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Across the construction value chain, BIM has continued to progress as a useful tool for design, coordination and putting work in place. Reviewing the actual BIM model required expensive software and a higher end desktop with graphics capabilities, but that has changed as software offerings make full BIM models more easily viewed on mobile devices.

BIM in Construction

The irony of BIM models is that the details are what make the models so large, but those details are what make a model useful on the actual job. When managers cannot easily call up those models where the work is being done, the value to the construction process can be more limited. It has been a big accomplishment just to get all of the major sub-trades to adopt BIM, ensuring that the whole workflow integrates through the same “source of truth.” Now that this is largely the case, the task of ensuring this source of truth is quickly and easily accessed on site is the order of the day—Revit models are large by default, and sometimes downright massive. Getting them to be performant on a jobsite can pose challenges.

But as these options for viewing BIM in a more flexible way have arisen, teams have become more adept at leveraging BIM on the jobsite, and that is showing up in more efficient, tightly woven workflows. 

Revit on Rails

Over the past couple of years, lightweight, highly performant formats for viewing Revit BIM files have emerged. Developers have utilized their own deep experience in the BIM world to deliver fully functioning models with all the information, geometry and detail that jobsites need, viewable on a mobile device. 

This promises to accelerate the penetration of BIM onto the jobsite and value-adding workflows, removing one of the key barriers to this penetration. Imagine pulling a multi-gigabyte file into a mobile viewer, anywhere on the jobsite. This and more are possible and happening now.

For many applications, just seeing a BIM model via a 2D application is enough, but what if the contractor could map that model to the work itself? What if a builder could walk an owner down the hall of a yet-to-be-built structure, and let them really approve a final design?

Enter Immersion: Virtual and Augmented Reality

BIM has often been misunderstood as being about the geometry only, because that’s what the viewer sees first. The fact that Revit models are already a 3D arrangement of geometry and building data makes the format perfect for truly immersive experiences, where sub-trades, superintendents, designers and even owners can understand what’s being built in a much more efficient, accessible way.

These two technologies share the fact that they’re immersive, but otherwise differ completely in how they are experienced and what hardware is needed for their use, and that of course changes what each is useful for.

Virtual reality means the user is wearing a special headset that blocks out the rest of the world, allowing that user to completely immerse themselves in the experience. This is most useful when users are looking to truly understand a building and interact with the model. Whether it’s a team reviewing and annotating a model as they walk around it, walk through it, or pull parts out to isolate key issues. 

Lightweight formats for viewing BIM files makes this a vastly easier prospect, because the most useful standalone VR headsets are essentially Android devices, and don’t have the heavy processing power that a desktop computer can provide. So instead of needing a desktop installed, with all the IT complications that implies, today’s VR headsets just need WiFi to function almost anywhere. 

Augmented reality, in contrast, means the user is viewing computer-generated content mixed into the real world. The Microsoft Hololens has been doing this for some time, as have mobile-based options. As with the VR option, file sizes have been an enormous constraint on the easy viewing of BIM models in AR, a problem that is now being solved with emerging viewing technology, especially when used with mobile-based viewing platforms that removes even more barriers – allowing for fast, immediately scheduled meetings with anyone, from anywhere, to view a model.

Advances like these lightweight formats for viewing larger BIM are part of the overall story of a digitally transformed jobsite and promise to continue pushing workflows forward and helping teams build faster, more efficiently and more safely.

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