It’s 2018: Xella is using a promising innovation on the construction site for the first time. HoloLens, special digital glasses, are not being tested in Belgium by chance. Back then, it was already common practice to communicate with clients via cloud services and to use mainly BIM methods in building design - in other words, to represent buildings digitally in a single 3D model and to work on them in a networked way. Bringing this BIM model to the construction site remained a challenge - the HoloLens was there to help.
Today, BIM is more widespread than ever: "After the leading construction companies, more and more smaller firms are jumping on the bandwagon - many are still hesitant because of the investment required for the change. But they have understood that digital design simply saves them time and thus money," explains Stefaan Du-Tré, BIM Manager for Belgium.
In the Belgian market, Xella has established itself as an expert in three-dimensional building design for a long time. "We are very meticulous in the preparation of each BIM project," says Du-Tré. "Our consultancy is very intensive, but it saves a lot of time afterwards. Thanks to our advice, the models are optimally usable in the end and even have a positive impact on subsequent projects. Because establishing and maintaining a BIM cooperation requires dedication and perseverance.”
What is the BIM pioneer using HoloLens for today?
BIM is a method that is primarily used before construction of new buildings begins. But for now, BIM manager Du-Tré is focused on staying digital beyond the design phase: "We often find that the level of digitalization on the construction site is still very low compared to the design phase - which is why we were the first Xella site to test HoloLens." It's been five years since then.
Is the HoloLens a solution for bringing BIM to the construction site? Those who wear it can see a mixed reality image of the real construction site and virtually designed components. "After a lot of testing, it's not necessarily worth it for us yet. For example, the battery power doesn’t last a whole day."
Nevertheless, the HoloLens is still part of customer projects. It is just used for different purposes now: For example, to provide safe tours for clients. "To bring the BIM model to the construction site, from my point of view you could also use smartphones or tablets - but you never know what future technology will bring."
Exoskeletons on the rise
Today, Xella Belgium is testing other tools that aid construction: the "Living Tomorrow" innovation campus in Vilvoorde, Belgium, near Brussels, was designed using BIM methods by Xella itself as an official partner. During the installation of the storey-high Ytong panels for the interior walls, smart exoskeletons now successfully helped to carry the heavy loads as seen on the open construction site day. The exoskeleton supports the back and gives the workers the necessary stability.
BIM design and the Ravensburger syndrome
If there was one thing Du-Tré could wish for in terms of design work, it would be more standards for BIM models. So far, there is no legal obligation to use BIM in Belgium. The many different designs sometimes make Stefaan Du-Tré's work tedious. This is particularly evident during model checks, when Du-Tré and his team compare the client's models: "Sometimes we get two different models - one architectural and one structural." When they merge the two versions, they find duplicates that, unfortunately, differ in detail. Du-Tré finds humor in this: "I like to call it the 'Ravensburger syndrome' because it reminds me of a Ravensburger puzzle. But that's what we're here for: to bring it all together in a correct and usable BIM model. And our clients notice that we take their project very seriously. They really appreciate that service.“