Construction Canada: Using 3D to help projects leap into the future

Through visualization, project personnel can effectively manage more data than is possible through traditional methods. Improving construction operations has become a driving force behind innovation in virtual construction, and it will continue to push the industry to conform to new technology. Various software platforms can be used to create a workflow allowing all project members to integrate site imagery with 3D models for visual project control.

Correlating imagery to design drawings and site locations is time-consuming and not without the possibility for error. Complex geometry and large sums of information can hamper productivity during field checks for accuracy and quality. Further, photographs and videos do not always communicate the full extent of issues. This forces specific personnel to come onsite, creating additional time and cost impacts because of ineffective data-sharing methods.

A research partnership between construction company Ledcor Group and Mitacs—a national, not-for-profit research and training organization—has produced a tool that blends the actual and virtual worlds, combining models with real imagery for hands-on management of construction projects from pursuit to closeout. In this workflow, imagery captured onsite is integrated with Google Earth, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or drone) footage, and 3D models to produce a comprehensive overview of the project. By analyzing the time stamp and geolocation of an image, the tool automatically populates the area in Google Earth for visual organization of data. The addition of drone footage allows for true 360-degree coverage of the site, ensuring all aspects are captured.

Adding a model to a space allows captured imagery to be overlain with the proposed design for real-time visualization and effective progress tracking. The result is a virtual environment all team members can access as they move forward through the various stages of construction.

This type of platform facilitates sharing of information throughout the life cycle of a construction project, providing snapshots at crucial intervals to support decision-making related to estimating, planning, and controlling. When ground images are retrieved and compared to existing and proposed sites, project teams can compare planned models to structures as they are built, tracking progress remotely and making changes when necessary.

An important feature to prioritize is the capability to accurately review and understand site data from any location. This way, project stakeholders can receive real-time project updates in a virtual reality (VR) setting. By using 3D technology, project team members can have access to a comprehensive overview of project operations and status without expending time and money to visit the site.

It is also important users have the option to control the period or location of viewing, automatically filtering by date range or location and limiting the output to requested information only. This is effective because it allows project managers to review completed work in a 3D environment and minimize effort during planning of upcoming tasks. Likewise, if there is uncertainty surrounding a previous installation, filtering data from the location and time of the install can provide users a full 3D model overlain with imagery. The option to quickly flip between different stages of a project highlights small details and information that may otherwise be overlooked by the project team. By project closeout, the result is a 3D model superimposed with staged imagery as recorded onsite.

This offers an excellent method for checking work by comparing model components to real-life photos where any deviations or missing parts will stand out. Further, if all time-stamped imagery throughout the course of a project is combined, a detailed timeline is created containing critical information related to warranty and potential contract disputes. Full implementation of this type of tool can save time and limit conflicts during the completion phase of a project.

Moving forward
Although full implementation remains a work in progress, researchers are developing new methods to further improve 3D construction tools, such as adding embedded hyperlinks for rapid access to relevant information. If a particular component is being built with concrete, for example, it can be linked to corresponding documents containing information such as strength test results or design and quantity information.

The desire to virtually oversee construction can be rapidly translated into a working proof of concept, effectively bridging the gap between decades of construction practice and modern technology. Employing 3D software will advance workflow capabilities as well as the outlook on construction in Canada over the coming years.

By: Rod Wales

Rod Wales is vice-president of operations for Ledcor Infrastructure. He leads project partnerships, proposal submissions, large design-build and public-private partnership pursuits, and major project startup. Wales is also a member of Ledcor’s innovation and technology investment committees, and holds a master’s degree in construction engineering and management from the University of Alberta.