The potential of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Building Information Modelling (BIM) in the construction and consulting engineering space, as an important element of a fully-integrated approach to project delivery, was showcased at an event entitled ‘The Digital Future’ at AECOM’s Sandton office recently.
Globally, the infrastructure delivery company is one of the biggest licensed user of major software providers such as Bentley and Autodesk. The addition of VR and AR is complementary to AECOM’s use of Building Information Modelling (BIM), in which multiple design teams produce integrated 3D models.
“Now both the design teams and clients can ‘walk through’ VR scenes of an actual project, whether an industrial process plant such as a brewery or an automotive assembly plant, as well as commercial projects,” Craig Howie, Digital Project Delivery Lead, Buildings + Places, explains.
The Johannesburg event followed a similar roll-out at AECOM’s KwaZulu-Natal office in Umhlanga on 15 May, which attracted asset owners, contractors, and other built environment professionals and consultants. The event also served to raise the general awareness about immersive technologies, and what the latest BIM advances in terms of 3D, 4D, 5D, 6D and 7D iterations translate into on a practical level, Howie notes.
“Our aim was to show it is not really all that complicated. We are all very excited about what technology is allowing us to achieve on our projects,” Howie stresses. The VR system adopted by AECOM uses industry-standard software. “We have been purposeful in the selection of our technology base, as we need to be able to work with different consultants seamlessly,” Howie stresses.
An important element of this is that AECOM can visit a client and show a VR scene at their place of choice, as the technology is fully portable, whether for a client presentation or event for training purposes. AECOM now has both BIM and VR capability in its Durban, Cape Town, and Centurion offices. The key benefit for clients is a far more intuitive understanding of their projects than is possible by looking at a traditional 2D drawing.
“Until now, we have been using a 3D model displayed on a computer screen to boost our clients’ understanding of a project. VR takes this a natural step further, as it places you literally within the ‘as built’ project,” Howie explains. This 1:1 scale experience has the added benefit of speeding up the design-review process.
“What we have found is that, while some clients struggle to comprehend 2D drawings, VR empowers them to give more meaningful input,” Howie elaborates. This ranges from major multinationals, which have mandated BIM as a contractual obligation, to smaller local clients and projects. AECOM now offers 3D models as a standard across all of its projects, even though this is not yet mandated in the local construction industry.
Commenting on the adoption of BIM and immersive technologies by the South African construction industry in general, Howie points out that, while the digital revolution is being driven largely by the engineering, design, and consulting fraternity, AECOM is working closely with a number of construction companies that have expressed interest in such latest innovations.
The successful uptake of such cutting-edge technology by AECOM locally has even resulted in the South African team making a substantial contribution to the BIM modelling for large international projects. “Not only do we have world-class engineers in South Africa, but our technical level of BIM knowledge and expertise is equally exceptional at the top level, to the point where we are receiving major international recognition,” Howie concludes.