Revealing the true value of BIM with Extended Reality
The game changer for the architecture and construction industries: Building Information Modeling (BIM) is fundamentally shifting how we design, construct and maintain buildings. And now, with the help of Extended Reality, how we visualize, understand and manage them.
Architect and UX Expert
For all the buzz surrounding BIM over the last years, it is still a challenging high-complexity topic. The acronym stands for Building Information Modeling, and while most people are familiar with 3D models, BIM is much more than just a visual aid. The real value BIM delivers is information that helps streamline all stages of the construction process. And now, the introduction of Extended Reality (XR) technology is opening significant new ways to intuitively use BIM information on-site.
For years, the building process has been linear and siloed: first, the architect's drawing, then the engineer's structural design, and afterwards, infrastructure detailing. The result is then passed on to construction crews and project managers, who are tasked with devising timetables and estimating costs. During construction, it’s almost inevitable there will be problems with the original plans, forcing a round of redesigns and change orders, all while construction is halted – and deadlines and costs slip.
BIM completely reformulates this process. It brings real-time collaboration and efficiency to how we build. BIM allows creation of accurate virtual models of a building so construction professionals can simulate a multitude of parameters, such as calculating the thermal efficiency of a wall against real weather data or determining the design of air ducts for optimal air flow. Simulations help to understand the building's behavior and mitigate risk by predicting possible errors or clashes of construction elements in the initial design phase – before construction starts. The story doesn’t stop there: BIM can extend to the building’s entire lifecycle, from maintenance after building completion, all the way to eventual dismantling and demolition.
Extended Reality is changing BIM
3D models have been a staple in architecture and construction for years and in BIM software, they are both design tool and information showcase. Extended Reality (XR) – the ability to enhance reality by displaying and interacting with digital content – is shaping how BIM data is used and experienced.
- In the design phase, architects and designers can use the potential of XR to visualize and evaluate designs more effectively.
- On-site, XR benefits teams by allowing faster access to the information they require. Because XR superimposes digital content on what we see in the real world, it's possible to present BIM data in a completely new way.
- Combine BIM with XR to see the invisible: you point your device in the direction you want, and it shows you where the constructions elements are. Even before concrete is poured or a brick is set, architects can visualize exactly where the building will integrate into the landscape, engineers can decide where structural elements are required.
- Project managers can visualize construction elements on demand, and collaborate effectively with disciplines like electrical, plumbing or air-conditioning. XR can help teams identify which elements might collide with one another, and so help reduce potential costly errors.
Data is always up to date, meaning that blueprints no longer need to be consulted. The entire process is intuitive and accessible: because of the immersive nature of XR, even people not familiar with construction are able to quickly understand the context of what they are seeing, which can be difficult with conventional drawings and floor plans.
An example: Maintenance and facilities
One branch that can benefit from the potential of XR in conjunction with BIM is maintenance and facility management. Periodic inspection and maintenance of a building's infrastructure – HVAC and MEC components, water pipes, wiring, etc., are crucial aspects of a building's lifecycle. However, the process itself isn't always straightforward. Sometimes, infrastructure is hidden behind walls and ceilings, making it difficult and time-consuming for maintenance workers to determine the exact location of an air duct or electrical line.
An example of how Extended Reality helps to optimize this process is ELCA's FILAR solution. The integration of the standardized IFC BIM data export format allows the maintenance worker to use GPS-less localization to determine his position in relation to the building (which floor, which room, direction) using physical markers the building already possesses, e.g., an array of sprinklers. Once the positioning is done, the worker can immediately visualize all the infrastructure in Extended Reality on screen and select only what is relevant for the task at hand. The experience is intuitive: workers don’t have to consult blueprints, or check machine schematics.
Contextual data, such as information from IoT systems connected to the element inspected, can be queried and presented on screen in real-time: this would be particularly useful when trying to determine water pressure inside a pipe or airflow inside a duct. Any necessary change or adjustment can be documented directly in the app, including identification of which infrastructure element is affected, making subsequent maintenance work a lot faster and more precise. This information can be updated in real-time with benefits not limited to maintenance workers: during on-site visits, MEP specialists would be able to manipulate the construction elements in Extended Reality to pre-emptively detect clashes and send that information to the team in the office.
A leap forward for multiple industries
With worldwide market growth projected at over 13 billion in the next 5 years, BIM is far from a simple buzzword hype. BIM not only benefits the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) value chain, but is also making its way to other industries – and even to the end client:
- Manufacturers – automatic sequencing of activities benefits industrial off-site fabrication so manufacturers can build to exact specifications using the BIM model as reference and deliver components to the construction site when they are needed.
- Construction companies – use of BIM processes and XR IFC viewers on-site allows always-up to date referencing and easy visualization of each project stage, so project managers and construction personnel can be more efficient in their tasks.
- Real estate agencies – agents can offer potential clients the opportunity to virtually walk through their new property and customize interior design or furnishings of each area in real-time.