Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are relatively new technologies that haven’t yet invaded the EPC space. Until recently, they weren’t ready for prime time. But with advances in the technology and equipment required to run the software, VR and AR are starting to demonstrate what they can do for EPC engineers. It’s not inconceivable that future engineers will go virtual.
Augmented Reality in EPC Construction
AR software superimposes a computer-generated image onto a real-world view. Users need equipment to display the AR visuals. These include glasses, goggles, headsets, and mobile devices.
The popular Pokémon GO video game, for example, used AR to make Pokémon characters appear to inhabit the real world. When players looked through their phones, they saw their current surroundings along with an additional little monster created by the software.
What Are the Advantages of AR in EPC Projects?
AR is one of the more promising technologies for EPC experts because it allows them to predict problems and find ways to avoid them, saving time, money and even lives.
- Project Build Information: AR software can overlay building designs onto a current project. Rather than going through a building comparing blueprints to the actual structure, engineers view the building through AR with the design superimposed on it. The virtual combination helps engineers easily pinpoint discrepancies, such as improperly installed pipes, pumps, or electrical systems. Problems are caught earlier, saving remediation costs.
- Owner Walkthroughs: Owners can also use AR to walk through a job site and inspect the existing work along with the planned work projected over it. They can verify that the result everyone is working toward is what they had intended.
- Design and Planning: With AR, designers can try out changes in the plan before implementing them. They overlay planned changes on the current structure to confirm they’re not introducing compliance issues or conflicts.
- Training: AR helps train new workers by overlaying simulated tools and equipment on real-world visuals. Workers can practice operating machinery, working at heights, and responding to emergencies in a safe environment.
- Expert Support: Some installations or repairs during a job might need input from a specialist. But waiting for experts to travel to the construction location wastes time and money. AR software allows engineers onsite to access videos created by experts which step them through the repair or installation process. They can see each step superimposed on the real system and they just need to follow the pictures to complete the work successfully.
What Are the Disadvantages of AR in EPC Projects?
As with any new technology, engineers have to be trained to use AR. Initially, there may be just a few people on a team who can take advantage of it. AR also requires additional equipment, like goggles or glasses, which have to be suitable and hardened for construction sites and might not always be comfortable for the wearer. Some people find AR disorienting as well.
AR requires heavy computing power and for remote applications, a broadband data network. The technology continues to improve, but today’s computational limitations may sacrifice resolution for lightweight software. With current versions, engineers may not get the visual detail they need for troubleshooting or quality assessment, which reduces the usefulness of AR on the job site.
Virtual Reality in Construction
Rather than superimposing images over your real-world surroundings like AR, virtual reality (VR) creates a completely new environment for the user. Wearing a headset, users see and move around in three dimensions. Usually, the VR imagery includes sounds as well to enhance the experience.
What Are the Advantages of VR in EPC Projects?
VR opens up incredible possibilities for collaboration and design; engineers can virtually walk around together in a mocked-up building as part of planning, change management, and progress tracking.
- Design and Planning: When integrated with digital building models, such as the industry standard building information model (BIM), VR software creates a 3D world engineers can travel around in. Several people share the experience at once, assessing new build techniques, uncovering design conflicts, or confirming requirements are met.
- Collaboration: Ultimately, VR translates complex plans and build status into an accessible experience that everyone on the project can share, even if they’re not in the same part of the globe. It makes collaboration simple and improves planning accuracy, saving time and costs in later stages.
- Transparency: The VR walkthroughs improve transparency for owners by letting them experience the build as planned and in progress without requiring them to travel to the site. Transparency improves the customer experience, giving the EPC firms who use VR a competitive advantage in the market.
- Training and Safety: As with AR, VR systems also help workers train to use equipment and follow operating procedures in a safe environment. VR systems simulate natural disasters, broken machinery, and medical emergencies more realistically than traditional training methods, which better prepares engineers for stressful situations.
What Are the Disadvantages of VR in EPC Projects?
While VR systems have been in development for a while, they’re not widely standardized on a specific format. Companies who want to use VR often have to build their own software or customize generic systems, which takes extra time and money. The software also requires having VR expertise on your team.
Similar to AR, VR systems use special equipment which is not always comfortable to wear for long periods of time. The visual resolution may not be very good depending on the computing power and data connections available. And unfortunately for some people, the VR experience causes disorientation and nausea.
You May Be Using Virtual Tech Tomorrow, But You Can Take Advantage of Artificial Intelligence Today
While virtual systems may not be completely ready for widespread uptake in the EPC market, the technology that drives them, artificial intelligence (AI), has a proven track record of saving time, money, and labor on your projects.
Rudy for Engineers is an AI-driven application that cuts weeks of time and engineer hours from the technical bid evaluation (TBE) process. Rudy reads TBE documents, blueprints, and specifications using Engineering Language Processing (ELP). From data in the documents, Rudy automatically creates bid packages, TBE templates, and reports. Plus, it manages the TBE workflow, stores and secures all TBE documentation, and provides a secure collaboration channel for EPC firms, owners, and suppliers. Rudy handles the tedious tasks of TBE so the project progresses faster, and engineers can focus on data-driven analysis and planning.