XR/AR in Construction: Transforming the Industry in 2024 and Beyond

The construction industry is ripe for disruption. Projects often face communication gaps between stakeholders, inefficient processes, and safety issues leading to delays and cost overruns. However, extended reality (XR) technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) are emerging as powerful tools to transform construction through enhanced collaboration, rapid prototyping, and immersive simulations.

Investment in construction tech has ballooned to over $25 billion, more than doubling since 2011 as the industry scrambles to modernize.1 Yet challenges like employee turnover and lack of standardization continue to hinder digital transformation. Adopting XR can help address these structural issues; McKinsey estimates that digital transformation can improve productivity by 15% and reduce costs for engineering and construction firms by 10-20%.2

This article will analyze the top 5 use cases of XR in construction, providing data and real-world examples that showcase the technology‘s vast potential to revolutionize every phase of the construction lifecycle.

Improving Cross-Functional Collaboration with Digital Twins

Construction projects involve the coordinated efforts of many different stakeholders – owners, architects, engineers, project managers, contractors, and subcontractors. However, these parties often use disconnected tools and inconsistent data, leading to errors, delays, and inflated costs from excessive rework.

XR can bridge these communication gaps by providing a centralized 3D digital twin of the construction project for all stakeholders to access. A Deloitte survey of 300 executives found that 91% believe digital twins improve collaboration between business units.3

These virtual replicas enable architects and engineers to seamlessly integrate their design models, while project managers can visualize and simulate scheduling and construction sequencing. Field crews can reference the digital twin for up-to-date plans and instructions. By linking all contributors through a unified platform, digital twins powered by XR foster alignment and transparency.

Construction giant NV Bekaert Saey began using digital twins to coordinate its complex projects. The results were striking: a 15-20% reduction in costs and 9% faster project delivery.4 This case reflects the immense value proposition of XR collaboration tools.

Reinventing Project Planning with VR/AR Prototypes

Ineffective planning leads to costly errors and delays down the road. Construction projects are notoriously complex, yet managers often must estimate schedules, costs, and risks from 2D drawings alone.

XR allows teams to create interactive 3D prototypes of the design. These virtual models enable all stakeholders to visualize the project lifecycle, explore pitfalls, and make changes early in the process when they cost less.

In a study by Michigan State University and OST of 100 projects using VR prototyping,icians and contractors can investigate virtual buildings with exact dimensions and details. AR adds a key layer of context by overlaying holograms with critical project data onto real-world sites and equipment.

Together, VR and AR enable rapid iterations and design reviews. Seeing projects take shape digitally gives managers the confidence to start construction knowing that kinks have been smoothed out.

Katerra, a technology-focused construction company, tapped VR tools to prototype buildings down to the smallest details like hinges. This virtual modeling allowed it to industrialize and prefabricate components, reducing project timelines by 30-50%.5

Optimizing Workflows with AR-Based Site Instructions

Lack of standardized processes leads to errors and wasted time as workers must puzzle out complex tasks on sprawling job sites. Surveys find that nearly half of field crews report insufficient guidance around construction plans.6

XR provides a solution through AR apps that deliver interactive 3D guidelines. Workers can simply consult a hands-free mobile interface for animated step-by-step instructions mapped to the actual site.

Unlike paper manuals or 2D drawings, these AR overlays provide contextual directions that adapt to the user‘s perspective and location. Leading AR provider Taqtile found that using its AR-powered workflow guidance increased construction teams‘ productivity by 46% compared to traditional methods.7

This technology removes reliance on tribal knowledge and provides on-demand, up-to-date reference materials. As a result, projects gain consistency and field workers can onboard faster. AR training tools like Atheer AiR Suite have been proven to accelerate learning for new equipment operators by 400%.8

Reducing Liabilities and Costs with VR Safety Planning

With over 1,000 worker fatalities per year in the U.S., construction safety continues to be a pressing concern.9 however, hazardous scenarios are difficult to identify and prepare for in typical 2D site plans.

VR enables contractors to visualize and simulate job sites in order to proactively address dangers. Software like Autodesk BIM 360 Ops can model factors like fall hazards, equipment collisions, and evacuation routes.

This virtual preparation minimizes safety liabilities. Case studies have shown that VR safety planning helps reduce injury rates by around 30% compared to conventional methods.10 Furthermore, improved training lowers workers compensation premiums. One construction company saw a $100,000 reduction in insurance costs after rolling out VR safety education.11

The benefits are clear: VR-based safety practices can prevent tragic outcomes and confer massive savings by avoiding regulatory penalties, lawsuits, and insurance claims.

Accelerating Approvals with VR Design Reviews

Delays in obtaining stakeholder approvals frequently derail construction timelines. Yet assessing paper plans often leaves clients struggling to envision finished projects and provide feedback. Traveling to physical mockups may also prove difficult.

VR enables clients to virtually tour photorealistic 3D renders of building designs. These immersive previews offer decision makers deeper understanding compared to traditional materials.

McCarthy Building Companies plans to launch 50 VR room-scale reviews with clients in 2024 after seeing the technology build confidence and consensus.12 Using VR prototypes, hospitals were able to provide informed design feedback and approvals up to 18 months earlier compared to legacy workflows.13

By facilitating instantaneous design review cycles unconstrained by geography, VR helps construction firms align with owners faster. Streamlining approvals through XR collaboration can potentially accelerate project timelines by months.

Conclusion

As these examples demonstrate, extended reality will be integral to the future of construction. By connecting teams through digital twins, enabling rapid prototyping, providing AR-assisted workflows, mitigating risks with VR simulations, and facilitating remote design reviews, XR solutions can compress timelines, reduce costs, and improve quality across the entire construction lifecycle.

With exponential technological improvements and ROI being proven by leading companies, adoption of virtual and augmented reality will accelerate. Construction firms that strategically leverage XR will gain a distinct competitive advantage through optimized productivity, safety, and client satisfaction. The industry’s digital transformation is inevitable; the time for firms to embrace these emerging technologies is now.

Sources

  1. Bartlett, Katy; Blanco, Jose Luis; Fitzgerald, Brendan; Johnson, Josh; Mullin, Andrew L.; Ribeirinho, Maria João (October 30, 2020). “Rise of the platform era: The next chapter in construction technology”. McKinsey.

  2. Koeleman, Jan; Ribeirinho, Maria João; Rockhill, David; Sjödin, Erik; Strube, Gernot (August 20, 2019). “Decoding digital transformation in construction”. McKinsey.

  3. Potoczek, Nathan. “The new reality of construction.” Deloitte Insights. 2022.

  4. Autodesk. “Digital Twin Transforms Composite Bridge Project.” 2022.

  5. CBInsights. “14 Ways Construction Tech Startups Are Revolutionizing The Industry.” 2019.

  6. JBKnowledge. “2021 Construction Technology Report.” 2021.

  7. Taqtile. “Increasing Productivity.” 2022.

  8. Atheer. “Atheer AiR Suite Delivers Measurable Performance Improvement for Enterprise Workforces.” 2019.

  9. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “Commonly Used Statistics.” 2022.

  10. Giffi, Craig, et al. “Virtual Reality: The New Reality for Workplace Safety.” Deloitte Insights. 2020.

  11. Ibid.

  12. McCarthy Building Companies. “McCarthy to Implement Nearly 50 Virtual Reality Immersive Design Reviews.” 2022.

  13. Feland, Jeff. “4 examples of VR‘s potential in healthcare construction.” Building Design + Construction. 2019.