Avvir Academy
November 2, 2022

BIM-empowered Approach to Construction Inspections

The proverb, “necessity is the mother of invention,” which is credited to Plato, is an apt way to describe many U.S. industries during the recent shutdowns. The pandemic pushed entire industries into remote work. It also encouraged the digitization of many transactions that previously could be done only in person.

The building inspection industry was among the industries that needed to adapt. Previously, inspections were done exclusively in person, but many jurisdictions began allowing virtual inspections so projects could continue. In most cases, a virtual inspection consisted of a zoom call, facetime, or teams chat to  allow the inspector to see the job site remotely.And while this is a great step towards efficiency, we believe that BIM (building information modeling) can be part of the virtual inspection process and enable it to happen more effectively.

The International Code Council, Inc. (ICC), a nonprofit that provides a wide range of building safety solutions, has developed guidelines for conducting virtual inspections. The guidelines note that authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) had “…to come up with solutions to perform all aspects of codes and standards administration from remote locations….”

One solution that uses the available technology is remote virtual inspection (RVI). The ICC notes the practice gained wide acceptance during the pandemic and “… its advantages are so great that it will likely become a popular and routine tool for the foreseeable future.”

Consider the technology needed for RVIs and how BIM can make the process better.

The necessary technologies and their roles

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality (VR) is a three-dimensional computer-generated environment that people can engage in. An essential technology for an RVI, building inspectors can “walk” the job site remotely with VR and note any deficiencies for the team as compared to the model.

VR technology enables building inspectors with highly specialized subject matter expertise to review any job anywhere in the world. The cost and time involved in getting inspectors to and from job sites are eliminated and inspectors can check more buildings in less time.

In addition, physically walking any site is potentially dangerous. An inspector can access and inspect any part of a building during an RVI that might otherwise be risky or unsafe.

Drone technology enables access to inaccessible locations, heights, and vantage points that a person cannot reach by simply walking the location.

How does BIM help?

Inspectors can review a job site via 360 photography or LiDAR scans (3D laser or laser imaging, detecting, and ranging) overlaid on a BIM. This allows inspectors to review the project, identify deficiencies, and proactively direct the site team to make corrections. Instead of making multiple time-consuming trips to the building, the site team can work more efficiently. For example, with Avvir,  an inspector could utilize the BIM to ensure that all scope was installed prior to signing off on closing in walls or ceilings. 

This efficiency is carried forward and issues noted in the inspection can be addressed quickly. Therefore, there’s less chance something will slip through the cracks. Plus, potential problems don’t drag on, and safety issues are remedied, leading to a safer building/construction site.

Augmented Reality

It’s important to note that to ensure compliance and safety, most projects will require some level of in-person inspection. In such cases, technology is helpful. For example, augmented reality (AR), which integrates digital information with the real-life environment in front of a person to provide a composite view, helps with inspections.

Typically, inspectors carry physical drawings of a site while walking the site. Drawings may be cumbersome and heavy, and they can become disorganized or damaged during an inspection. An even bigger issue is an inspector arriving at a site only to realize the approved permit drawings are not available because they were lost on site.

Flipping through drawings to verify and find the needed information in context is time consuming. However, drawings are essential for an inspection because they enable an inspector to compare the plan with reality.

When AR is part of an inspection, an inspector does not need physical drawings because AR technology automatically detects an inspector’s location and positions them within a reference model. With visual and auditory sensory information overlaying in-person reality, an inspector gets a greater, enhanced sense of the building. They’re not simply reviewing documents but walking through them, making it simpler to detect issues.

How does BIM help?

AR makes it easy to compare a construction site to all the critical construction documents and the planned scope of work “held” in the BIM. 

The up-to-date scope of work can be viewed as the inspector is on site and looking at what is occurring. Information can be taken from the site and compared to the BIM so progress is charted, and issues are identified.

Reality Capture Analysis

Another valuable technology for building inspections is reality capture. Laser scanners and UAV photogrammetry enable scanning of a site to develop a set of data points that can be used to create highly accurate 3D models.

Using reality capture allows inspectors to analyze complex data with precision and ease. 360-degree images and LiDAR scans enable much more accuracy, granularity, and reliability, leading to more precise analysis.

How does BIM help?

A fully digital workflow can be realized through the analysis of reality capture datasets against a project’s BIM, so inspectors can perform highly accurate inspections. Furthermore, the details can guide future construction to help ensure construction is proceeding as it should. The cause of on-site issues noted in the inspection can be identified and addressed.

Barriers to Adoption

It’s clear that these technologies improve the accuracy and quality of inspections and have much to offer users. So why aren’t they, and RVIs, standard?

Some of the same headwinds that all new technologies face are holding back AR, VR, and reality capture. Incorporating new technology requires a learning curve for employees and companies. The construction industry, which is notoriously tech-averse, is less likely to incorporate new technology until its professionals are positive it will be helpful and are confident they can use it effectively.

On a practical note, wi-fi is not always available on construction sites. Until a workaround is created for those sites, incorporating such technology will continue to be a challenge. It’s also difficult to conduct an RVI for very complex projects.

Lastly, AHJs typically require that inspection cards be physically signed for approval.

Each of these challenges can be overcome, however. With the great benefits an RVI provides when technology, including virtual reality, augmented reality, and reality capture, is used, the barriers will be removed.

As companies move forward with VR and AR technology, they can visually compare the planned scope of work to the actual project site. However, this process is highly manual and error prone. A tool such as Avvir enables teams to sync data from the field with their BIM and automatically generates insights based on a comparison of those two data sets. This helps to ensure accuracy.

An inspector can review deviations within Avvir to gain a better understanding of what changes may have occurred from the approved permit drawings, enabling them to make their job easier. It’s a win!

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