Interactive VR training improves construction site safety and ROI
Digital platform TwinSite is one of the innovations on the frontier of this shift. Launched by Ramirent/Loxam, Europe’s largest rental construction equipment provider, TwinSite is a virtual world set in and around interactive construction sites.
Built in Unreal Engine by real-time media and production studio One Reality, the platform provides an immersive, interactive learning environment for construction site personnel. “TwinSite will grow over time to comprise many different types of construction sites in their different phases,” explains Magnus Arfors, Chairman at One Reality. “It will serve as a virtual marketing communication and innovation platform for a large number of brands, with a view to improving site safety, business efficiency, and sustainability within the construction industry.”
VR learning to improve knowledge transferRegulations that require rental companies to train on health and safety before renting equipment vary across Europe. But even in places where there is no law explicitly demanding it, many offer this service regardless in order to support their customers, who are obliged in their turn to meet tough safety standards.
This is where the digital platform TwinSite is helping to reduce costs and boost knowledge transfer. “TwinSite increases the wider understanding of the risks, overall function, and design of what we call the ‘temporary factory,’ ” explains Anders Vikmyr, Business Development Manager at Ramirent. “The temporary factory is a combination of everything temporary needed to erect a building or structure, such as cranes, hoists, scaffolding, temporary heating, and locker rooms.”
Rather than taking place at an off-site training facility, TwinSite can be set up and used at the construction site, either in 2D on a traditional flat screen or in virtual reality for a more immersive, realistic experience.
Site workers schedule in a time slot and take part in educational courses that include operational procedures and safety instructions. The immersive nature of the interactive VR environment, which accurately replicates real-word scenarios, has been found to improve knowledge transfer compared to traditional teaching methods, while also providing a safe and cost-effective training ground for hands-on personnel.
There are currently two training courses available on TwinSite: Cutter VR and Silica Dust VR, which can be accessed via the Concrete Room on the platform’s main virtual construction site. The Concrete Room is a virtual environment that houses several stations to be completed for each course. In Cutter VR, users learn the correct operational procedures and handling of Husqvarna concrete cutters. They’re taught how to pick the correct type of blade for each job and how to perform maintenance checks on the equipment. Concrete cutters can be dangerous in real life due to the risk that they might kick back. This is replicated virtually in the course, providing shock value without the danger.
In the Silica Dust VR course, users are taken through a series of interactive lessons on silica dust—one of the biggest health hazards to construction workers today. Part of the lesson involves being shrunk down to microscopic scale, and experiencing the drastic effect of silica dust on the alveoli and the cilia of the lungs. This course has educated around 400 people to date about the dangers of silica dust and how to mitigate the risks, receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback from users.
Real-time training for improved ROIThe ROI benefits of real-time training over traditional methods can be significant. Traditional teacher-led training requires site personnel to be away from a construction project for half a day or more to complete a course. That’s without taking into account the travel time and expense to get there. With TwinSite, instead of sending 10 people at a time to a training facility, Ramirent can go straight to the customer and set up the VR kit, often at a building shed on the construction site. One Reality and Ramirent estimate that VR training on site can be up to four times more cost efficient than traditional offsite training.
“Each trainee books a one-hour slot, just as they would for the dentist,” says Vikmyr. “This saves a huge amount of time and enables the day-to-day activities on site to continue virtually uninterrupted.” What’s more, immersive training has proven to be extremely efficient in comparison to traditional training. Ramirent has found that less than one hour is enough for both the learning element and the subsequent test element of the course. And it’s proven remarkably effective in transferring knowledge, with personnel achieving average scores of over 90% on tests.
What’s more, the benefits go beyond reduced training costs and increased knowledge. “In addition to training, TwinSite can reduce costs as a virtual hub for communication and innovation,” says Arfors. “For example, Husqvarna products get exposed over and over again in education and demos, without the need for Husqvarna’s representatives to even be present.”
Higher output with fewer programmers thanks to BlueprintOne Reality has been using Unreal Engine to create virtual worlds and experiences since 2016. “We use it because we appreciate its great performance and flexibility,” says Arfors.
The team at the studio built the TwinSite virtual environment in the engine, and are involved in developing new virtual learning modules for the existing virtual infrastructure. The work they’ve delivered is all the more impressive given the comparatively small size of the team. “We’ve managed to produce the content with relatively few C++ programmers due to Blueprint,” Arfors says.
The Blueprint visual scripting system in Unreal Engine provides a fast and efficient way for designers to get their hands on the full range of tools usually only available to programmers. Instead of having to write code line by line, everything is done visually: drag and dropping nodes, setting their properties in a UI, and dragging wires to connect.
As well as harnessing the power of Blueprint, the team also came up with an innovative use of motion capture on the project. “We’ve set up our own motion capture system in order to speed up the time it takes to produce animations,” explains Arfors. “We also put a tracker on a real concrete cutter in order to create a high-end experience involving a real machine, which was easy thanks to UE4.”
Interactive visualization driving change in constructionVikmyr predicts immersive and interactive environments like TwinSite will have a transformative effect on construction. “The construction industry faces significant challenges in terms of overall efficiency,” he says. “It’s also one of the most dangerous industries to be employed in. Thanks to its ability to bring high-quality knowledge transfer to the masses in an efficient way, TwinSite will have a positive effect on these aspects, helping the industry to become more sustainable in the process.”
Arfors also believes the platform has the potential to be a real driver for change across the industry. “We have reason to believe that we are actually changing attitudes and that people are starting to take risks seriously,” he says. What’s more, he credits the realism achievable in Unreal Engine as a key factor in this. “Some users even spontaneously start to cough when they see the dust coming from the concrete cutter,” he continues. “It’s the result of a quality experience built in UE4.”
The adoption of digital strategies across the design, engineer, and build process will lead to even greater synergies in the future. Once you have a virtual representation of a product or project, the incremental work of using it for a different part of the process becomes significantly easier. The digital asset of the concrete cutter used for sales and marketing can become the digital asset used for training and maintenance. While we’re far from this being the common practice, the promise of using real-time assets across all these tasks is where the industry is trending.
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