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BIM and VR: how the construction industry is changing

Smart devices, virtual reality and cloud technologies are paving the way for a new frontier in the construction sector: let’s see how BIM and VR can interact

Immersive virtual reality environments have been used for a multitude of purposes in different fields, such as Gaming and other sectors, while, construction is the latest industry to take the plunge and incorporate virtual dimensions in Building Information Modelling. Evidence highlights that combining BIM and VR will drive the digital transformation of this sector.

This winning combination brings many advantages: being able to verify in advance space usage and coordination, make capillary controls and minimize design errors before moving to the practical project implementation. These are just some of the examples of the possible applications of virtual reality to construction.

In fact, the introduction of VR will offer the client the chance to experience the project while it was still in the design phase. This means that the project will look more realistic than a 3D model on a computer, while many problems will be identified and solved at an early stage.

BIM and VR: how the construction industry is changing


Further advantages of the interaction between BIM and VR are:

  • faster project approvals
  • better customer relations and higher levels of customer satisfaction
  • time saving and cost reduction.

The designer can use VR at various stages of the design process, at different Level of Detail (LOD). For example, a VR experience could take place in a non-photorealistic room, just to get a sense of spatial relationship and massing. Or the experience could be hyperreal and immersive.

Options for the adoption of VR

Virtual reality (VR) is a rapidly evolving industry that has been around in some forms for decades (debuting in 1968) and that is experiencing an unprecedented explosion in the last two years.

Companies that are already using BIM should be aware that there are a number of options available when experiencing VR.

BIM and VR: how the construction industry is changing


Widely available head-mounted displays (HMDs) such as: Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive, Microsoft HoloLens, e Google Cardboard, to name a few.

These tools allow architects and clients to have a fully immersive 3D experience and offer the opportunity to virtually cross an entire building and access all the relevant information. A fundamental aspect when you need to monitor costs and meet deadlines, making sure everything is as designed and planned.

Motion capture in real time is one of the main features. This allows the user to move around in a virtual environment as if it were real without using a mouse and keyboard to explore rooms and buildings. Some systems have even developed full body tracking systems with multiple sensors connected, making the experience as real as possible.

Then, there’s Mixed reality (MR) that blends reality with virtual images and holograms, and is becoming more common in BIM processes. This approach helps the user to obtain more information on the building construction or any internal component.

These technologies could evolve over time to provide more and more details, such as product and planning information, which will be useful during the design phase and throughout the building’s life cycle.

Challanges with BIM and VR

One of the key issues that could slow down the adoption of virtual reality in the BIM sector is the potential cost of the technology.

However, the price of VR technology has dropped significantly recently. If this trend continues, we can expect this technology to become more accessible for companies throughout the construction supply chain.

Common applications of VR in the construction sector start from a 3D model displayed in a virtual environment for marketing and project communication purposes. The target has now shifted to another aspect, namely the use of this technology to gather feedback from designers, potential users, clients, maintenance personnel throughout the entire design process.

The slow adoption of BIM in the construction sector represents another fundamental challenge. Its implementation is nonetheless an incontrovertible fact, while remaining tied to old traditional practices and methodologies will only make your work obsolete.

BIM and VR: how the construction industry is changing


BIM is not just an innovative technology, but represents a new way of working. It is enabled from a new approach to collaboration between designers through software interoperability, integration between processes and sustainability. The BIM model contains and integrates parametric information regarding the building and it components such as geographical location, geometry, properties of materials and technical elements, construction phases, maintenance operations, etc.

As a matter of fact, active participation, access to up-to-date information and coordination created by sharing a single model drastically reduces errors and inconsistencies, consequently avoiding many changes and, ultimately, lowering design costs.

That is why, no matter whether large or small practice, the BIM workflow efficiency will considerably improve productivity and performance.

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