When we think about the construction industry we often think about a ‘bricks and mortar’ type situation where development runs rampant, often at the expense of the environment. However, advances in digital and virtual technology, particularly within the sphere of 3D modeling and building information modeling (BIM), have a strong capacity to influence the ‘tides of change’. Offering an increased capacity to plan with unparalleled foresight, these technologies are at the forefront of the wave in fostering sustainability across the planet, literally ‘starting from the ground up’.
Whilst the construction industry has been dominated by a very analogue approach (comprising drafts, blueprints and physical model building) it is true that even this traditionally resistant sector has succumbed to a strong positive shift in terms of dynamic technologies. We see companies that have long offered a range of safety supply services (such as anchor point products, roof anchor products, and height safety equipment) now expanding their range to offer digitalised approaches. This is a step in the right direction in sustainable planning, with the provision for 3D modeling having the ability to inform system design, scope of works and much more.
Building information modelling
BIM uses 3D modeling generated from an amalgamation of digital building data. Therefore, it incorporates fully realised aspects of the actual construction elements (such as walls and roofs, windows and doors and even fixtures and specialised features). BIM allows a user to run computer simulations in order to plan a project without having to actually start any physical work. It can reveal flaws and miscalculations long before they have a chance to arise in actuality. Therefore, the use of 3D building models functions somewhat like a ‘practice run’.
This technology has many benefits, which some construction companies are now beginning to adopt and fully realise. These innovators are focusing on how this will benefit their industry, making the process both vastly more efficient (to assist in both a financial and ecological sense). The ability to predict and make calculated adjustments as a project evolves means that there are fewer mistakes, wastage is reduced and the flow of an entire project is optimised. Therefore, two kinds of costs are congruently minimised. The first is in the monetary sense, and the second is in terms of the building industry’s toll on the environment.
Augmented reality functions as an overlay of a computer-generated image on a person’s interface of the reality, providing a ‘birds’ eye view’ into what a given scenario might look like. Construction companies are starting to invest in programs and ‘wearables’ that facilitate augmented reality (and this really says a lot about an industry that is usually quite ‘set in its ways’). The potentialities that this technology can be hard to ignore. This is for good reason, with computer-generated models offering insight into not only what the final project will look like, but its many implications and likely success.
One of the most popular augmented reality wearable in the industry is the ‘Microsoft HoloLens’, (this is amidst an array of products that are customised alternatives developed by the construction companies themselves). It’s interesting to note that this kind of technology is now integrated into basic protective eyewear, effectively blending several key objectives into the one highly adaptable product.
The implementation of BIM and augmented reality makes for streamlined project management. Architectural firms and construction companies can understand how things will project over time. This also translates into showing plans to local governments and clients (with an enhanced ability to make lasting impressions). This allows for better-managed expectations as a building project can be fully explained, deliverables can be gauged and this can facilitate an improved turnaround time as a result. A big winner in this equation is the cause of sustainability as the environmental and social impacts of the project can be explained in a visual way (including aspects such as the time lapse technology). In the planning and permit stage of construction, this is invaluable – particularly in illustrating how a building structure will affect its surroundings.
The future of building
The construction industry has the ability to adapt to the modern landscape – provided it can fully embrace a cultural shift and new technological paradigm. This is about going beyond the concept of sustainability as a ‘buzzword’ and taking advantage of the real edge that BIM can provide in supporting greater transparency, improved efficiency, and more precise control throughout the various phases of design, construction, and operations.
This is reflected in the Australian government’s Green and Sustainable Building initiative. The website supports “high performance sustainable buildings, communities, precinct developments and cities that provide better productivity, health and wellbeing for occupants.” It is in the interest of national construction companies and architectural firms to develop in line with the sustainable aims of the Green Building Council of Australia (and potentially adopt its Green Star rating tool in creating an edge over competitors and making an ethical choice). It is apparent that this endeavour would be made far more amenable with the use of BIM and similar technologies.
In conclusion, it is a fact that forms of virtual and augmented reality are necessary drivers of the modern construction and architectural landscapes, their scope ever increasing in practical applications that are now paving the way in helping build a greener world.