How augmented reality (AR) is taking BIM to the next level

It’s an exciting time in construction, with game-changing innovations like BIM, cloud-based construction software, and offsite building fueling growth and productivity like never before. The industry is in the midst of a digital transformation in which new technologies are disrupting traditional workflows with stellar results. 

Although augmented reality (AR) has been around for a while, it's only in recent years that it’s made waves in the construction industry (facilitated by increased automation). With BIM becoming more ubiquitous, the stage is set for new solutions that can enhance its benefits - and AR does just that.

AR enables companies to enhance their BIM models, helping different teams and stakeholders to experience them in 3D, anywhere, anytime, and at any point in the building cycle. In essence, it allows companies to leverage their rich BIM data to showcase computer-generated models in real-world settings.    

Let’s take a closer look at the uses of AR in construction, its benefits, some examples, and how it can help take BIM to the next level. But before we get into the nitty-gritty of AR in BIM construction, let’s start with some context.

Construction worker with Augmented Reality smart glasses

What is augmented reality (AR)?

Augmented reality (AR) enables you to overlay visual, auditory, and other sensory information onto the real world with the goal of enhancing the user’s experience. This can be done via various devices, including (but not limited to) sensors, cameras, tablets, mobile phones, and computers. 

Although most people have experienced AR through gaming or entertainment, its use is increasing in areas like retail, healthcare, education, and construction (just to name a few). With interest growing across various industries, the AR market is expected to reach a worth of over $97B by 2028.

In most cases, the goal of AR is to enable the user to experience an environment with both real and virtual features. The applications vary depending on the setting, e.g.:

  • In retail, customers can use it to try different models and colors without leaving home
  • In healthcare, a surgeon might use it to simulate different procedures
  • In education, it can be used to simulate a real-world environment to practice in

Here’s an example of how it works in construction:

  • 3D models are created using detailed data (e.g., using BIM)
  • Users have an AR device (e.g., computer, tablet, etc.) that shows their surroundings 
  • The virtual data is displayed over what the users see on their device in real-time

Within these immersive, hybrid environments, teams can effectively collaborate, solve problems and increase productivity at each phase in the building process - all with a few taps on their AR device. This opens up a world of possibilities and applications for construction companies - but more on that below.

Augmented reality used in the construction industry
Construction supervisor show us how a building will look like through Augmented Reality (AR) on smartphone

How is AR used in construction?

These are just some of the ways AR is boosting efficiency, collaboration, and safety in construction:

To help streamline collaboration

Using AR, teams can share 3D images and videos with offsite members. This allows for different parts of the team (e.g., contractors, designers, electricians, architects, etc.) to identify issues or errors in real-time. This helps reduce costs and saves time. 

As a tool for modifications and troubleshooting

AR enables users to edit a model while onsite, changing a structure’s layout with just a few taps on their AR device. It also enables team members in different locations to discuss issues, try out different solutions and overcome problems based on detailed visuals. For example, suppose a contractor runs into a problem onsite. In that case, the video feed of the issue (e.g., from AR glasses) can be sent to managers, designers, or engineers and solved cohesively in real-time.  

Entekra using hsbDesign for AutoCAD® and Augmented Reality glasses in the construction industry

A perfect example of how Augmented Reality is already helping companies boost efficiency and collaboration is Entekra, one of hsbcad's customers. Collaboration is essential within Entekra, as their design team is in Europe and their production in the US. AR is proving to be the perfect tool to achieve this.

To take real-time measurements

In some cases, AR gear can be used to capture different measurements in an environment (e.g., height, width, depth, etc.), enabling companies to build more accurate models or enhance existing ones. This capability can also enable onsite team members to double-check measurements, avoid errors, and solve inconsistencies before wasting any resources. 

To increase safety

In some cases, AR devices can scan tags or labels in areas or on objects. This will bring up valuable safety information about that particular environment, enabling team members to take the proper precautions.

As a tool for training

AR can be used to create detailed demos showing how to operate different equipment or machinery. This enables team members to learn visually and better understand how to use different types of equipment in different environments. 

For planning and presentations

When combined with 3D modeling software and BIM, AR enables companies to generate accurate, detailed, and interactive structure models. This provides clients with a richer feel for what the structure will look like when fully built. You can’t get more detailed than a virtual walk-through of the finished project. 

These AR models also enable teams to explore and examine the different details and parts of a project before building. This helps avoid miscommunication throughout the building process and makes it possible to do more precise planning.     

Lastly, AR is a helpful tool to track the building progress of a structure in real-time, enabling teams to stay on track and on schedule. 

®Holzbau Vorholz Hawran in the Planning and Design phase

What does an AR-powered BIM workflow look like?

AR can enhance almost every step of a typical BIM workflow. Here’s a breakdown of what that would look like in practice:

The planning and design phase

Much of the value of AR for BIM construction can be felt during early planning and design, as a tool to experiment with form and visualize how it might impact the surrounding environment. It allows architects and designers to assess the viability, function, and specs of a model in an immersive way. 

It's also a great way to engage clients and ensure stakeholder buy-in, enabling them to take an AR tour of the structure and suggest changes before any actual building takes place.

