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Ledcor integrates digital buildings into reality

Warren Frey
Ledcor integrates digital buildings into reality

Ledcor is working with University of Alberta researchers to bring 3-D models into the real world and in the process revolutionize how people build.

Ledcor vice-president of operations Rod Wales said visualizing and integrating three dimensional digital models into real world settings is an "overall industry trend."

"Everyone is working on some form of it, but no one wants to share with their competitors where they’re at. We all work on these things in parallel," Wales said.

To take on the project, Ledcor partnered with the University of Alberta through MITACS, a not-for-profit organization that works with universities, companies and governments to drive research and training programs. Through MITACS Ledcor was supplied with a number of post-grad masters or PhD students who worked on the visualization project.

"We utilized the university rather than do it in house, because we don’t have dedicated resources (for the program). It’s a good program for us to take advantage of," Wales said.

Ledcor’s project uses Google Earth and integrates time-stamped, geo-referenced photos and drone footage to create an accurate virtual environment in which to place designs.

The main advantage of using a digital approach over traditional methods is efficiency, Wales said.

"We can take downtown Vancouver for instance, drop a 3-D model into the location where it will be built and see how it fits in within other buildings and plan instead of sketching," he said.

This allows for collaboration between all levels of a project, with information about different components and aspects of the build "tagged" onto the model for everyone to utilize.

"It’s definitely an efficiency gain. A model is created once and we don’t have to recreate it," Wales said. "Everyone has to figure out how it comes together, but we’re all seeing it in three dimensions. Every discipline can look at the same information in real time and that’s a big deal."

Wales pointed out that while applying the technology to the construction industry is new, similar applications of digital information on real world surroundings already exist.

"The way the industry is going, every superintendent or foreman has a tablet and is drawing with fingertips. Augmented reality (AR) is certainly on our horizon. We’ll be able to put glasses on and see where things fit in the field. We’re doing that now on a computer screen, but that’s the next step," he said. "Pokemon Go (a popular AR video game) exists today, and soon that will come to construction."

To date, Wales said Ledcor has used the technology internally but hasn’t applied it to a project for a client.

"We’ve dabbled in pieces of projects and we’ve done it while bidding on projects, but it’s been experimental up until now. But it’s ready to go live," he said.

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