Augmented Reality enables the integration of physical reality and the digital world. Discover the benefits of Augmented Reality Construction
Augmented Reality, or AR, is a highly innovative topic especially in our time of quickly evolving technologies. Designed to raise productivity levels and reducing waste, it seems that all industries are eager to adopt AR for their integrated design workflows. But what are the latest AR applications in the construction industry and what are the connections between Augmented Reality and BIM ?
What does Augmented Reality mean in the world of construction?
Augmented Reality means reality as the user perceives it but with an extra layer of information based on digital data. The Construction industry has certainly been slow to adapt to the most recent technological advancements but with the evermore demanding presence of Building Information Modelling (BIM) collaboration and coordination processes, construction manufacturer’s exceeding expectations are starting to push AEC professionals to include Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) to meet quality and productivity requirements. This visually enabling technology, allows construction companies to take customers inside their new building for a virtual tour to test design solutions and avoid communication gaps, way before the construction phase even begins.
Augmented Reality is therefore the technology that allows the integration of the physical and digital worlds, allowing computer generated objects to coexist in the user’s physical environment.
Depending on the specific situation, AR technology can:
- virtually enlarge the amount of information that can be accessed for a real object, enriching what we perceive with our senses, while allowing us to interact virtually with the surrounding digital objects;
- add layers of information to a real space that has no objects.
This reality, enhanced by digital objects, can be viewed through the use of common devices such as smartphones and tablets, or more sophisticated smart-glasses and visors, or hi-tech bracelets.
In the construction world, augmented reality creates and enhances exact real-world replicas for better viewing experiences, alongside an improved understanding of the entire project based on Virtual Reality optimized models.
The potential for AR to become a valuable tool in architecture, engineering and construction sectors is immense thanks to the wide range of applications it provides throughout the entire life-cycle of a building.
How do BIM and Augmented Reality interact?
The integration between BIM and Augmented Reality allows us to virtually enrich the information package produced with our BIM model and produces enormous advantages for both construction stakeholders alike (designers, engineers, builders, etc.) and for the end customer. Here’s why.
Let’s think about the enormous advantage deriving from the possibility of showing a potential buyer an apartment without any furniture. By using AR, we can virtually and dynamically add our furniture using a common device such as our smartphone or tablet. This process allows the customer to examine spaces and design solutions or even identify potential design flaws and concerns. The virtually inserted objects are not simple 3D objects but precise digital models of architectural objects created with BIM software and that can be purchased directly from the manufacturer.
For operators in the construction sector, however, integrating BIM and AR means working on a much smarter construction site with consequent savings in terms of time and costs.
Imagine for example being part of a team that is in the middle of a construction project. During one of the site visits, builders are laying the false ceilings but you need to check the underlying HVAC system. The integration between BIM and Augmented Reality allows us to instantly integrate the information model with the physical world.
We can dynamically view the ducting and plumbing systems or maybe continue the visit by moving on to checking materials and other finishes or whether they correspond to the project requirements and specifications. In that case, all we need to do is just set the correct level in our digital BIM model.
Therefore, integrating the BIM model with Augmented Reality allows you to:
- have greater awareness of spatial relationships;
- detect errors or interferences;
- make quick decisions reducing the chance errors;
- save energy, time and money.
What are the 7 main applications of AR in the construction sector?
In construction, Augmented Reality finds different applications at various stages of the design process. Let’s see the seven main uses of AR technology in a project workflow:
- Project Planning:
The added value that augmented reality provides to the project already begins in the planning phase. In this design step, Augmented Reality offers the possibility of virtually showing the complete work at a very high level of detail, thus being able to assess its environmental and social impact.
This phase is also very important to make sure that what is designed reflects the customer’s demands. The use of augmented reality, integrated with BIM, allows designers and builders to virtually show the work to the customer by superimposing it on the real space. The customer will then be able to propose any changes before the construction begins.
- Accurate measurements:
Augmented reality devices allow the measurement of physical elements within a space. This means that by integrating BIM with the AR we can precisely determine the dimensions and see how the project will appear. It is clear how these potentials affect the ability to determine the hours of work and the materials needed with greater efficiency and reliability too.
