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How Can Virtual & Augmented Reality Benefit Facilities Management?

by Greg Wilson   Aug 08, 2018

Technology, Facilities Management

Virtual and augmented reality (VR, AR) are certainly hot topics right now, but when most people think of VR and AR, they picture gamers wearing headsets. However, VR and AR technology is more than just for play— it can be enormously beneficial in the work world as well.

Virtual reality is the computer-generated simulation of 3D environments you can interact with. VR is not to be confused with AR, or augmented reality, which enhances the physical world with sensors, video and audio, graphics, and other technology. In sum: VR provides an entirely virtual environment, while AR offers an enhanced physical one.

Currently, facilities managers are integrating both virtual and augmented reality technology into maintenance and management processes because of their potential to improve operational efficiency and reduce spend in new ways. Let’s dive into four ways you can apply VR and AR to facilities management:

1 - Create Intelligent, 3D Renderings of Facilities

VR-AR-facilities-managementVR makes it possible to create detailed, user-friendly three-dimensional renderings of your facilities. It incorporates building information modeling (BIM) files with VR technology such as Oculus Rift to generate accurate virtual representations.

These 3D renderings allow you to fully immerse yourself in building maps, helping to first virtually plan, design and build facilities, and then manage equipment and infrastructure. For example, use VR during construction to map out potential customer flows, so stores, restaurants and clinics are designed to easily navigate. This is revolutionary, as accomplishing tasks like this in the physical world is mostly done through trial and error, which is much more expensive and time-consuming than when done virtually.

Additionally, multiple users can view VR facilities maps at one time, enabling collaboration and the ability to show, rather than tell, when presenting FM ideas or delivering reports.

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2 - Monitor “Hidden” Equipment and Environments

AR enhancement gives you visibility and allows you to experience situations without physically being there. This X-ray-like capability provides a new level of asset monitoring, especially for those that are difficult to access, such as pipes buried deep within walls or underground tunnels that may be dangerous to walk through. AR sensors can detect if something is amiss and give you a digitized view of what’s wrong, helping you understand the states of these types of “hidden” assets without tearing open walls.

Sensors on or inside assets power AR monitoring capabilities. You gain access to sensor data via technology like QR scanners— some can even provide live audio and video streams— which can then be collected, organized and analyzed with an FM software platform.

These sensors can also help provide and confirm lifecycle and service information that can be incredibly useful during repair and maintenance work. Simply by scanning an AR sensor, you can access useful data like parts numbers, as well as view a digital overlay of how the asset should look and function, helping your team complete repair & maintenance (R&M) issues successfully.

3 - Troubleshoot Remotely

Similar to AR asset modeling, VR 3D models help visualize where equipment systems— including plumbing, electrical, and more— are within your walls, ceilings and floors without physical visual inspections. This capability helps you troubleshoot problems, schedule accurate work orders, and direct contractors remotely, making your work environment safer and you more effective at your job. Not to mention, virtual inspections require significantly fewer resources than physical ones, as you don’t need to knock out drywall or remove ceiling tiles to complete them.

VR makes finding inefficiencies in your systems simple, since one quick look gives you a complete picture of the internal structures of your buildings; perhaps your current setup means HVAC units have to work overtime to regulate the building. VR models make this clear and help you strategize better, resource-saving solutions.

With this in-depth visibility into your facilities’ functions, you can also plan preventive maintenance work and develop R&M budgets proactively.

4 - Space Plan Efficiently

Strategic space planning is key to well-organized, customer-friendly facilities. Keep in mind, it is not only important when buildings are first being constructed, but also throughout their lives as you replace or add equipment, build new walls and knock down old ones.

VR models aid in space planning by providing simulations of facilities changes virtually, before they are ever implemented physically. This gives you unparalleled planning power— you can see what updated facilities will look like, how equipment placement will affect other assets, and if there are better ways to organize your new layout.

In addition to being extremely proactive, this method is also cost-effective; making changes to space plans is much more expensive when you have to use trial and error with heavy, sometimes delicate equipment, rather than with a virtual representation that can move around with the swipe of a finger.

VR can revolutionize how you plan and manage your facilities’ organization, turning a retroactive, expensive process into a proactive, sleek, cost-effective one.

Final Thoughts

Using VR and AR in facilities management is one component of a major movement in the industry— widespread adoption of technology. Recently, FMs have been using specialized FM technology to take tasks that range from mundane to dangerous off of their plates, making work safer, easier and more efficient, both in terms of time and spend. Virtual and augmented solutions are no exception.

VR and AR capabilities in facilities management are still in the early stages and looking ahead, the possibilities of what these technologies can potentially accomplish is limitless; perhaps one day repair and maintenance work could be performed within virtual renderings, or entire customer experiences could take place within 3D simulations. By adopting these technologies now, you set your facilities on a course for amazing future innovation.

Learn more about integrating your current facilities management processes with advanced FM technology.

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