Recently, I had the pleasure of driving many one-way gravel roads through the countryside to get to Keim Lumber in Charm, Ohio. The charm is very distinct, with more daily traffic of horses and bicycles than automobiles.
As I drove I was definitely charmed by the green hills, the new sights, as well as the fact that no one could reach me because I was out of cell service range.
However, irony of ironies, I was visiting Keim Lumber to see one of the most progressive technologies ever brought to a lumber shop. When I say wood store, don’t limit your imagination. This store is not only massive, but elegant, with winding, handcrafted wooden stairs and 125,000 square feet of retail and service space.
The location serves five surrounding states and sells around $200 million a year. Most of the sales are to builders and contractors in that geographic area, and keeping them in business was the impetus for introducing the technology. This lumber store is just one of many thinking about how to retain professional customers, customers who could easily visit a nearby big box store, or even order products online.
And that’s why I was visiting. The technology that Keim introduced to attract and maintain a good amount of professional business was a 360° design experience. As described by Abe Troyer, executive sales manager at Keim Lumber, the studio is an enclosed space 23 feet in diameter and 11 feet high for virtual reality presentations that allows multiple people to participate.
Builders and their buyers can congregate in the space to get a virtual tour of the home that has yet to be built or the space that is being renovated. The immersive technology will allow them to “experience” exterior elevations and interior space, as well as design details, as opposed to someone putting on a pair of virtual reality goggles.
As the name 360 suggests, the physical space is a circular wall that wraps around the viewers, placing you more or less in the middle of what will be the physical space. The technology developed by the company Tekton Engineering operates from a single computer through five projectors that synchronize to create the rendering visualizations.
“It can be used as a meeting space for visiting a project with blueprints, or for making annotations during the visit with stakeholders, so the client and builder can all experience it at the same time. time,” said Eric Kaufman, visualization developer at Tekton. “The projectors are flat, but the software helps you wrap it around to create the experience using Unreal Engine video game software.”
The software and program are still in development, so a trained professional is required to operate it, but the plan is to make it available to Keim’s sales team after receiving some level of training.
Kenny Miller, Head of Visualization at Tekton, says the technology will be used by general contractors, home builders, commercial companies, engineers, architects, interior designers and even the home buyer directly. . The pricing program for this software as a service is still under development, but is being considered at three different levels, which would allow for greater design flexibility and more frequent interactions at the highest level.
experience and efficiency
This technology will provide a multitude of benefits to Keim as a dealer, its customer, the builder and the end user or home buyer.
“We are pioneering and investing in this technology because we believe it is extremely important to provide our customers with the best possible experience now and in the future,” Troyer said. “We believe this may distract from the price and encourage buyers to commit to construction. Basically, closing rates should increase a lot.
During my visit, the Tekton team even stated that having all stakeholders working together in one room at the same time could reduce an eight-hour process to a one-hour process.
“This technology streamlines design to construction,” said Ben Beachy, executive director of information technology at Keim. “When creating computer software, I have found it helpful to provide my customers with prototypes of the finished product as soon as possible. The examination of these prototypes helps the customer to clarify his expectations; and helps the builder understand those expectations. The 360-degree design experience allows the same rapid prototyping-refining cycle to occur in the building trades. »
Miller agrees that the program has the ability to align builder and end user where there has typically been a gap. With a more realistic design experience, everyone ends up with a better understanding that leads to clear expectations.
“I come from a construction background, and there are a lot of unforeseen things we come across, but if we can work them out, it means a lot fewer change orders,” Miller said. “Now husbands and wives can talk about the same things with the builder. Also, it costs almost nothing to give two or three different options on a house plan. Then being able to make changes before construction costs almost nothing. nothing. “
Getting all the parts on the same page is one thing, but it overshadows the value of having the visualization to begin with.
“I don’t come from a construction background and I can’t imagine doing a project without having this to see it before building it,” Kaufman said. “It will help bridge the gap between design and construction.”
Using this technology extends the timeline of the design process. The Tekton team needs to get involved in more details that require more exploration up front, which is not usually the case in the construction industry.
“There will be more changes when a customer sees the model,” Kaufman said. “So we’re going back to the schematic a few times more than before, but it’s better that the contractors don’t have to make changes while the project is under construction.”
The future and other implications
The future of the 360 design experience is nearly limitless, impacting the buying process, design process efficiency, material usage, and even the training of people in the trades.
For example, this technology requires and rewards a drive towards 3D design. This, in turn, creates the ability to layer other technologies onto this design. Augmented reality could bring 3D models to the job site. 3D modeled components could be quickly manufactured through CNC or 3D printing processes. Tools to 3D print entire cement houses are in use. It all depends on detailed 3D designs of what the client intends to do.
Tools like this will also help construction and home building become a more attractive industry for new talent.
“The 360° design experience is a hands-on application of the technologies most often used in entertainment: movies and video games,” Beachy said. “I enjoy playing video games and watching movies, but I will not claim that my participation in these activities significantly improves the lives of others. Design Experience 360, however, applies these tools to improve the experience for customers and contractors. It’s a high-tech, tactile way to help customers achieve their dreams and goals, to quote our mission statement. For people with technical skills and a desire to make a tangible impact, this is a great opportunity.
Miller agrees it would be an amazing tool for teaching trades because it simplifies the process.
“In the past, building had to be taught on the job, which can be a physical strain,” he said. “Making it a more visual learning process than a physical one can make it more engaging. We’ve had to prioritize in the past having to teach in the field, but it allows learning in the office. Also, with 3D models , the spacing is good, which allows you to better know the space and the structures that work in specific spaces.
Kaufman only came to the construction industry because he could interact with technology like what is offered in the gaming industry.
“With more real-time visits and companies like Epic making Unreal, it will increasingly attract a variety of skills with computer knowledge to enter this industry that would not have been involved in the past,” said- he declared. “Furthermore, it will make designing easier and more accessible to quickly or efficiently deliver design capabilities without the intervention of a professional.”