Virtual reality: a game-changer for the construction industry

The use of virtual modelling and environments in the construction industry has become fairly widespread in recent years.

Technology such as computer-aided design (CAD), as well as 3D and building information modelling (BIM), are often used to show clients formats, spaces, and systems before a brick is laid.

However, previewing paper and computer-generated details still only provides customers with a limited experience of the finished building. And often, the designer’s vision for the completed structure fails to match the client’s.

But what if you could design the experience itself?

What we’re talking about is virtual reality – the technology most commonly used for gaming, which is beginning to break into the construction sector.

Virtual reality creates an interactive environment, which allows you to step inside a building while it’s still in the design phase.

Put simply, the user sees a 3D display through a headset and can get an ‘all-round’ view by turning their head to the side, up and down. So in terms of new structures, it allows you to see and get a feel for it as you would in the real world.

It might still sound futuristic but some companies have been experimenting with VR for years – finding ways to integrate it into day-to-day activity, while continuing to explore its potential.

This follows recent advancements in computer hardware and software, as well in the way BIM models are converted into a virtual reality simulation. And thanks to new software that automates the conversion process, it’s also becoming easier for companies to start using it.

The most obvious benefit of virtual reality for construction firms is that it can save time and money, by allowing you to test any number of features before works starts.

When you’re looking at a model – whether it’s physical or on computer – you still have to use an element of judgement to determine whether a structure is viable. But virtual reality provides a much clearer idea of whether a building will be suited to environment within which it’s being constructed.

For clients, being able to physically look around and visualise how a building will function is a major advantage. It provides the opportunity to pick up on the smallest of details, like whether a piece of equipment will fit in a space – and give the contractor feedback accordingly.

Likewise, potential conflicts or required changes are flagged at the design stage, rather than during construction, when they’re extremely costly to put right.

This means virtual reality also has the potential to improve communication and collaboration between contractor and customer. It provides the opportunity for more valuable input from all parties, and reduces the possibility for misunderstanding, which could sour future relationships.

Even though virtual reality is still in its infancy when it comes to the construction industry, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes an established practice. A technology that helps eliminate errors, refine design down to minute detail, not to mention save time and money, is a major benefit and is likely to be a game-changer for both clients and contractors.