Digi-Tech Factory: Progress Report

Happy New Year! 

2021 is certainly looking bright for our constructXR programme. Last year we worked on two local Norwich projects, training up collaborators for the DigiTech factory and Norwich Castle on how to use Trimble Connect for Microsoft HoloLens on a live construction site. 

Our engagement with the DigiTech factory project saw us working alongside R G Carters, Clancy Consulting, Clear Consulting and Design, Coffey Architects and City College Norwich to help place the superstructure frame at the DigiTech Factory project in Norwich City Centre.

The ground floor concrete slab is due to be laid very soon, and once it has, we will be working with Interior Design company Waldorf Farrow, and John Thornberry Architects to model the interiors and start planning the layout of the walls and furniture for the ground floor at 1-2-1 scale with the client. Watch this space for more updates, pictures and videos coming your way! 

DIGI-TECH Factory update

Welcome to the first constructXR report from the Digitech factory project where we’ll be providing a transparent overview of our work and discuss our findings and challenges to date!

After being contracted to work on this project, we conducted an initial Mixed Reality introduction session with R G Carters, Clancy’s Consulting, Clear Consulting Design and the MD of Coffey’s Architects back in September, to familiarise them with how the HoloLens works, test the accuracy of the technology and get their initial thoughts and feedback on how the technology could work for them.

Once familiar with the software and headset, we then set about planning for the construction of the Superstructure. While the foundations were dug out and the substructure was under construction, we worked with Clancy’s Consulting and Coffeys Architects to create a 3D IFC model of the steel frame, which the project partners were then able to view at full scale on the live site before the substructure had been completed.

 

Findings & challenges so far…

Headsets: We did encounter initial issues with the XR10 feeling secure due to the additional weight and the hard hat, but we are now looking to introduce chins straps to rectify this. In terms of sound, the headsets can be used to answer phone calls and engage with the ‘remote assist’ feature, which is fantastic for collaborative working. Sound is delivered via bone transducers which allows for ear protection to be worn on site. One minor bit of negative feedback was that it can be slightly uncomfortable as it presses on the back of the ear.

Glare: When using the HoloLens on site in broad daylight, the Digitech team encountered some issues with visibility due to glare washing out the holograms, which is reportedly not uncommon. We overcame this issue by devising what we refer to as ‘hacked ski goggles’, by using a thin layer of tinted static window film (disclaimer: this is an unofficial hack!) to reduce the amount of light that was let into the lens. When we initially attached it with Velcro, we found that it had a slight effect on the depth sensors. This outdoor visibility issue is a known problem which Microsoft are looking into. We hear that a software solution may be in the making, but for now we are using the tinted static film which works well.

Connectivity: The HoloLens operates as a stand-alone piece of hardware, meaning it does not need to be connected to a computer. A good Wi-Fi connection is required to upload and download models to the Trimble Connect for HoloLens software which works relatively well on a 4G connection. We have faced download issues before with site Wi-Fi connections, but as of this month the problem is solved as Trimble have updated the application so you can now log in using “offline” mode. This has allowed us to access previously downloaded models on the headset. Functions such as co-located meetings with everyone looking at the same model do rely on strong Wi-Fi and can lag if the connection isn’t so great. Utilising features such as the like remote calling and assistance require a good Wi-Fi connection on site. At the time of writing, there are just two 5G connection hot spots in Norwich City centre by o2. We have just purchased a new 5G apple phone so we can use the hotspot to test 5G with the HoloLens capabilities which we are very excited to do!

What’s next?

Now that the substructure has been installed, we are swiftly moving on to the next phase of the project. Our next big test will be holding a remote meeting, with two of our partners who will be situated in separate locations. This allows for greater collaboration on projects, especially at a time like this when the UK is facing a variety of restrictions levels and travelling to different sites isn’t always an option. Another great benefit of using the Microsoft HoloLens is that it allows site-based workers to engage with the design in 3D, which helps identify potential hazards and challenges in good time.

In the next phase of work, we will be tracking the steel frame construction. This will be done by overlaying the proposal steel frame onto the steel frame as its erected, and testing it out to check the progress and accuracy as it goes, and getting feedback on the tech from the steel frame subcontractors and erectors.

Once the steel frame and floors have been installed, the next phase will be the installation of the building cladding. This involves a unique mesh outer layer which has been designed by Coffey Architects. We are in the process of transferring these details across to our software and mocking them up in 3d format to transfer across to the HoloLens. We will then preview specific junctions and interface details of the cladding at scale, on site and via test team review meetings.

The constructXR project to date has been a huge success and has provided a real insight into the future of technology and construction collaboration. Here’s what some of our project partners have had to say so far:

“XL Werks have attended the Digi-tech Factory project for City College Norwich several times now and I have had the pleasure of learning more about the programme and headset, and how it can help benefit our work.

Having personally only ever played games on a VR headset this is clearly far superior, as you can see the hologram projected onto the screen in front of your eyes and view what you are looking at on site too.

First of all it takes a bit to get use to the controls and viewing the hologram, but like all things, the more you use it the easier it becomes. I can definitely see the advantages of using this technology in the future.

As a site manager it’s important to understand the building in its the early stages and this equipment definitely helps with this, as the hologram is clear for you to see at scale, and you can also have meetings with multiple users to discuss the design process, saving time and money; a great asset to any build project. I am very much looking forward to continuing to use this technology as the project progresses.” Richard Reeve, Site Manager from R G Carter

Once the next phase of work has been completed, we will conduct another report to assess our findings and feedback. We also have a few more exciting projects lined up which we will be starting in the coming months, more details to follow!

DIGI-TECH Factory

constructXR is currently working on the construction site of the new Norwich City College DigiTech Factory alongside main contractors R G Carter, Coffey Architects, Clear Consulting and Design who are responsible for the Mechanical and Electrical Engineering and Structural Engineering firm Clancy Consulting. We are training those involved in the use of the Microsoft Hololens in a live working environment, having recently installed the Substructure of the project. The next phase entails overlaying the structural steel frame using AR via the Microsoft Hololens

Watch this space for videos coming soon!