VR and AR as sales tools for building product manufacturers
The way that architects plan and design is rapidly being transformed by the digitalisation of the industry. New technologies are revolutionising the working process, giving manufacturers a whole new arena of opportunities for sales and market positioning.
The power of visualisation
Most architects, as well as clients, have experienced the frustration that follows when a finished building doesn’t quite feel the way you imagined it would, from looking at the sketches. Traditional renderings and even 3D models can only convey so much, whereas with VR, you get as close to “the real thing” as one possible can without actually going through with the construction. For architects, but also for building product manufacturers, these new, immersive technologies represent a great opportunity to communicate ideas, concepts and product benefits to potential clients. Alexander Montell, business developer at BIMobject in the Nordics, notes a growing interest in VR and AR among manufacturers.
“To actually be able to experience, and not only imagine, a space, a piece of furniture or a combination of colours, makes it a whole lot easier to decide whether it feels right or not. That’s why VR is such a helpful selling tool. It dramatically shortens the decision processes leading to quicker conversions”, he says.
The new technologies also dramatically reduce the risk of unhappy clients, and the need for changes in the designs as the work proceeds. This means smoother processes for all parties involved, and a higher level of customer satisfaction.
“The realistic experience provided by VR makes it an incredibly powerful tool for communicating design intent, and for selling ideas as well as products”, says Alexander.
From BIM to VR
While CAD and BIM models usually feature extremely detailed geometry, this level of heavy information is not needed for VR. In order for products and BIM objects to be VR-compatible, they need to be stripped of a lot of weight and converted to FBX files.
“We offer our customers the service of creating the FBX files and hosting them on our platform. This is an extremely valuable way for manufacturers to broaden their digital catalog, and to offer specifiers yet another file format that is becoming increasingly in demand.”
Just like all files hosted on bimobject.com, the VR files can be maintained and updated through the content management system, meaning they are future-proof and secure for designers to use.
“Hosted on our platform, all files stay updated and accurate through our cloud solution and its connection to a Single Source of Truth. This is an important security factor, since it takes away the risk of outdated files being used in projects, causing confusion and frustration”, says Alexander.
Virtual showrooms and global sales
There isn’t just money to be made by using the new technologies as sales tools. There’s also plenty of money to be saved.
“I am convinced that soon most companies will opt for virtual showrooms instead of physical ones”, says Alexander.
The advantages of operating online are numerous, and the potential savings are enormous.
“Just imagine how much money many manufacturers spend today, not only on showrooms, but on their physical presence at fairs and expos around the world. With VR, all you need to bring is the VR equipment, and you’re done”, he says.
Alexander also stresses the sustainability perspective. With virtual showrooms that are open 24/7 and accessible from wherever the client is located, the need for physical meetings and costly air trips is reduced as well.
“Early adopters have a huge advantage”
At any stage of the design process, the architect or designer can put on a headset and immediately be inside the building. Alexander predicts that as VR gains traction, the demand for manufacturer-specific products, “real products”, will rise dramatically, since generic objects simply don’t look good in a VR environment.
“The whole point of VR is to get a realistic view of the end result. So you don’t want to put a generic piece of furniture in there that just looks like your average chair. That means manufacturers who adapt and start working in VR now will have a great edge compared to those who wait”, he says.A life cycle perspective
Last but not least, Alexander adds that VR, and perhaps even more so AR, actually remain very helpful tools even after a product is sold and installed in a finished building. Inserted in the BIM model and the VR model, the parametric VR objects can be used to educate clients about functionality and usage, and to provide various kinds of important maintenance information.
“These are exciting times in the industry. By enabling architects to move easily between BIM and VR, we will help revolutionise not only how buildings are designed, but how building products are sold, marketed and maintained, too”, he says.