Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 11:00 am

Construction, engineering and architectural firms in the Milwaukee area are finding increased efficiency with visualization technology that enables project participants to see a building in three-dimensional form during the design phase.

Brookfield-based National Survey & Engineering, a division of R.A. Smith & Associates, Inc. and Brookfield-based Hunzinger Construction Co. have found that their investment in this cutting edge technology offers them a competitive advantage.

“This is the future of construction,” said Larry Palank, vice president of pre-construction services and senior estimator for Hunzinger. “It will change the way architects sequence operations, increase the potential for design/build opportunities for construction companies and it will impact contractual relationships (as it is more widely adopted).”

Palank predicts 60 percent of construction firms will be using the technology within five years.

National Survey & Engineering has used 3-D visualization software since 1999 to assist clients, including developers, architects and government agencies in creating visuals to help with approval processes and identify potential construction conflicts, said Jonathan Chapman, visualization division manager for the firm.

Chapman’s team also uses the software for sales and marketing purposes to create images to garner interest in potential buyers, he said.

“The design visualization software that architects and construction companies use has trickled down from the film and (video) gaming industry,” Chapman said. “We use technology now that they used five to 10 years ago.”

National Survey & Engineering creates the 3-D images in a process similar to animation in Hollywood movies, where single slides that are only slightly different are sequenced to create a virtual, moving tour.

“Not every project warrants it or can afford it, but most certainly, more controversial projects that need to know how best to plead their case to a government agency can benefit,” Chapman said.

Construction conflicts, which include designs mistakenly overlapping such as a pipe placement that would intersect with duct work and would need to be re-routed, are usually not spotted until the construction is in progress. But National Survey & Engineering can avoid that by using the 3-D program, because users can search the interior and exterior of a project and in some cases the software will not allow the conflict to be drawn. Project teams can also work through grading issues, making sure a building and its parts are dimensionally accurate with approximate heights and model what changes need to be made to the terrain, Chapman said.

Providing a physical image puts a vision into context and can help in the decision-making process, Chapman said.

“There is an ambiguity that surrounds verbal descriptions,” Chapman said.

National Survey & Engineering created a 3-D visualization DVD for a condominium complex project in Franklin and was able to give a virtual tour of the finished product to interested buyers. The virtual tour even included interior design elements, including window treatments, carpeting and fabric colors.

The result was that multiple units were reserved before the physical model was built, Chapman said.

“My personal opinion is there are opportunities for the technology to be immersive with virtual reality,” Chapman said. “Instead of watching a movie, a person could interactively walk through (a project design) using a mouse or keyboard.”

Hunzinger started using 5-D visualization software about two years ago. On the computer screen, the design looks 3-D, but a fourth and fifth dimension are added through the integration of scheduling and estimating software.

Every part of the building becomes intact with information on the phase of construction in which it will be added to the building and how much it will cost. In essence, Hunzinger is building the entire structure through a software program and then re-building it physically, Palank said.

“The drawings are no longer just lines, but elements with height, width and volume,” Palank said.

Hunzinger is currently working in 5-D on the design and construction of Park Lafayette, a condominium tower under construction on the northeast corner of North Prospect Avenue and East Lafayette Place on the east side of Milwaukee, and on the design and construction of Moderne, a tower that will have a hotel and condominiums, located on the southwest corner of North Old World Third Street and East Juneau Avenue in downtown Milwaukee.

“Right now, we are working on Lafayette Place, and the 5-D software helps people in the field visualize ways things will be put together,” Palank said. “Making ourselves more efficient equals less cost for the owner.”

One challenge with visualization software is the majority of area architecture firms have not gotten into 3-D work yet, Palank said. However, Hunzinger finds its software so valuable that the pre-construction design department imports 2-D drawing from architects and re-draws them into 3-D and 5-D visualizations.

The scheduling element also helps to organize temperature sensitive work. In the winter, the workers need to be doing more inside labor than outside, and entire processes can take longer because it is cold and individuals work at a slower pace.

The program accounts for that possibility in the construction timeline and aids construction crews in organizing what needs to be finished by the time the temperature drops in the fall and winter, Palank said.

“We are trying to improve productivity by eliminating time (lost) looking for answers,” Palank said.

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display