The building phase

Integrating AR and BIM models is an effective way to help non-architects and designers gain a deeper understanding of a structure’s proportions, views, needs, positioning, and finishes. This will enable them to interpret the project (and their contribution to it) with higher accuracy and effectiveness. It’s especially useful for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) engineers and workers, helping them collaborate more efficiently, reduce errors and avoid going over budget. 

The manufacturing phase

For this phase we will use the example of Obos, a housing developer active in Norway and Sweden and one of hsbcad's customers in Scandinavia. Augmented Reality has been tested for the manufacturing of panels, used as the perfect tool to boost efficiency and avoid any mistakes during this stage.

Site inspection 

AR-powered BIM can help teams better prepare for inspections, using devices like AR glasses to walk through sites and ensure they’re ready for inspection. AR equipment can also be used to view underground utilities (e.g., pipes, power lines, etc.). AR pins, tags, or model annotations can be used to mark any mistakes and facilitate their correction after inspection. 

Ongoing operations, maintenance, and renovations

Maintenance and renovations are much easier with updated AR-powered BIM models to guide the process - even years after a project is finished. Using AR, teams can easily locate any structural changes that may have taken place over the years (e.g., beams, ducts, conduits, etc.), make safe updates, and record details that might impact future inspections or renovations.

Examples of AR technologies that boost BIM 

These are just some of the companies building cutting edge AR technologies to boost BIM:


The GAMMA AR app and platform can be used to streamline field and office activities by keeping the two worlds connected. The technology enables users to:

  • Visualize models and designs before they’re built
  • Detect real-time issues and bottlenecks
  • Track progress in real-time
  • Access RFIs, photos, and reports from an easy-to-use website

It allows users to improve communication and add clarity throughout the project workflow.

The Wild

The Wild is a collaboration platform that lets teams work together from anywhere, using VR and AR. It supports Revit, enabling teams to collaborate in a virtual workspace.


Akular develops products that enhance the use of 3D BIM models during construction. Their mobile app enables users to easily upload 3D models and see them come to life through their phone or tablet. Their technologies make it possible to showcase life-size 3D models of a building or shrink the model down to a smaller, room-sized space.

Using BIM models as a single source of truth, Akular technology is helping clients: 

  • Create transparency for stakeholders
  • Track changes and supplier documents in real-time
  • Minimize rework and ambiguity (and much more)


hsbcad created a proof of concept of their flexible offsite construction software hsbShare with Microsoft HoloLens, a virtual reality (VR) headset with transparent lenses that allow users to experience augmented reality. hsbShare enables you to unify all project data into a digital twin cloud platform, making it accessible from anywhere by any stakeholder. It enriches any project document with a paperless offsite experience.

What are the benefits of AR-powered BIM?

AR environments combine real and virtual information, making architectural spaces (and the individual components they’re made up of) easier to understand and navigate. These are just some of the most notable benefits:

Less rework, waste, and losses  

Traditionally, it’s been a challenge for construction companies to get projects completed within predetermined schedules and budgets. BIM is already addressing these challenges by facilitating collaboration among teams, and now AR technology is taking it to the next level. 

With AR technology, users can physically step into a BIM model, create an accurate schedule, and build a detailed logistics roadmap weeks (even months) in advance. AR-powered BIM also enables teams to identify, address and solve issues in real-time, with different profiles and stakeholders contributing from different offsite locations. 

This ability to walk through the model at different stages in the building process facilitates monitoring and tracking, helping to catch errors early and keep teams on schedule.   

Improved communication and collaboration

While BIM models are already incredibly detailed and conducive to collaboration, AR enhances these benefits by bringing often fragmented construction teams into a common immersive environment. The detailed space projections generate highly accurate measurements, enable teams to troubleshoot different solutions, and ensure project data is updated and accessible at all times.   

SETRA group Cederhusen development in Stockholm, Sweden. Residential block being built in CLT.

Increased safety

Using AR technology to scan their environments, workers can take the proper precautions before entering potentially dangerous areas of a site e.g.

  • Wearing the proper protective gear
  • Keeping away from hazardous areas in a site 
  • Avoiding contact with dangerous pipes or power sources

AR is also a useful tool to facilitate safety training through virtual drills, tutorials, and simulations. 

Improved problem-solving and decision making

AR-powered BIM is a highly visual and, therefore, efficient way to spot problems, communicate them to relevant team members, and ensure they’re solved quickly, on or offsite. This immersive environment makes it easier for different profiles within a team to identify issues and errors early on, and take steps to solve them before the costs get too big. 

It’s also an excellent way for clients to gain a deeper understanding of the structure and make informed decisions about what changes need to be made and how they want to move forward.

Final thoughts

Although AR technology is not yet a standard fixture in the field of construction, its use is growing by leaps and bounds. Companies like GAMMA AR, The Wild, and Akular are facilitating its seamless integration with BIM, making its adoption easier than ever.  

As the industry continues its digital transformation, we’re likely to see even broader applications for its use in construction, especially in the areas of collaboration, safety, and training.

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Dr. Ing. Alex Vinckier
Innovation Director