, gas hookups, oxygen hookups, and other pieces of essential medical equipment that must be modeled and coordinated before construction begins. These life-saving components are reviewed by surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, and other relevant clinicians.

With the complexities of the ICU requiring so many eyes for design buy-in, McCarthy’s early approach was to build a full physical mockup of the ICU and present it to all relevant parties. Coordinating a meeting time was difficult, and getting approvals was a slow process.

As change requests came in, the costs amplified. Each time a change was requested, McCarthy had to physically alter the model, resulting in added time and money and requiring another scheduled review.

After seven weeks, the team still had not received approval and revisions to the mock-up were in excess of $80,000.

The construction team had a separate challenge on their hands. While accuracy is imperative on every job site, the multitude of design components imperative in life-saving situations presented an even greater need for total precision. They knew they would be working with as-built documents from the original hospital design while simultaneously constructing a brand-new building. The team needed a solution that enabled them to identify every discrepancy between the architect’s design, as-built documents, and the existing structure.

With the costs and complexities of buy-in becoming paramount, McCarthy knew it was time to look for an innovative solution.



Virtual designs allowed construction team members to see exactly how renovations would fit into the existing structure.

Image courtesy: McCarthy Building Co.


VR Design Enables Buy-In and Reduces Risk

Using tools already familiar to the team McCarthy turned to Autodesk® Revit® and Autodesk® 3ds Max® software to enable virtual reality in its construction design. It leveraged both its EBA with Autodesk and its own growing Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) team.

The designs began first as a model in Revit, then were then converted to 3ds Max. This format enabled ease of additional changes or features. Though the workflow was familiar to the team, the design features unique to the hospital required them to innovate. Thus, the team explored new features in 3ds Max. These 3ds Max designs were then converted for use in the VR platform Unreal Engine.

McCarthy’s team virtually designed three rooms using this method. They then presented the models on site to all stakeholders for three consecutive days. No large meeting coordination was necessary. Relevant parties viewed the model on their own schedule. In the process, updates to the virtual model were made by the VDC team in real time and reviewed immediately. No followups required.

The virtual designs were also used to allow all construction team members to see exactly how renovations would fit into the existing structure, and how the new building looked with the old. This resolved potential issues during construction prior to the construction phase even starting.

To achieve this McCarthy leveraged a headset tool called DAQRI. The team loaded models from the Autodesk® BIM 360® Docs cloud to the DAQRI headset, allowing anyone on site with the headset to view building design features or x-rays of underground components. McCarthy successfully used DAQRI to catch design discrepancies prior to construction. For example, teams troubleshot a discrepancy in the installation of an intricate new equipment system into the existing roof inside the AR design.



Using virtual reality for the final construction design, the team fully generated all designs within only four weeks.

Image courtesy: McCarthy Building Co.


Success With Virtual Reality in Construction

Now using virtual reality for the final construction design, the team fully generated all designs within only four weeks. The three-day tour of the VR models was a huge success with the owners. Not only did everyone have a chance to offer input, McCarthy got the buy-in and approvals from all stakeholders within those three days. This compared to the seven weeks previously spent meant a remarkable return on the innovative approach.

The entire VR experience cost $36,900 – less than half of the $80,000 cost of updates to the physical model. It is difficult to tell how much more time McCarthy would have spent or money it would have cost continuing to make improvements to the physical mock-up.

Leveraging the DAQRI AR hardware also proved to be efficient and cost-effective. Before installing intricate pipe-work in the roof of the existing building, the team used the AR headset to confirm the as-built documents aligned with the architect’s model. This exploration of the existing structure against the architect’s model revealed a one-foot discrepancy, a result of an error in the as-built documents. Without the ability to check for errors using DAQRI, this discrepancy would not have revealed itself until construction. It is estimated the issue would have cost at least $20,000 to resolve. The DAQRI system itself cost $5,000.

By maximizing its Partnership with Autodesk, McCarthy gained the ability to utilize existing software beyond the firm’s previous capabilities. Their willingness to innovate and implement virtual reality in construction design resulted in a clear win.

Providence Tarzana Medical Center also placed great value in the use of virtual reality. The center hosted a benefit night for a group of major funders featuring the model. During the wine and cheese event, donors had the opportunity to view the VR model and experience first-hand what their donation would accomplish. Though no donation numbers have been released, the evening was a huge success for the hospital.

“For the future of the company, we're going to be able to attract more of the top talent coming out of school, by selling a compelling vision of doing the same job in a quicker way, in a better way, and I think in a more fun way. They're learning the technology now for the general curriculum, so they don't want to leave that behind. To be able to offer future partners that use of the technology to do their job in the best way possible, while still being able to go on a more traditional career path is what is going to separate us from our competition. This is part of all the ways we leverage technology, and make sure McCarthy is a leader in Design Phase Services, Integration with design teams and in its practical application of technology at the project level.”

- Jordan Moffett, Virtual Design and Construction Manager, McCarthy, Southern California Region

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