The Future of Virtual Reality in Lean Construction

What is Lean Construction, and why is it important?

The term “Lean Construction” (LC) was coined almost 24 years ago, but now − with the development of powerful mobile devices which support Virtual Reality − a new chapter has been opened.

Formally, Koskela et al. define Lean Construction as “a way to design production systems to minimize waste of materials, time, and effort in order to generate the maximum possible amount of value”. The term itself was coined by the International Group for Lean Construction (IGLC) during their first meeting in 1993, and their approach to improving construction processes has since then been implemented by big players like Google, Walt Disney Imagineering, Skanska and others.

Although the methodology of Lean Construction focuses on the entire construction industry − including, for example, design, maintenance and recycling − this article is about illustrating how Virtual Reality (VR) will impact the way information is shared and how this will improve Lean Construction as we know it now.

A large number of studies has shown that people perceive reality differently. A study by psychologist Richard Gregory shows that people are trying to make sense of their environment based on their expectations, their beliefs, and their prior knowledge, as well as their past experiences. Consequently, two people looking at the same project may assess and evaluate it completely differently from each other. The medium which is used to experience the environment − like a TV or a photograph − further influences how we look at a project.

Due to the complex nature of construction projects and the high amount of people involved, it is important to provide the necessary information in a concise way. Bringing everyone’s expectations and knowledge in line with each other, even before the first brick has been laid, is the aim of tools like Building Information Modeling (BIM) and the Last Planner® system. A case study from 2011 has shown that avoiding potential collisions or clashes between structural and mechanical systems within a building by comparing several resulted in a cost avoidance of $ 5,000,000 (Ghanem, A. A., Wilson, N., 2011). And yet, Shim et al. (2016) have shown that many RFIs are created well into the actual construction process — with the peak being almost 200 RFIs created 240 days after construction started. Clearly, the information is there — but it is hard to find the right information at the right time due to the massive amount of sources.

The Possibilities through Virtual Reality

Enabling everyone involved to share a unified and valuable perspective of a construction project is at the heart of HoloBuilder. Through the use of 360° images, HoloBuilder brings the construction site to the office.

360° Virtual Tours and Digital Jobwalks in HoloBuilder

HoloBuilder makes it easy for everyone to create virtual tours of their construction sites. Those tours make it possible to discuss your site from virtually everywhere. They can also be enriched with additional information, so that each person shares the same knowledge about your construction site. This brings a new level of focus and understanding as to what is necessary to achieve a certain milestone or goal.

Interpretation of available information is a general problem which must be faced at all stages of a construction project. We talked to James Pease, who is a Regional Manager at Sutter Health and an expert on Lean Construction. He explained to us what he thinks VR could do for him and the Sacramento Hospital project:

Everything we are investing in the hospitals upfront is to increase the collective knowledge of the team, like getting everybody on the same page of what we are building. So putting VR into that, where you can actually go inside the model and see what you are going to build, has got to have a much better payoff than looking at it on a 2-dimensional screen.

Nowadays, a large number of documents is used to create a BIM-model. During the execution stage, the designs of a project need to be updated constantly in order to be useful for the people in the field and the office. Considering the enormous number of files which are part of a project’s documentation, estimating the reality and current state of a project can become a real challenge as stakeholders cannot make sense of the available information. In the worst case, this can lead to much higher costs than planned and not delivering on schedule, resulting in huge losses.

The Future and HoloBuilder

Wouldn’t it be great if all the information needed to successfully finish a construction project could be unified in one accessible space? What if information and models of other tools could be integrated into one concise representation of a site’s state? HoloBuilder is not the do-it-all monstrosity and does not pretend to replace the current tools. However, it aims to make accessing and sharing the existing information as simple as possible. James Pease explains the utility of HoloBuilder as follows:

We already have the content − HoloBuilder is just allowing us to view it in a really easy-to-use way.

HoloBuilder uses 360° photos, so that every corner of a construction site can be examined. While static 2D images or videos only allow the viewer to see exactly what the photographer wants them to see, 360° photos make it possible to explore the area yourself. Four eyes see more than two; this saying holds especially true for big construction projects.

Jump into a 360° view of the New Stanford Hospital construction site

The introduction of virtual reality in the construction market is a game changer. Contractors can receive regular updates on the progress on the construction site without having to travel. Construction workers can see what they have to look out for while doing their job. Planners can go back to the site virtually and check out some details, instead of having to drive back to the site to double-check on something or, even worse, just assuming that they’re remembering everything correctly. And by integrating 360° images from a BIM model, HoloBuilder can take you even further: from the past to the present and into the future.

HoloBuilder empowers the different players in a construction project to focus on their own priorities while allowing to make decisions based on well organized, updated and interactive information. The ultimate goal is to reduce time and money spent on a project — and with HoloBuilder and VR, this goal is well within reach.

References and interesting links

Ghanem, A. A., & Wilson, N. (2011). Building information modelling applied on a major csu capital project: A success story. In 47th ASC Annual International Conference.

Hughes, N., Wells, M., Nutter, C. L., & Zack, J. G. (2013). Impact & Control of RFIs on Construction Projects. NAVIGANT, Chicago, IL.

Koskela, L.; Howell, G.; Ballard, G.; Tommelein, I. (2002). Foundations of Lean Construction. In Best, R. & de Valence, G. Design and Construction: Building in Value. Oxford, UK: Butterworth-Heinemann, Elsevier.

Shim, E., Carter, B., & Kim, S. (2016). Request for Information (RFI) Management: a Case Study. In 52nd ASC Annual International Conference Proceedings.

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