by Ron Fritz, CEO, Tech Soft 3D
There’s not a single industry that has escaped the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. For some industries, like the airlines, it has been downright catastrophic. For others, like online food delivery, it has actually been tremendously beneficial.
What about the AEC space?
Here, things aren’t quite so black and white, but more of a mix of the bad and the good rolled together. While the pandemic has thrown up hurdles and roadblocks to business as usual, it has also forced the industry to digitize and modernize faster than it otherwise would, accelerating its transformation.
In this way, the dark cloud of the pandemic has a silver lining. Taken together, these developments leave AEC poised to capably navigate the remaining months of the pandemic – and even to come out the other side stronger than when it entered.
An Opportunity for VR
All aspects of AEC are ripe for transformation, starting right at the beginning of any project, with the design phase. Communicating design intent has always been critically important, and the COVID-19 pandemic – which has largely prevented face-to-face gatherings – has made it even more essential.
BIM software has evolved over the years to provide increasingly sophisticated 3D models that provide a detailed visual representation of a building project. Right alongside these 3D models, there is significant opportunity in the early design phase for VR as a collaboration tool.
By entering a shared space together, different stakeholders can collaboratively sketch interiors, buildings, and entire urban plans, either starting fresh or working off of an existing imported model.
The end result is that users can work with people wherever they are in the world, easily trying out new ideas, presenting design options, discussing them, and making decisions. In the process, they save time, save money, and avoid costly misunderstandings.
One of the interesting things about VR – and something that many people might have misunderstood initially – is that you don’t necessarily need to have a photorealistic environment to create a sense of presence and “being in the same room” or looking at the same building. Even a relatively basic rendering will create a powerful collaborative environment and a sense of being “together” when multiple people are virtually present, giving them a shared reference point to do their best work.
New Forms of Collaboration
After design, of course, comes the construction phase. While some projects have ground to a halt in the face of COVID-19, others are continuing apace and there is opportunity here to update the various means of collaboration that are required to keep the project on track.
Like seemingly every other industry on the planet, AEC has used the pandemic as an opportunity to get familiar with tools like Slack and Zoom, signaling a willingness to modernize aspects of their day-to-day communications and collaborations and try new things.
Additionally, the pandemic has sped up the desire to digitize task- and forms-based workflows, and a combination of increasingly robust software and better mobile devices is making that a reality. As a result, strolling job sites with a clipboard and checking off items on a piece of paper is being replaced with digital alternatives that ensure everyone has access to the information they need, when and where they need it.
This same spirit extends to model-based workflows, with the full 3D model increasingly being made available whether someone is in the office, or on the job site, improving communication and enabling better decision-making.
The bottom line? When getting people physically together on site to be close to the project and to stay on the same page about project status isn’t a viable option, collaboration has to happen digitally.
Getting the Full Picture with a Digital Twin
Construction is just the start of a building’s lifecycle, with the operations and maintenance phase continuing for years or decades afterwards. The COVID-19 pandemic is encouraging advancements around this aspect of AEC as well, with increased traction for innovations like digital twins.
Long used in the manufacturing industry to create a digital model of a piece of equipment that is updated with real-time data from the actual piece of machinery, the digital twin serves a similar function in the AEC space.
Data is brought in from the various operational systems that typically exist in their own distinct silo – the energy management system, the maintenance system, and so on – and converged to provide a comprehensive digital portrait of the building.
This converged data enables building owners to better manage the environment, with all the necessary context they need to make more informed decisions over the course of the building’s lifecycle.
Into the 21st Century
For software vendors who focus on the AEC space, there is a prime opportunity here to help the industry meet the moment and accelerate its transformation. Having proper underlying capabilities around everything from 3D visualization to data exchange will be a prerequisite for those vendors that want to encourage these new approaches to all aspects of AEC, from design and construction, to maintenance.
While the medium and longer-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the AEC industry are still being played out, its most lasting legacy might not be the delays it caused or the projects it temporarily stalled, but its ability to nudge AEC away from following “business as usual” towards taking its first serious steps into the 21st century.
About the Author
Ron Fritz is CEO of Tech Soft 3D.