Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and building information modelling (BIM) in construction and consulting engineering are important elements of a fully integrated approach to project delivery, says multinational engineering consultancy Aecom Buildings & Places digital project delivery lead Craig Howie.
Aecom is a significant user of software suites, such as Bentley and Autodesk, and the addition of VR and AR is complementary to Aecom’s use of BIM, in which multiple design teams produce integrated three-dimensional (3D) models.
“The design teams and clients can ‘walk through’ the VR scenes of a project, whether an industrial process plant, such as a brewery, or an automotive assembly plant, as well as commercial projects,” says Howie.
An important element is that Aecom can visit a client and use a VR scene as a presentation or for training purposes. The technology is fully portable.
Aecom has 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 when looking at a two-dimensional (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 places you within the project. The 1:1 scale experience has the added benefit of speeding up the design-review process,” Howie explains.
“What we have found is that, while some clients struggle to comprehend 2D drawings, VR empowers them to give more meaningful input,” he elaborates.
Aecom now offers 3D models as a standard across all its projects, even though this is not yet mandated in the local construction industry, adds Howie.
Commenting on the adoption of BIM and immersive technologies by the South African construction industry in general, he points out that the digital revolution is being driven largely by the engineering, design and consulting sector.
Aecom is working closely with several construction companies that have expressed interest in such innovations. The successful uptake of such 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 international recognition,” Howie details.
The company’s initial roll-out at its KwaZulu-Natal office, in Umhlanga, in May, attracted asset owners, contractors and other built environment professionals and consultants. The event also served to raise general awareness about immersive technologies and what the latest BIM advances in terms of 3D, as well as four-, five-, six- and seven-dimensional iterations, translate into on a practical level, Howie notes.