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Augmented reality technology aids B.C. metal fabrication students

Russell Hixson
Augmented reality technology aids B.C. metal fabrication students
BCIT - B.C. Institute of Technology instructor Henry Ostermann checks discrepancies with student Rowen Peters using a virtual model overlay tool called FabStation.

Imagine if you could see a mistake before you make it.

That’s what cutting edge technology is enabling trades students in Burnaby to do.   

FabStation, a new pilot project at the B.C. Institute of Technology (BCIT), is using augmented reality software to visually place 3D assets into normal workflows for construction and inspection.

BCIT metal fabrication instructor Henry Ostermann explained the educational pilot started in 2021 when the school partnered with Eterio Realities, the Victoria-based developer of FabStation, a cutting-edge software offered free of charge for Level 2 students in the BCIT Steel Trades programs.

“I think the big part is steel shops can see if they missed a clip or a bracket with quick checks,” said Ostermann. “It will cut down on mistakes and charge backs.”

The technology allows a two-dimensional blueprint to be bypassed altogether and the 3D CAD design can be referenced directly.

Ostermann noted this is especially useful when working with large, heavy or intricate steel structures.

“Our students struggle with visualization between 2D and what the actual part looks like,” said Ostermann. “This allows students on a phone or tablet to view and move the model around in 3D space and rotate it. I think it bridges the gap. This is really going to pave the way for metal fabrication.”

It is the first time the technology has been applied in a classroom setting. Ostermann has worked on models students could use with Eterio for roughly a year.

FabStation can be downloaded as an app and used on any mobile device.

It can also pair with a wearable HoloLens 2, allowing for hands-free adaptability while working. Another key benefit is that it also allows the user to double-check measurements at a critical stage, preventing errors before they occur.

Recently, metal fabrication and ironworker students worked together to complete a structural stair project by using the software to pass different iterations of the construction back and forth. Ostermann explained this is a particularly tricky project for students.

“Industry is saying students have a hard time understanding rise and run and getting the angle cut perfect,” he said. “This allows you to lay the part out and do a full 3D overlay to make sure your cuts are appropriate and adequate before you can even cut it and fit it up.”

Usually, the stairs would be manufactured in a shop, cut, welded together and then shipped to site. That is where costly, time consuming mistakes would be discovered.

“I think for a lot of repetitive things, this will speed things up and it will become more common,” he said. “The kids nowadays love their apps and widgets. This is a tool that could assist them.”

Ostermann noted the technology can ensure everyone has current drawings and can be used to inspect awkward, hard-to-reach areas.

“We are still playing around with this,” he said. “I am excited about it, and I’d like to see more people follow along and take it for a test drive.”

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