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Steel Framing Used to Demonstrate How Mixed Reality May Change Construction Work

The worker pulls on his tool belt and snaps down the visor of his headset. It powers on, loading the 3D model of what he needs to build—in this case, the steel framing for a hospital bathroom pod. The 3D image snaps into place, staying affixed to the floor and ceiling as he moves around it. Without the aid of a tape measure or layout laser, the worker begins assembling the steel framing, matching the pieces to their ghostly hologram outlines and fastening connections where the model dictates.

It was only a proof-of-concept demonstration, set up in a controlled space with proper lighting for the Microsoft HoloLens to function correctly. But the results of the test by Gardena, Calif.-based contractor Martin Bros. were promising, says Cody Nowak, the company’s VDC and BIM manager.

“We did the test with the president of Martin Bros., who hadn’t picked up a tool belt in 20 years,” he says. “We put the HoloLens on him, and he built that bathroom pod.” Nowak says that, although the pilot project was in a controlled environment, building a bathroom pod that would normally be prefabricated off-site, it shows real potential for mixed reality. “We’re one of the first to utilize holograms for construction layouts,” says Nowak. “It’s still early, but someday we will be able to build directly from the Building Information Modeling (BIM) model on the site.”

Recently, BIM has been playing a major role to reduce waste during the design and preconstruction phases in cold-formed steel framed buildings. BIM processes employed by industry design professionals are highly compatible with steel manufacturing processes; both support minimization of time, materials and the generation of construction waste. Therefore, steel framing appears to have many advantages for use in construction layouts utilizing mixed reality.

So, will your next project incorporate the use of mixed reality to produce a cold-formed steel building?  Well, probably not.  But possibly in the near future. After a recent demonstration at the biennial Trimble Dimensions conference, Nick Burkel, a preconstruction manager with Sarasota, Fla.-based Willis Smith Construction, said, “I think we’re all going to be using it five years from now, probably,” he told Engineering News Record. “I would build a project in that. Imagine having somebody on site walking around, seeing that everything is where it’s supposed to go.”

So if the hardware improves, what’s next for mixed reality? “One of the lowest-hanging fruit is bridging the gap from the office to the construction site, seeing that BIM information out there in the field and having that overlay in the right location,” says Martin Bros.’ Nowak. “It could mitigate a lot of arguments we’re having in the field right now between contractors and subcontractors.”

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