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Advantages of collaborative VR in smart building planning

COVID-19 has changed the way we work and collaborate. It has acted as a driver for digitalization and speeded up technology transformation and adaptation.

8.3.2021

COVID-19 has changed the way we work and collaborate. It has acted as a driver for digitalization and speeded up technology transformation and adaptation. When travelling is not possible, virtual collaboration tools are valued. Teams, Miro, Slack, and other collaboration tools help remote teams to join forces no matter where they are. What is also often needed in engineering work is to get stakeholders into the same space to explore 3D spatial constraints. Yet, this is not supported with current desktop-based collaboration tools. Hence, Virtual Reality (VR) becomes advantageous: collaborative VR enables stakeholders to gather in the same 3D space regardless of their physical location. At KONE, we see clear benefits of this technology that could benefit our elevator machine room planning process, for example.

To investigate how collaborative VR can enhance complex machine room planning, we performed a study that utilizes design thinking as a methodological framework. We collaborated with four real-life high-rise building projects in the USA, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the United Arab Emirates. In total, 21 stakeholders were involved: project managers, chief design engineers, supply line engineers, installation supervisors and maintenance managers, to mention some.

We initially interviewed our stakeholders to identify the current challenges they face and what they – as the user – expect from the VR environment. Based on the interview results, we co-developed with 3DTalo new VR environment functionalities to address the users’ needs and concerns. Three cross country sessions were facilitated entirely remotely to test the VR environment with actual machine room planning tasks. Feedback from the team members of the real-life high-rise projects was also collected. Participants joined the collaborative VR session from various physical locations. Due to the COVID-19 situation, participants in Malaysia could not enter the VR facility premises and thus only participated in the interview.

Four main challenges in the current complex machine room planning and many great benefits of using collaborative VR in the process were found. With real-scale immersion, participants can quickly identify critical design issues early in VR. Their collaboration experience is enhanced and becomes more efficient. These benefits have resolved two crucial challenges in the process: complex communication and information-lacking 2D drawing. We also found VR to provide high cost and time saving and contribute to sustainable development by reducing work-related travel and waste. This supports our aim at KONE to be an innovation- and sustainability-driven company.

Extended Reality (XR) technologies, in a wider technical spectrum, provide a user interface to the data and enhance collaboration at different stages of the smart building construction lifecycle. VR and AR (augmented reality) are powerful visualization tools that improve the human spatial understanding. Nevertheless, XR cannot be implemented without 3D models; its root lay in 3D modelling and design. The full benefits of 3D design are only realized when the 3D models together with all product data, i.e. digital twins, are utilized over the whole life cycle: from innovation and design to maintenance and modernization. VR can be used in the early stage, for example, in design, marketing and training, and then AR in the later stage such as in installation and maintenance guidance. For smart building maintenance, AR provides effective way to visualize complex data in real environment.

Collaborative XR will definitely be useful in post-pandemic time. The nature of construction project still requires collaboration between many stakeholders who are often located all over the world. With the increasing complexity in the industry, we clearly need a better way to communicate in our engineering world. Collaboration in XR could be the answer that reduces or even eliminates costly mistakes, travelling, and material waste. Not only does it make collaboration much more effective but also sustainable. XR technologies should be applied more in the construction industry. Perhaps, the positive side of COVID-19 is that it forces companies to change – but change for the better.

 

Sanni Siltanen

KONE / Expert, Innovative maintenance methods

Phong Truong

KONE / Thesis worker