Virtual reality in construction : tools, methods and processes

Abstract: Present-day construction projects are characterized by short-term partnerships between multidisciplinary teams with varying levels of process maturity and information handling capability. They involve the planning, design and erection of structures of all types. Compared with other industries, the construction sector has relatively poor profit margins and low efficiency levels. The product development process in construction is still structured as a sequential chain of activities in which each activity is separated in time and space and where design information is communicated using traditional documents, such as 2D drawings and written specifications. This process is slow and error prone and reflects the functional orientation of the construction project. However, lessons learned from the manufacturing industry have shown that new design processes using modern information and communication technology (ICT), tools such as concurrent engineering and virtual reality (VR) can increase efficiency and reduce lead times. So far, VR has been used sporadically in the construction industry, often from the perspective of visualizing the product design for the client. The objective of my research has been to investigate how VR (and thereby 3D) can be used during the planning, design and realization phase of a construction project with the emphasis on complex building products. What are the main benefits and how should the construction project be organized in order to make use of the potential benefits the technology offers? The main hypothesis during my research has been that the use of digital prototypes visualized using VR technology makes it easier to identify, analyze, coordinate and communicate the product design in order to improve the decision-making and thereby the final product. The research work is based on the theoretical framework of virtual prototyping and communication models of information systems, in combination with quantitative and qualitative investigations of two large case studies of construction projects in which VR has been used in the different phases of a project. The main result of the research work contributes to theory and industrial practice in the following way: ' Knowledge of the way VR models are appreciated by professionals in the construction industry in their everyday work' Guidelines for and examples of the way VR can be utilized in complex building projects during planning, design and realization to be beneficial to the project ' A newly developed model for evaluating the benefits and cost to the construction project associated with the introduction of new ICT tools (such as VR). It is my conclusion that the sensible, well-planned use of modern ICT tools, such as VR, can contribute substantially to increasing the efficiency of the design and planning processes and thus contribute to the quality of the product and the financial result of the project. However, the introduction of a new ICT tool must be supported by methods, suitable processes and project organizations that can make full use of the benefits the tool is able to offer.