Real time digitalization with the ‘Digital Twin’ for off-plan builders and home buyers
May Khizam, co-founder, SMARTInvest Real Estate by The Grid interviews Harri Majala, CEO, GBuilder about the ‘digital twin’ platform that is taking homebuyers on a digital customer journey. Based in Finland, GBuilder is BIM-based web and mobile platform with 3D/VR/AR models that simplify the communication around buying an off-plan apartment or house for both the builder and buyer.
May: The platform has evolved out of a family business in construction with yourself at the helm as the next gen developing and integrating technology into an industry that has been slow to transform itself digitally.
Harri: Indeed, why fix it if it’s not broken is a difficult mindset to challenge but we have done just that by combining digitalization, CAD, project management and visualization. We had the vision. Technology is now playing catch up.
May: So you have your own laboratory to test your ideas in a way to roll out to others?
Harri: Yes, we call it the ‘Test laboratory’. We can test our solutions on our own company and then distribute them to other builders.
May: How can you tell us who your customers are and what problem you solve for them?
Harri: Our customers are builders and developers.
Currently the industry norm is that a home buyer is sent reams of documents to sign by email. They then select materials and fixtures which are summarized in an excel spreadsheet which they are given in hardcopy. As they make subsequent customizations, emails are sent back and forth with purchase orders attached.
The solution we provide is one window of communication between builders and developers, sub-contractors and the buyer. Everything goes through the same application.
Through this single window, paperwork can be signed and information such as blueprints, checklists, purchase orders, materials and fixtures and inspection reports can be shared and stored.
Once they decide to buy the property off-plan, homebuyers start choosing pre-selected materials through a log-in. They can select materials that are automatically calculated and manage budgets with costing reports. The guesswork is eliminated and the level of miscommunication between builder and home buyer is greatly diminished.
The entire value chain is communicating in real time from the builders, manufacturers, homebuyers to the construction site and back. The platform allows the buyer to customize like removing a wall or changing cabinets from one wall to another providing the builder offers that extent of customize. Once selected and confirmed, the platform updates the BIM, 2D, 3D, AR and MR accordingly in real time.
The homebuyer views a model of their actual home with all its feature so they see the view of the forest out of the living room or of the sea from the balcony for instance.
It is an immersive experience.
It establishes an emotional connection between the homebuyer and their future home particularly if we think that only 10% of the decision making process behind buying a new home on rational thinking such as budget, family size, dimensions and proximity to schools. The rest is emotional. When we say ‘I don’t like the energy’, we cannot rationalize it but it is a huge part of our decision making.
So this is where GBuilder comes in. The magic moment is when the homebuyer views the model of their new home through VR goggles or a 3-D model on their laptops and says, ‘so which one is our home?’ It is no longer just a number in an off-plan catalogue.
May: BIM object libraries are quite common these days. How are you able to utilize them?
Harri: Yes, they quite common in every country that we operate. The information of materials or fixtures are always provided by the vendors or manufacturers so we are sure all the documentation is up-to-date.
Digitalisation allows us to receive and relay that information in real time.
If you combine that with the BIM or what I like to call ‘the digital twin’ and link the actual property with the size and measurements, it brings about the possibility of building digital distribution channels.
This is a win-win for the vendors and manufacturers, who get a digital platform which they update and through which their updates are relayed with accuracy to the right recipients. The builders can select the materials and can be confident they are compliant and the details accurate. Finally, the buyer has information that is always up-to-date. If they crack a tile after moving in, they can check it against the original materials list for the exact colour and material for replacement.
May: How is the ‘adoption rate’ for the platform? Do some homebuyers still want to see physical samples of material that they can hold in their hand?
Harri: Fortunately, e-commerce has familiarized the buyer with how to shop online and there is a high degree of customer trust but yes, some still want an ‘anchor’ and physical samples give the homebuyer that security. Builders can adjust their approach in this case and offer access to the platform and an offline solution like a visit to the showroom to satisfy the customer.
May: How much does the platform double up as a marketing tool?
Harri: We support the marketing efforts and improve sales of our clients because of the homebuyer is attracted by the fact that they can visualize and customize their home through the platform’s design studio using 3-D models and VR from their living rooms as though they were actually in the home already. There is also the potential for the builder to increase sales by upselling through the platform as the homebuyer can add fixtures or select a better model refrigerator, for instance.
GBuilder can also enable access to a bigger inventory of a hardware store for fixtures and materials if the builder requests it. They would just have to price the inventory right.
May: Do you white label so that the platform looks like it belongs to the client?
Harri: We are an extension of the client’s service offering and support their brand recognition so builder can add their own logo and brand guidelines.
May: Can customization in residential projects ever reach the level of car industry for example?
Harri: Not until now. When you buy a Tesla, you know you can customize it in a thousand different ways but they are all within certain parametres. You can’t get rid of the front seat for instance.
With the design of a home, you can remove walls or change cabinets from one of the room to another. The scope of customization is vast and so is the margin of error.
To date, there has been a lot of miscommunication because a lot gets lost in translation. With digital visualization, the buyer can customize their homes with those changes being captured and delivered accurately through a single window of communication.
May: How can BIM be utilized in different visualisations and technologies?
Harri: BIM, the digital twin, is a very good platform because you can actually spin different things out of it because you have all the details you need for 3-D printing, 2D, 3D, VR, AR etc.
You just need to the find the right software or hardware solution to utilize it the best way.
The simplest way for our example would be the 3D model you rotate on your laptop, PC or Apple Computer. You just click on the cabinets for instance and it gives you the colour options with selections updated in real time. Those selections are confirmed and sent forward to the construction site.
May: What is next?
Harri: This is only the first step. We are now waiting for the hardware to enhance ‘fields of vision’. With holographic hardware, there are limitations of vision because you can’t see like you see in VR. You have to turn your head to see your blind spots. It’s coming along. All the big companies are investing heavily in hologram technology. Our road map is that by the end of 2019, the home buyer will walk into a space and their home will appear around them in real size. They enter from the front door with a click, go inside and make decisions as to its design. They click on the floor and get all the design options, materials and fixtures and continue on to each room in the same way. They walk out of the back door and you sign it off. That’s their home.
We already have the technology. We have the software and the holograms. We have the digital twin. We are just waiting for the hardware to improve and currently have a working concept with Microsoft HoloLens.
May: Is this going beyond VR/AR and entering ‘mixed reality’?
Harri: Yes, in VR you are isolated from the reality and AR is where something is just added to your current reality. Mixed reality is where the homebuyer is mixing reality of the concrete with their own customization in real size visualization for example when visiting the site. That’s where we are headed with holographic technology.
May: Do you work exclusively with residential projects or are you branching out to office space?
Harri: There are certainly opportunities in office space and retrofitting apartments, where we can model all parts of the building for retrofit, and that is currently approximately 20% of our business.
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