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Melbourne Water improves asset design processes using VR tech

Constructing assets is expensive enough without having to fix hazardous design oversights, but one water utility has vastly improved asset design processes by implementing virtual reality (VR) technology in the design review phase.

Presenting at the Ozwater’18 conference on its implementation of VR technology to eliminate hazards, Melbourne Water Safe Assets and Innovation Manager Rachel Smith said utilising VR technology enables the company to improve safety outcomes while reducing costs.

“We recognised that some of the safety and design issues were coming through to construction despite OH&S reviews,” Smith said.

“It can be hard to get technicians and operators to be involved in reviewing some of new assets in their design phase. They are not familiar with working with 2D drawings; it's hard to visualise what it would look like as a built asset.

“We wanted to use VR to get those key users of our assets involved during the design phase so that we could make changes to the design at a lower cost and have a much improved safety outcome.”

Smith said by converting 3D models into VR models, asset operators are able to review the infrastructure quickly, efficiently and effectively than via traditional methods.

“An operator spends 10 minutes in the VR environment and identifies all the issues they can see with the design through that experience,” Smith said.

“With VR, it means everyone on site can have a look because it's such a short time involvement. You can also get everyone's perspective on the designs, which is something you don't necessarily get from traditional review methods.”

Smith said the main challenge with implementing VR design reviews is different reactions to existing within a virtual space, which can affect review data.

“There are challenges in how some people react when they are in a VR space. There are issues with VR in terms of how you move around. We have to be mindful when using VR as a tool that some people react differently simply due to their physical makeup.”

While VR design reviews are a significant aspect of Melbourne Water’s digital strategy, Smith said the utility is already testing out other ways the technology could be utilised across the business.

“This is just one part of our digital strategy at Melbourne Water. We’ve bought 3D cameras and take 3D images of our assets. There is certainly the opportunity to review all of that information and share it with the community, and we are looking at doing that,” she said.

“From a safety perspective, we have done some work with Deakin University, using VR for snake bite awareness training. A few other things are in the pipeline that will help us take the high-risk, high-hazard activities our staff do and help them do it in a safer way.”

Register for Ozwater’18 to hear more from Rachel Smith on how Melbourne Water utilities uses VR technology to create safer and more engaged workplaces.

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