- Revision and modification of the project on site:
One of the main advantages of using Augmented Reality construction technology, is the ability not only to view the model but also to make changes directly on site. Using an AR-enabled mobile device with a digital overlay of the project, designers can make virtual changes to the digital model on the fly. This will allow them to understand how such changes will affect the rest of the structure without making changes to the actual physical structure and therefore without any on site delays. An on-site control of the project through Augmented Reality also allows you to discover any possible inconsistency in the architectural project and quickly adapt it the project with the necessary changes, preventing future waste of time and costs. Approved changes are updated in real time, reducing the risk of workers following outdated plans.
- Specific Health and Safety training:
The issue of safety is always a hot topic in the world of construction and the integration of augmented reality with BIM promises positive implications especially with regard to the training of professionals. The possibility of using the Digital Twin of the works within augmented reality allows construction companies to train workers in a safe and risk-free environment. BIM software for site management allows you to simulate scenarios and also create virtual training scenarios based on what will be the real working conditions with the aim to improve workers’ awareness of safety, provide clear instructions and reduce training costs and downtime delays.
- Health & Safety and monitoring:
Thanks to the application of Augmented Reality, the Safety Coordinator, the Project Manager and other professionals involved on site can easily compare the BIM model with the actual structure, taking photos of this overlap, and sharing information instantly.
- Team Collaboration:
Construction is a highly collaborative industry and effective teamwork is the imperative to ensure that a project is completed on schedule and on budget. However, not all team members working on a project can be on site at all times. In a traditional approach to design, this involves postponing problem resolutions until all parties involved have made the necessary changes. Augmented reality allows professionals to remotely inspect the construction site as if they were there in person, so you can troubleshoot and fix errors in real time without the need to deal with costly delays. Those present on site can also use augmented reality to capture images or videos of any problems encountered, which distant teams can view and send their comments on. Thanks to augmented reality, therefore, collaboration between project team professionals is also possible remotely and this allows to drastically reduce the time and costs otherwise necessary for the resolution of such problems directly on site.
In conclusion, the augmented reality, used for different purposes during the entire life cycle of an asset, enhances productivity and reduces costs associated with interferences identified at a later stage of works or for changes made on a construction site where works have already started.
What are the advantages and limitations of AR in the Construction Industry?
The advantages of Augmented Reality in the construction sector are manifold and even though this technology is still quite expensive, they are constantly decreasing with market investors forecasting an integration even in small and medium-sized company workflows.
These companies will benefit from the advantages of Augmented Reality in construction due to better finances and improved customer loyalty.
In the Construction Industry, the completion of projects according to the established timescales is a fundamental aspect to ensure compliance with the budget. We certainly know how much applying the BIM methodology is valuable in this sense. Thus, if we add Augmented Reality to the digital twin obtained from BIM modellers, meeting delivery deadlines and therefore being able to keep the project budget in line becomes a much easier objective to accomplish.
This precision and efficiency allow construction companies to plan reliable projects, improve customer relationships and therefore generate long-term returns on investment.
In practical terms this means that the benefits of augmented reality in the construction sector are quite evident, however there are still some limitations to its application:
- the first limitation, rather than concerning the technology itself, concerns familiarity with its use. The integration of Augmented Reality in the AEC sector is still limited, probably because it is considered a technology that is not yet fully mature but above all because there’s still a lot of training to do.
- another obstacle is the economic implications that the implementation of Augmented Reality requires. This is mainly why many companies, especially small and medium-sized ones, are still reluctant to invest in this technology.
- the use of Augmented Reality requires a stable WLAN and Internet connection, not always guaranteed on site.
What is the future of augmented reality in the construction world?
Although we are not currently facing a massive use of this technology in the AEC sector, AR has all the right ingredients in order to become an indispensable part of the construction sector in the near future, especially considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that has pushed construction companies to operate remotely and consequently implement digital solutions.
Companies involved in the development of this technology continuously improve the products they offer, making apps faster and more intuitive and integrating AR technology directly into design software solutions.
As the technology continues to mature, it begins to be more affordable. Researchers are therefore optimistic and stress that the use of AR technology in the AEC sector will see strong growth in the next 5-10 years. Ultimately, a larger-scale adoption of AR technology will be driven by two things: the willingness of construction professionals to go through the digital transformation accepting the use of AR technology and the level of maturity of the technology itself.
Designing and embracing the digital revolution, and integrating Augmented Reality with BIM, requires a certain amount of foresight but the advantages are before everyone’s eyes. So, get on-board, design with BIM software and “increase” your reality!