According to The Augmented Reality Enterprise Alliance (AREA), there has been a significant growth in Assisted Reality and Augmented Reality software vendors, especially during the COVID pandemic. New vendors have entered the market with many of the established companies offering their platforms at a reduced cost or for free. The increase in vendors has been especially focused in Remote Expert (See-What-I-See) video sharing capabilities for onsite equipment failure and maintenance issue resolution support. AREA also commented on the growth of other AR software and hardware providers that are increasing choice and creating ROI to companies who successfully deploy AR technology.
Top 2021 Trends: Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) include:
Mixed reality will extend the usability of existing AEC digital assets and make high-quality modeling a more cost-effective option.
Digital Twins will continue gaining momentum in the AEC world as there is a movement towards standardization.
Real-time 3D, BIM and VDC will allow interactive digital environments to become more accessible, more engaging, and add increased value for stakeholders.
Key drivers for the use of AR include:
- The need to communicate remotely, accelerated by Covid-19
- Reduction in on-site staff
- Real-time communication between office and field
The AEC industry is rapidly adopting digital transformation technologies, such as AR. There is a myriad of immediate benefits from these technologies that impact the entire lifecycle of a project, from planning through operations and maintenance. AR will play a key component in providing and utilizing the resulting data created by digital transformation.
Digital Construction Works (DCW) is implementing solutions such as Bentley Systems Synchro XR Hololens applications to forge a path in immersive 4D simulations for on-site for construction planning and virtualized inspections of pre-scanned 3D photogrammetry models of telecommunication towers or bridges for safe maintenance reviews.
But how can the Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC) industry and their clients further embrace the promise of AR technologies particularly during the construction and commissioning phases to leverage their investments as part of an asset lifecycle digital twin strategy?
Let’s look at the status quo:
An emphasis on construction productivity has generally prioritzed what needs to be addressed at the front line in terms of improving time-on-tools right-first-time with the use of smart technology having a much lower priority and place on the project site. As a result, many questions around suitability to the task would still need to be addressed before head-worn wearables can be adopted as a viable toolkit item during construction activities.
Consider the two primary functions of ‘construction safe’ wearable headsets and how they would apply out of the box to a typical construction site scenario and the perceived ‘value-add’:
1. Remote Expert:
From a wider project perspective, being connected to Subject Matter Experts via real-time two-way video sharing capabilities is of limited value in itself since most professionals will already have sufficient domain knowledge and would consider the Assisted Reality and Augmented Reality tools essential for new hires rather than assist the veteran knowledge experts. Already the target audience here would rely upon existing mobile video technology such as Microsoft Teams to communicate any issues.
2. Guided Workflow:
The ability to have task-based workflow guidance or step-by-step procedures has value in activities where repeatable workflows ensure the user captures the correct information in a sequence which in turn feeds back to the database.
Wearables offer little value-add during construction in general since many forward-looking projects already utilize mobile devices to capture information in a structured data method that aligns primarily with various information handover processes.
So, understanding the limitations of application of the functions mentioned above shows us that this would not offer the same ROIs when compared to the more established industrial use-cases and implementation of these features.
Instead of attempting to impact productivity improvement at such a granular level of construction, which will ultimately offer little value in ROI, it’s proposed that focusing on the downstream use-cases of both facility owners and vendors alike will advance Assisted Reality and Augmented Reality technology uptake within the continuing digitalization of existing procedures if approached from a Digital Twin delivery perspective.
Consider the promise of Asset Digital Twins, whereby equipment is monitored and maintained for operational efficiency via three-dimensional virtual command centers. To arrive at this ideological state the construction/installation, startup, commissioning, and eventual handover to the asset owner processes must be considered as part of the digital twin process beyond simply model replication.
More significant attention should be given to the data collation process and how that underpins downstream Operational Digital Twins.
For example, the entire handover process requires multiple inspection checkpoints e.g. Factory Acceptance Tests (FAT), Site Acceptance Tests (SAT), Inspection Test Plans (ITP) etc., which capture business-critical asset information ensuring that the asset is delivered as per operational requirements. This information is already considered vital beyond commissioning and into the subsequent Operations and Maintenance (O&M), Turnovers, and Decommissioning phase.
