The U.S. construction industry builds nearly $1.3 trillion worth of structures every year and employs more than 7 million workers. For various reasons, poor productivity in construction is a costly and difficult challenge to address. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology can improve communication, reduce costs, and identify problems in advance.
Thought leaders and researchers have predicted that VR and AR technology applications in the construction industry could boost productivity, adding an estimated $1.6 trillion in value.
To learn more, check out the infographic below created by the Ohio University’s Online Master of Civil Engineering program.
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The Construction Industry’s Productivity Problem
Globally, the construction sector employs 7% of the world’s working-age population. Every year, $10 trillion is spent on construction-related goods and services. Nevertheless, the sector has a productivity problem that can no longer be ignored.
Analyzing the Productivity Challenge
According to McKinsey, “Globally, labor-productivity growth in construction has averaged only 1% a year over the past two decades, compared with growth of 2.8% for the total world economy and 3.6% in the case of manufacturing.” Employees in the global economy add $27 of value pure hour, compared with $25 of value per hour added by employees in the global construction sector.
The low productivity in construction has had a substantial impact on lost economic value. This loss totals $58 billion in North America, $46 billion in Europe, and $44 billion in the Asia-Pacific market. If construction-sector growth matched the growth of the global economy, the global economy would grow by an additional 2%. The U.S. construction sector could potentially contribute one-third of this growth.
Some of the key reasons for the lack of production include extensive regulation, high reliance on demand from the public sector, and corruption. It’s a highly fragmented process, resulting in inconsistencies in contracts regarding risk allocation and reward and difficulty navigating the marketplace. This leads to a lack of skills, poor design, poor management and execution, and a lack of investment in skills development, innovation, and R&D.
Fortunately, innovative firms are pursuing several solutions to boost productivity. These include adjusting regulation, investing in skills development, revising the design and engineering processes, and adoption digital technology, new materials, and automation.
Benefits and Risks of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality in Construction
The benefits of VR and AR technology in construction extend to every stage of a project and may significantly boost productivity. However, construction owners must carefully consider the risks before implementing the technology.
Reimagining Construction with AR and VR
When VR is applied to a construction project, the user is immersed in a virtual rendering of the designed project and can experience it like a physical space. When AR is applied, the user’s current reality is overlaid with virtual images, and the user can digitally manipulate and interact with the space.
There are numerous ways to use VR in a project. These include planning during the pre-construction phase, providing remote tours of a project site during the construction phase, and preparing a site for the trades necessary to complete the design. AR’s applications can include identifying mistakes or design issues during construction, assisting tradesmen during installation by providing overlain visual aids, and providing on-site skills training.
The benefits of using VR and AR are plentiful. They can include the expedition of construction projects, minimization of risks via identifying issues in advance, eliminating costs associated with rework, and increasing a project’s quality.
That said, there are some risks to using VR and AR that must be understood. For instance, it can be difficult to assign liability for design mistakes in collaborative projects involving AR and VR. The careless use of AR or VR software may also increase the risk of accidents. Additionally, proprietary information stored in the technology may be vulnerable to hacking and may pose a risk to customers. Finally, having many users may lead to disputes regarding the right to use AR and VR programs and ownership.
AR and VR in the Civil Engineering Classroom
Engineering students can benefit from exposure to AR and VR technology in the classroom. AR can particularly help students better understand complex engineering theories by enhancing visual examples of their applications.
This could help resolve some of the challenges associated with teaching engineering. These hurdles include the disconnect that can exist between student learning expectations and the actual classroom experience, liability and safety issues that could hinder job site visits during the academic year, and limited instruction time.
It could also potentially generate important benefits. These can include the elimination of safety and health risks associated with job site visits, the support of discovery-based learning, the promotion of social interaction, and the support of student autonomy in the learning experience.
One of the key educational applications of AR and VR is the ability to present 3-D construction plans alongside planning schedules, which could improve the monitoring of construction activity. Another educational application could be sporting the inspection and monitoring of interior exterior walls for maintenance purposes, which could allow users to identify irregularities.
To become prepared for the engineering workplace, students need instruction and training on how to use AR and VR technology. Master’s in engineering coursework involving AR and VR tech helps prepare students for the industry’s technological demands, because both concepts play a key role in developing solutions for construction’s productivity problem.