Brian Armagost, a structural computer-aided design and drafting technician at PDC Engineers, helps Max Frey, PDC’s marketing and communications coordinator, set up virtual reality equipment for a walkthrough of a site. Photos by Samantha Davenport
While some might associate virtual reality with movies like “The Matrix” or “The Lawnmower Man,” Danny Rauchenstein of PDC Engineers connects VR to the future of his company. Rauchenstein, a principal engineer and the Facilities Market Sector lead at PDC, has been leading his team to integrate VR equipment into their design software.
Rauchenstein has been with the company for two decades. Through the years, he and other engineers had discussed the future of technology. But in the past 18 months, they realized that technology was already here. “It’s going to happen on every significant-sized project in the future,” Rauchenstein said.
PDC decided to take the leap and invest in VR equipment, which was about $5,000 without the cost of a computer to run it on or labor. This relatively minor expense for an engineering firm like PDC completely they ran their day-to-day operations.
“I think there’s a perception of high cost, and I don’t think people realize how cheap it is — the barrier to entry,” Rauchenstein said. “We were able to effectively implement it, and now we use it in our standard daily designs.”
All it takes for a client to see their future (project) is to put on a VR headset and be able to work two joysticks. Rauchenstein said that the cherry on top is VR’s fun factor. Not only is it an important tool, but it’s an enjoyable one.
PDC recently purchased a LIDAR scanner, which uses pulsed laser light to generate three-dimensional point clouds. The scanner allows their employees to walk into an existing area, such as a gymnasium or conference hall, scan it and have an accurate 3D representation of what the layout is. The scanner takes about 12 minutes to measure the area, but it covers every single detail, even down to the pipes and ducts.
VR is helpful for clients and for everyone in the process. From architects to contractors and everyone in between, the level of collaboration and communication is improved. The scanner also helps prevent miscommunication between engineers and contractors because they are all working with an accurate scan from the LIDAR machine, resulting in hyper-accurate as-builts.
PDC isn’t the only firm that has incorporated VR into its day-to-day operations. John Weir, president and principal architect at McCool Carlson Green, an Anchorage-based architecture firm, has been with the company for 26 years. MCG was introduced to VR last year through PDC Engineering’s Rauchenstein.
Danny Rauchenstein, facilities market sector lead and a principal engineer at PDC Engineers, walks his team through one of PDC's three-dimensional models.
Weir said he believes that VR provides more engagement for the architects and engineers in a three-dimensional environment helping to understand more clearly the building’s design and quality control.
“It’s a more immersive experience and visually more comprehensive than something like two-dimensional drawings,” Weir said.
Weir said virtual reality software offers his company the ability to explore a model through VR, look for clashes and communicate issues to the design team. MGC’s software even allows architects and engineers to be brought together from remote locations.
“(We can have) the stakeholders meet virtually, walk around the model and validate or showcase some of the space opportunities and get their visual buy-in,” Weir said.
Weir sees VR as a helpful tool to have in the company’s toolbelt.
“I think (virtual reality is) a game-changer in terms of drawing integration for high quality construction documents,” Weir said.
Lynn Barrett is the Alaska Representative for Doing It Right This Time, or DIRTT for short. DIRTT is the distribution partner for Paragon, a licensed general contractor in Alaska. They are also a partner in Seattle, where they expanded a year ago. Together, Paragon and DIRTT began using VR about three years ago.
“(DIRTT’s) business platform is technology, so we are a technology company manufacturing interior construction. We use a gaming software called ICE,” Barrett said.
Barrett says that clients love VR ICE Software because it provides visual certainty and allows them to make necessary changes and see the change of cost immediately.
“They can actually walk through the space and see what it’s going to look like before it’s ever manufactured,” Barrett said. “People are visual. It’s hard to see in 2D. People want to be able to touch, see (and) feel.”
DIRTT is working with a delivery recovery center where doctors and nurses have been part of the planning process. Barrett says that a lot of what is important to nurses and doctors requires reaching for instruments.
“They can say, ‘Oh, we need one more data port here,’ or, ‘Can you add one?’ ” Barrett said.
Max Frey, PDC's marketing and communications coordinator, tests out the company's virtual reality equipment in a meeting. The equipment costs about $5,000.
DIRTT uses virtual reality to give its clients high-quality experience without having to order a room and have it installed as a mock-up, which is what used to be required.
“The construction industry is the only industry that has never, ever adapted to change. Every other industry has. … With technology and the use of our 3-D software, ICE and virtual reality, we’re changing the entire interior construction industry and changing the experience for the client, the experience for the subtrades, allowing them to come in and experience that virtual reality,” Barrett said.
All three companies have made efforts in augmented reality, which is similar to VR. Augmented reality uses the existing world around the user, but objects are augmented.
“It’s one thing to put on a VR (headset) and you’re in an immersive, but completely new, separate environment. (With) augmented reality, you could potentially put on the gear and actually be standing in a building — an existing building — and be able to look at the renovation pieces,” Rauchenstein said.
Augmented reality is coming soon to PDC, but DIRTT and MCG have already begun using augmented reality. MCG is using AR on a new hangar for Alaska Airlines that will be completed in the fall.
Samantha Davenport is a freelance writer living in Anchorage.