What if this information was collected, integrated, and delivered as the foundational Digital Twin model or photogrammetry scan at the handover phase?
Many of the existing task-based workflows and ‘remote expert’ solutions are targeted at the O&M stage and are missing the opportunity to leverage both information and ROI by not including the valuable data records captured at source during the construction and commissioning phases.
By bringing together remote experts with task-based workflows and combining outcomes it is possible to feed the Asset Digital Twin with immutable historical information as the baseline.
Use Case Example
Bringing visibility to completions & commissioning through real-time Digital Twin task progress and information technology will ultimately advance facility startup revenue generation and with more accurate digital history of the equipment or system.
A typical process during a construction completion to commissioning process would look like this:
1. Identify the task to be carried out
2. Allocate the document that records the task’s checks [the check sheet]
3. Record nonconformities on a punch list, should there be any on the check sheet
4. Record the check sheet as complete, with or without a punch list
Extracted from ‘Digitalizing Completions and Commissioning, Workflows for the Construction Industry’ A Bentley White Paper by John Todd, Senior Completions Consultant, Construction
Published: September 2018.
The captured information is structured and catalogued as part of the data handover of the completed project. Although the aforementioned activities can already be digitalized, the issue remains that the information is typically still siloed from the virtual asset and there is, therefore, no intervening period during the construction to completion phase whereby the progress can be visualized against the planned activity of document handover.
It is also noted that the completions process’ ecosystem of roles, activities, and their respective deliverables, i.e. check sheets, sign-off sheets, etc., all encompass multiple review gates that must be achieved for subsequent task activities to be progressed. These are each potential failure points that typically extend the actual handover target dates at a cost to a project’s overall schedule. What visibility do the stakeholders have of key milestones on delivery?
The suggestion here is that by ‘Digitally Twinning’ an asset a) task-based workflows plus b) remote expert with the 3-dimensional virtual asset design or the catalogued equipment scan then continuously progress through each phase can be visualized at the project level to provide much greater insights into time and cost.
Additionally, if at any point in the process there is an issue recorded in the task flow, then successors at both the construction work face and project management levels can be alerted via the Digital Twin model for better decision-making and intervention through remote expert calls.
By employing hand-free voice-controlled wearable headsets it is possible to visualize the 3D asset in context and progress the asset completions process and initiate remote expert issue resolution calls or task completion as a permanent record against the asset for downstream information archiving and retrieval – a key component of two-way Digital Twin solutions.
Digital twin technology solutions must address the existing user needs, leveraging existing applications and business processes. Many companies have legacy investments, so the emphasis should be on how to derive new value from these existing tools and then enhance with Assisted Reality and Augmented Reality technology through process integration.
Adoption of a viable Digital Twin strategy that is cognizant of the life of the asset data flows can help progressive Facility Owners move out of ideation or proof-of-concept stages and into real business value impact assessments by considering not only the data handover requirements but also the connected data integration points between construction and long term data robustness.
DCW has taken these concepts to develop the Smart Integrated Worker solution for Advanced Work Packaging planned executable practices for field-based constraint management. The integration combines scheduling and the model with a RealWear smart headset guided Workflow Plus application and the Microsoft Teams remote expert capability. The result is a tool that enables inspection tasks and activities to be tracked in time against the 4D model for near real-time updates on the construction digital twin and offers construction teams the ability to communicate with support teams at a task level for issue resolution.
Digital Construction Works’ experts are well versed in Digital Twins incorporating Assisted Reality and Augmented Reality technologies during construction. Contact us today to discuss how a Digital Twin strategy can ensure you realize the full benefits available of your digital assets.
Marvin Johnson – Seasoned career in Virtual Project Delivery on Infrastructure Projects. Industry expertise in Assisted, Augmented and Mixed Reality Solutions Innovation PoCs across Aviation, Railway, OG&C and Nuclear Infrastructure at Bechtel Inc., Digital Twin Specialist and Innovation Product Manager at Digital Construction Works.