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Cutting edge, not corners

Digital Engineering By John McLoughlin, Partner, Civil Engineering – 14 February 2022

Person with back to camera wearing a Cundall high vis jacket facing a building site with a colourful render superimposed


John McLoughlin seated in an office space

John McLoughlin

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The construction industry has traditionally been slow to adopt emerging technologies. New products and technologies are often dismissed as expensive luxuries or unnecessary for external works, with site coordination being left to “sort on-site.”

As leaders in digital design, our bespoke 3D models are powerful tools that we want to continue to develop and implement across all our projects. We are always looking for the next innovation and have been investigating the application of augmented reality (AR) in our designs as well as its application on site. We became aware of XYZ in early 2020 after seeing the existing functionality of their product. We proposed using Cundall’s 3D external models, a first for their system, and following rigorous testing and trials on-site, we are now using the product on hyperscale data centre projects.

Although AR has been sporadically used in construction, it has been restricted in its scope and purpose. We have tested various apps and programmes over the years but many of these were not fit for purpose and could not provide the level of detail and scalability required.

As a project engineer, having visibility of the works on-site and in real-time allows for a level of collaboration and site supervision that has not been achievable before. On-site challenges can be addressed immediately and accurate information is available to the whole design team. The value of having real-time site data whilst sat in an office 2,000 miles away is intrinsic to the delivery of projects. In addition, it plays a significant role in reducing our carbon footprint from site visits. The growing demand for environmentally sensitive construction means we must challenge traditional practices. The more air miles we can save, the less carbon we are emitting into the environment.

We are only at the beginning of this journey into the future of AR. Over recent years, our digital skillsets have developed rapidly, allowing us to create complex 3D models at scale. These skills were partly responsible for the development of the CIC Carbon Assessment Tool (CAT) - an online platform for industry-wide stakeholders including developers, designers, and contractors to evaluate their project's carbon emission against the benchmark.

The possibilities to further develop and integrate AR into our other services are endless. In the future, it would be ideal for digital models to have native integration with parametric modelling, carbon output, thermal and acoustic detailing.

As projects become increasingly complex and larger in scale, the adoption of AR technology will lead to better coordination, excellence, and capabilities to deliver projects to perfect accuracy.

I’m excited to see what the future holds for AR technology in our industry.