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What even five years ago was likely seen as an interesting, certainly fun, but not necessarily every day, tool is now becoming an integral part of construction workflows across the country.

Mixed reality has crossed the technology chasm, moving from early adoption to an integral piece of the connected construction workflow. More than just a visualization tool, it’s opened the door for routine applications that range from fact checking designs while in the field to simplifying survey layouts. And the ROI is impressive. Contractors are finding that mixed reality technology embedded in everyday systems can improve construction predictability and directly support the workflows of field crews.

Experts and innovators believe the technology’s potential has only just begun as it continues to empower more people and processes across the construction continuum.

Digital-to-physical alignment

Mixed reality and the larger extended reality environments have certainly evolved over the last two decades in construction.

According to the VDC team at Indianapolis-based Bowen Engineering, mixed reality has been a gamechanger for design conflict resolution. On one project, the Bowen Engineering VDC team relied on it to resolve conflicts between ductwork and the structural steel. Upon early discovery of the issue, Bowen Engineering was able to work with the HVAC subcontractor and eliminate the clash in the design before any ductwork had been fabricated, saving considerable time and money.

For MERIDIA, a project management and engineering firm based in San Jose, Costa Rica, mixed reality offers improved communication with customers. By using the mixed reality capabilities, MERIDIA was able to eliminate more than 50% of owner-driven changes during construction, which has provided savings of over 2% of the initial project budget.

While clash detection and design collaboration are valuable to any construction teams, many believe these examples are just the beginning of the technology’s potential.

A platform of possibilities

To truly make use of mixed reality, and generate a tangible ROI in the construction workflow, mixed reality capabilities must broaden.

Nathan Patton, product marketing manager, strategy and innovation at Trimble, says, “In our mind, mixed reality is not a product; it’s a platform that can be continuously built on. By putting the digital and physical world in the palm of your hands, it makes it easier to access and visualize design data in context.”

Miron Construction Co., Inc. in Neenah, Wisconsin, used mixed reality to transform its installation verification and BIM coordination processes, with visible value. “Schedules are getting shorter, and we need to be able to have our eyes and fingers on the pulse of every project. We want to be more proactive so that there are no adverse effects on the schedule, and we can walk a job site and ensure installation is happening properly,” says Sam Tijan, virtual construction specialists at Miron.

Miron and others like them are now looking to broaden the application of mixed reality and extended reality overall. They plan to continue to use it for site verification after coordination is done and eventually put it in the hands of workers in the field as innovators continue to improve accuracy, processing power and connections with other solutions.

Precise positioning

One of the challenges associated with mixed reality on a jobsite has been model-to-reality disconnects. Users assume that a model will be perfectly painted on a landscape, with millimeter accuracy.

“In reality there is often some drift to the model,” says Patton, “which means it’s not always perfect. We must make that overlay more accurate to make mixed reality more viable to more users.”

Mixed reality technology can help layout technicians more easily visualize construction data without having to rely on a handheld device. Seeing the coordination model in context to the layout data all on the job site in a 1:1 immersive environment allows users to spot mistakes and have significantly more context as they perform layout tasks. This democratizes the model and design data and provides access to contextual information to more people onsite—again, all about increasing access to data so more people can make better, informed decisions.

Jung BIM, an MEP contractor based in Switzerland, put the technology to work on an infrastructure project. “When I first stood on the slab and saw the plans overlaid within the context of the actual site, it was an ‘ah-ha’ moment. I saw how this will change the way we work in the future,” says Sven Jung, owner of Jung BIM.

Mixed reality can also help with the industry wide shortage of skilled labor by providing an effective way to train their staff and get them as productive as possible, as soon as possible. 

For Power Design, Inc., a national mechanical, electrical, and plumbing and systems technology contractor headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida, the technology will not only be a construction layout solution, but a training tool. Andres Sequera, survey operations manager for Power Design, Inc. believes it will help MEP contractors learn how to use total stations for surveying and layout.

The next step in the innovation, according to Patton, is to further enable construction crews so that they can do their job more efficiently, with accuracy and with improved safety. For that to happen, mixed reality solutions must look beyond BIM.

“We must find ways to democratize all construction data—not just the model—but the schedule, the PDF floor plan, the point cloud scans, etc. That’s where we’re going. We must continue to take away the barrier of entry to more people on the jobsite,” he says. “We’re getting there. I firmly believe that mixed reality will be used on every jobsite in North America and Europe in the next three to five years. To me, extended reality is going to be to 2025 what the smartphone was to 2005.”

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