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From BIM to mixed reality technology

Mixed reality is a blend of interactive digital content and real objects

The construction industry is taking BIM to a new level with mixed reality technology, says Steve Jackson of Trimble Solutions (UK) Ltd, who explains the benefits of incorporating it within a construction process.

The use of BIM in construction is increasing year-on-year, which is helping to enhance planning and project management, while ensuring projects are delivered on time and on budget. Indeed, having an accurate 3D modelling solution, supported by well-defined data requirements, will deliver benefits at every stage of the design and construction process. However, the industry is now taking BIM to a new level by introducing mixed reality technology.

Mixed reality technology blends real world objects with digital content, interactively, and in real time. It helps users efficiently interpret physical and digital information, as well as the spatial relations between them.

It spans the purely virtual and real environments and, in the context of the construction industry, this is where digital and real content co-exist – where structural engineers’ designs collide with reality – and where construction teams transform digital content into physical objects.

Trimble believes it is looking into the future with mixed reality technology

The interpretation of digital content and its translation to real world objects heavily depends on the user’s spatial understanding, which is an error-prone process that demands a highly skilled workforce. Interpretation errors are common during the design and construction stages, and often result in poor quality, cost overruns and schedule delays. However, by visualising digital content as holograms in the physical world, it bridges the gap between virtual and reality, and eliminates the current workflow’s inefficiencies. What’s more, while the physical world is finite, mixed reality presents the opportunity for an infinite environment in which additional data such as schedule, specifications and simulation can be overlaid onto the world, creating a hyper-reality environment.

Over the last few years the transition from 2D documents to 3D models was a natural evolution, which improved team communication and coordination. However, mixed reality and holographic technology brings the 3D models out of the screen and provides users with the ability to engage and interact with design data more intuitively. In fact, Trimble is working with Microsoft to develop a new generation of tools integrated with the HoloLens holographic platform on Windows 10, which are intended to improve quality, collaboration and efficiency in the design, construction and operation of buildings and structures.

Microsoft HoloLens is a head-mounted, self-contained holographic computer that provides a mixed reality experience for a range of commercial and consumer applications. The device features a see-through, holographic display and advanced sensors that map the physical environment.

The HoloLens device creates new ways for many stakeholders of complex, multi-phase construction projects to visualise, collaborate, share ideas and manage change. And when used in connection with Trimble Connect software, it can deliver many benefits to structural engineers and steelwork contractors.

Trimble Connect provides a collaborative environment, where all stakeholders involved in a project know what is happening and what should be done next. It gives engineers visibility of reliable, up-to-date information in one place and brings people, technology and information together to deliver a project quickly, safely and on time.

Models created within Tekla Structures, Field Layout, Sketchup, Autodesk Revit and many more can all be uploaded into Trimble Connect, in order to view the project as a whole.

By being able to view holograms of 3D structural frames in the real world when using Trimble Connect and HoloLens, engineers will be able to visualise a variety of constructions on site to see what they will look like, and confirm if they can physically be created. For example, engineers can view what an extension next to an existing building would look like, or even view the inclusion of a mezzanine within a building to see if it could be created.

For steelwork contractors, while viewing the 3D holographic image they will be able to isolate connections and extract them from the model to see if they are correct and if they can be fabricated in the workshop.

However, the HoloLens device does not only just work on a building site or in cities. In workshops, steelwork contractors can wear the headset to see if there are any missing bolts or anomalies within the structure, and physically use the hologram as a guide to creating the steel components.

The HoloLens could also be used to perform a ‘construction rehearsal’ where the steelwork contractor and site staff virtually walk through the construction sequence and connection processes. This would ensure the steelwork contractor’s detailing aligns with the erection team’s preferred method of assembly, before manufacturing instructions are sent through to production.

Realising the potential of HoloLens, Trimble has also been working closely with Microsoft and the Construction Information Technology Lab at the University of Cambridge to explore ways of advancing the use of technology within the industry further. The collaboration has resulted in new ways to incorporate mixed reality.

The first is Automated Progress Monitoring, which is a way to address one of the most time-consuming and error prone procedures in the industry: the demand to regularly, and manually, inspect remote structures. The process is currently conducted through visual inspections, form filling and report writing, with the need to extract information from different drawings and databases. However, the new trial revolutionises the process by presenting all physical and digital information through HoloLens, allowing inspectors to check, cross-reference and report on inspections very quickly, and collaborate with site representatives.

The second is Automated Bridge Damage Detection. Rather than sending structural engineers to each bridge as part of its inspection routine, through discoveries generated via the collaboration, high-resolution images can be taken by local teams and sent to inspection engineers. These are then automatically mapped onto 3D models of the respective bridge. Structural engineers can then review the integrity of a bridge in mixed reality using HoloLens, making recommendations for repairs or other preventative measures. This reduces costs and is more efficient, making sure bridges do not enter their ‘failure zone’, leading to major road closures and disruption.

Overall, by using Trimble products and BIM models as the main data source, mixed reality can improve communication, tighten workflow integration and enable real time collaboration with remote teams.

For more information about Tekla software please visit

Trimble Solutions (UK) Ltd
is a  headline sponsor
of Steel for Life

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