Lean construction is dedicated to producing structures more efficiently.

“It’s a methodology focused on reducing waste and increasing value for the client,” according to Mayra Soto Espinoza, construction product manager and lean construction expert at software firm HoloBuilder Inc.

Lean construction offers many advantages to the construction process, but some technology innovators are aiming to expand its usefulness by leveraging it with virtual reality (VR) and 360° reality capturing. Those technologies, Espinoza said, can help to overcome some of the common failings seen on construction sites.

“An important aspect of the lean construction theory is to give the right information to the right audience when they need it and to reduce uncertainty about what’s going on and what has to be done,” Espinoza said. “Despite significant efforts to apply the theory to the field, the right information still fails to reach the right person too often.”

Communication between the field and the office, in particular, leads many decision makers to make false interpretations, which results in significant workflow interruptions, she said.

Technologies such as virtual reality and 360° reality capturing offer a solution. Virtual reality is the computer generated 3D representation of an environment, with the user able to interact within the environment through a helmet or goggles. Full 360° reality capturing makes use of 360° cameras to photograph a work site in all directions, creating a precise 3D record of a space.

VR is playing a key role in closing the communication gap from the field to the office and from the office to the field. With these technologies, the team can build a model or series of models that are easy to create and easy to share.

“The new technology allows decision makers to virtually visit their site, rather than visiting it in person,” Espinoza said. It also “allows people on site to better understand what they are building, by making the BIM model available to everyone in the field.”

In a typical scenario, reports are sent to the office at the end of each week. The information is analysed, and anything that stops the workflow is identified. Virtual reality and 360° reality capturing enable more timely processing of data, minimising events that stop the workflow, and helping the team fix processes faster.

It helps them to record this information that otherwise would be really hard to capture because construction sites move really fast,” Espinoza noted.

In addition, problems can be identified faster and address far more quickly rather than the usual situation in which rectifications occur after the problem has occurred.

Virtual tours reduce waste by saving time. If there is a problem on the construction site, there’s no need for project managers, architects, and engineers to spend time there. Instead, the site supervisor or an intern can set up a 360° camera, record the site video, and share the link with all parties.

“You just send them the link, get their feedback and their expertise about the problem, and then develop solutions from that,” Espinoza said.

In addition, VR and 360° cameras make it easy to record accurate as-built videos, making future maintenance, repairs, expansions, and remodels easier. According to Espinoza, customers can “do virtual tours before the drywall goes up so they can know actually what’s behind the walls. Later on when the building needs maintaining, they don’t have to guess where the pipes are.”

That functionality is aided by the program’s ability to provide measurements of the spaces in the 360° photos.