The Next Level

TECHNOLOGYVR technology will have a big impact on BIM.

By Amanda Comunale

Building Information modeling (BIM) is far from a new concept in the construction industry. Companies of all sizes are being driven toward BIM workflows and BIM enabling technologies in order to stay competitive. Autodesk Revit has become an industry staple and collaboration tools are continually being developed to enable better communication across global teams. These collaboration tools, coupled with the Cloud, allow teams to access projects from any location, on a mobile device or PC. With all of this technology available today, where will BIM go next?  

Updates to BIM enabling software continue to improve how the construction industry builds the world around us. Three-dimensional modeling tools can help boost productivity and improve overall project economics, but the real upside potential lies with the new and emerging BIM enabled technologies that help modelers, project owners and facilities management staff visualize the data and work together.

One of the most impactful of these technologies is the application of virtual reality (VR). In the context of construction, VR quite literally enables users to walk through a model and see the piping and duct work above them and the floor below. It lets project teams see how equipment is positioned, where interference is likely, and where functionality is being constrained. VR has the ability to take BIM processes to the next level, enhancing communication, collaboration and coordination between modelers, project owners and facilities management staff.

Traditional BIM workflows operate from a single, 3-D model that teams use to visualize where clashes and other issues can occur during the pre-construction process. Though a 3-D model gives some perspective of a room, it can be difficult to visualize where piping will be located without actually seeing it in place. VR allows teams to do just that.

Bring BIM Models to Life

Models can be pulled directly out of 3-D modeling software like Autodesk Revit and placed into a virtual environment, where teams can walk through a model and quickly locate clashes and errors. Using the Cloud, team members can access projects from any location and on any device so all the right people can be “in the room” to identify issues as they arise and find ways to resolve them. By accessing information in a shared environment, teams can make changes in real time, allowing the trades to quickly locate areas that require modifications. Identifying potential problems early limits the amount of rework that has to be done later in the pre-construction process. 

Enhance Two-Way Communication 

In an increasingly competitive environment, successful jobs require clear direction from the project owner and a proper foundation on which to build. This means project owners must communicate their requirements during the initial project conception phase. These requirements can include anything from specific BIM requirements to a particular equipment layout in a mechanical room. During the course of the construction project, two way communication between the BIM project owner and project manager is critical so that project managers can effectively work toward these requirements and update project owners on changes or modifications. VR helps owners and managers work in unison, streamlining these workflows by improving the way the information is presented to and analyzed by owners and managers.

Add Value for Facilities Management Teams

It is clear how BIM processes can improve project execution in the preconstruction and installation phases, yet this value also extends to facilities management. When a project is developed in BIM enabling software, maintenance teams have tools they can use for system upkeep throughout the life of a building. Looking at a flat computer model can make it difficult to truly visualize the space and layouts required to properly maintain a system. With VR technology, this realistic view is possible. Users can immerse themselves in the model and visually navigate it to identify and “feel” where current designs could make reaching a valve handle awkward or render pump access too difficult. This tool provides the ability to identify these issues before construction begins, and make maintenance more efficient throughout the life of the system.

Project teams, at all phases of the project lifecycle, can benefit from BIM enabled technologies such as VR, and its impact on the bottom line can be considerable. VR is no longer a technology of the future. It has proven its worth in a range of BIM applications and today is a tool that can deliver quantifiable value throughout the life of a project.

Amanda Comunale is director of virtual design and construction at Victaulic.

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