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Creating safer construction projects with virtual reality

March 5, 2020 in Industry | 4 min. read

Laing O’Rourke, one of the largest privately-owned construction companies in the UK, harnessed the power of Unity’s real-time 3D development platform to create an immersive virtual reality (VR) crane simulator to train its lift team before they ever step foot on a project.

Safety management and training is a top priority for the construction industry. Involving workers and providing ongoing access to safety training are top aspects of a world-class safety program, according to a Dodge Data & Analytics report. VR is one of the top technologies expected to improve safety in the next three years, but there are already companies leading the charge now.

At Unite Copenhagen, we invited Graham Brierley, Head of Digital Engineering from Laing O’Rourke, to share his firm’s experience with Unity and how VR is transforming the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry. Read on to learn how Laing O’Rourke used Unity to create an interactive VR training program to improve project safety and make the construction industry safer, more productive, and more sustainable.

Switching from games to cranes

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Laing O’Rourke has a long reputation of investing in breakthrough technologies and harnessing innovation as a positive force for change. Several years ago, Laing O’Rourke realized it wasn’t getting what it needed out of its current software. To solve this problem, the company tasked Brierley with finding the right solution.

It was clear Brierley wasn't going to find what he needed in construction so he started searching outside of traditional software. That’s when Brierley found Unity. To harness Unity’s capabilities, he hired two game developers with no construction experience. It was a risky move, but it was also the right one. "They brought a skill set that we were otherwise struggling with. As engineers and technicians, we don't necessarily have a background in developing, coding, and data," said Brierley.

Brierley’s team is now using Unity to develop VR and augmented reality (AR) applications to simplify, de-risk, and transform some of the most complex on-site construction activities.

Utilizing simulation for safety

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Operating a crane on a project is a dangerous endeavor that requires constant verbal communication. The crane operator usually works in isolation and is unable to see the lift team on the project. Teams can also look different from one project to the next and there is often more than one crane moving at a time. The lift team must understand the constraints and perspectives from each other so that it’s done safely.

Laing O’Rourke turned to Unity and its newly hired game developers to solve safety issues. With Unity, Laing O’Rourke used VR to create an immersive environment to simulate crane operation and communication before workers ever step foot on a project. The crane simulator was developed from the crane operator’s perspective, placing them high in the air.

The training connects multiple VR headsets to improve communication between the crane driver and banksman, the person who directs the operation of a crane. In the training, crane drivers must follow the banksman's instructions to control a virtual crane.

Teaching an entire team

Laing O’Rourke took it a step further and incorporated the technology into its two-day training course. Delivered by certified trainers, the course is designed to equip the lift team with enhanced, practical, and theoretical knowledge to deal with more complex products and lift operations on busy construction sites.

The training moved beyond just crane operator and banksman communication to simulate environments, challenges, and perspectives across the entire lift team. With the VR crane simulator, Laing O’Rourke was able to improve communication and promote collaboration and shared learning across lift teams. 

Laing O’Rourke’s measurement of success was getting positive feedback from its workers and making sure they were focusing on the right training points.

Winning awards with Unity

Creating the VR crane simulator in Unity was just the beginning. Laing O’Rourke has continued to create new custom applications with Unity to solve business problems and cement its status as a leader for innovation and excellence in the construction industry. 

Recently, Laing O'Rourke used VR to create temporary cofferdam inspection training for the Thames Tideway Tunnel. The tool uses a non-tethered VR headset and marker tool on PC to let engineers host and run training exercises, engagements, and briefings. Driving a deeper understanding of risk improved the retention of important safety information. The Unity made VR tool was shortlisted for a TechFest award for “Best Use of Technology: Health, Safety & Wellbeing Award.”

For its VR crane simulator, Laing O’Rourke also won best AEC project in the Unity Awards 2019.

The company is currently working on implementing Unity Reflect into its workflow to create real-time BIM applications.


Learn more about the power of Unity for AEC.

March 5, 2020 in Industry | 4 min. read