Extended reality (XR) technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are transforming the construction industry. Investment in construction tech has reached $25 billion, more than doubling in the past decade.1 However, the industry still faces challenges like high employee turnover and lack of standardization which hinder digital transformation.
According to McKinsey, digital transformation can increase productivity by 15% and reduce costs for engineering and construction companies.2 One of the top digital trends is the adoption of XR solutions. This article explores the top 5 use cases of XR in construction and provides examples to demonstrate the benefits for companies.
1. Project Management
- Visualize complex construction projects
- Offer immersive virtual mediums for collaboration and communication
- Reduce the need for guesswork while streamlining design and production
Construction involves many stakeholders working on interconnected systems. This leads to unsynchronized and fragmented processes, increasing costs and inefficiencies.
While construction is still reliant on 2D methods like paper plans, VR reinvents project management by creating an interactive 3D environment accessible through headsets, glasses and mobile devices.
Figure 1: Workers using VR headsets on site. Source: Research.Expertbeacon
VR enables stakeholders to collaborate in a shared digital twin of the construction site. This increases coordination between teams, even when they can‘t be physically present. Virtual models are also easier to update than physical mockups.
Using AR, users can overlay virtual designs onto the actual building site and see the changes in real-time. Errors can be addressed in the 3D model before implementation, reducing waste.
A case study found that using VR for design reviews and coordination led to a 15% decrease in mockup costs and fewer change orders compared to physical mockups.3
2. Project Planning
- Break down large projects into more manageable pieces
- Avoid mistakes and costly revisions through simplification
According to McKinsey, 98% of mega construction projects exceed their budget by over 30% and are delayed by 40% on average.4 Disorganization leads to wasted time and resources in construction (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Productivity in construction vs. manufacturing. Source: McKinsey
VR lets planners test concepts and iterate on designs before any physical construction, reducing guesswork. Detailed 3D models ensure expectations are met earlier, saving time and costs.
For installing complex systems like electrical and plumbing, AR overlays guide proper measurements, positioning, integration and coordination. AR also creates step-by-step visual instructions for workers, lowering the learning curve.
One study found VR project reviews were 70% more effective than desktop-based reviews.5 The immersive visualization led to better identification of errors and issues.
3. Construction Site Layout
- Increase productivity and efficiency
- Streamline tasks through optimized site layout
- Improve worker safety
Ineffective site layouts can create collisions, safety issues and wasted time. Proper site planning is crucial for operational efficiency and project success.
Modeling the site in VR enables testing different layouts to maximize productivity and safety. AR overlays like walls and utilities help workers access real-time positional data on-site.
A study found VR site plans offered better analysis of restrictions and conditions, helping anticipate reality.6 Optimized layouts were designed by experimenting in the virtual environment.
Addressing safety concerns during planning using VR/AR can reduce hazards and liabilities later, saving time and costs.
4. Worker Safety Training
- Overcome safety risks inherent in in-person training
- Improve training outcomes through immersive learning
Construction is dangerous work, making safety training essential. But traditional training also has risks.
VR allows repetitive, safe and cost-effective training by simulating realistic environments. Workers can learn procedures through trial-and-error without real-world consequences (see Figure 3).
Figure 3: Crane operator training with VR. Source: Safesite
As VR platforms become more affordable, scalability of training increases while costs decrease.
One study showed VR training improved knowledge, skills and safety behavior compared to conventional methods.7 Interactive practice scenarios were more engaging and effective.
5. Client Engagement
- Increase collaboration with clients through immersive visualization
- Receive client feedback earlier to reduce costly changes
Without visibility into projects, clients can‘t review designs or provide input until late stages. This leads to a disconnect with builders.
VR enables clients to virtually walk through spaces early on. They can inspect designs, provide feedback, and guide changes based on their needs.
Aligning client expectations during planning saves money by reducing revisions later. A hospital in Finland used VR models for virtual tours, allowing staff to give feedback from the initial design phase.8 Their insights led to early design changes rather than expensive rework.
VR helps close the gap between clients and companies by creating a shared vision of the final product. This facilitates a more efficient design process.
As the examples demonstrate, XR can provide significant benefits across construction operations from planning to training and client engagement.
With many use cases, there are tremendous opportunities to leverage VR/AR and gain a competitive edge. Companies that embrace XR will improve productivity, decrease costs and boost client satisfaction.
Construction is rapidly digitizing. Organizations that invest in XR and other emerging technologies will be best positioned to lead the future.