Synchro Software’s 4D construction-modeling solution was already state-of-the-art before they started exploring Microsoft’s cutting-edge augmented-reality and cloud technologies. “For general commercial contractors, Synchro software is used for digital construction planning and operations. At the core is a 4D engine that can simulate construction processes,” says Greg Demchak, Director of Product Management at Synchro Software.
“The software imports 3D CAD/BIM models of construction projects, and then lets you link those model objects to detailed project schedules, known as Gantt charts,” says Demchak. “So, when you add the time dimension, you get a complete 4D run-through of the project from beginning to end.”
Integrating HoloLens with Synchro came about almost serendipitously. “I was invited by a friend to this private Microsoft hackathon event for HoloLens. So, I took a team and we just hacked all weekend. We tested everything we could, including integrating our dimensional environments into HoloLens,” says Demchak.
This led to a pivotal discovery. “The integration was almost seamless,” says Demchak. “We were already building a mobile app for Synchro using a gaming engine typically used for building dimensional worlds for games. Turns out, HoloLens has a really tight integration with that gaming engine. So, we were able to get that working pretty quickly.”
Pulling the Synchro experience into HoloLens has been a game-changer. Users can now “digitally rehearse” 4D construction projects with a high degree of accuracy and detail. The HoloLens overlays the dimensional Synchro graphics on the job site, and the user can watch as structures are built and systems are installed across the timeline.
Early users have been amazed. “People love this. It’s so cool to watch them move their heads around and walk inside the model at one-to-one scale, which usually blows them away because it’s the first time they can actually feel the scale of what they’re working on,” says Demchak. “But beyond the cool factor, it can help our customers win jobs. That just happened in the UK, where our customer used the HoloLens in their presentation, and it helped them win a huge job.”
Through the immersive HoloLens experience, users get a much more impactful visual reference for what they’re building. “If you see it better, you’re going to do it better,” says Demchak.
“We’re also looking at field applications,” says Demchak. “Inspectors could use it to check quality, validate the completion of tasks, and identify issues in the field in real-time. We need to make it easy to interact with 4D models, and that means making apps that are intuitive. The mixed reality aspect of HoloLens gives us that opportunity.”
Synchro files are data-heavy, and require powerful processing to render and animate smoothly. But high-end workstations aren’t usually available in the field. So, Synchro took advantage of Azure GPU–enabled virtual machines to offload graphics processing from end-user devices like tablets and HoloLens.
“When we use our mobile app or HoloLens in a remote situation, the experience is seamless. You can’t even tell you’re running the Synchro app on a cloud server and not on a local machine,” says Demchak.
Over the course of a project, Synchro files contain growing stores of data that can be used for analysis and reporting purposes. “As field inspectors keep track of progress, the data just feeds into the Synchro project database,” says Demchak. “So, we’re able to pull that data into Microsoft Power Platform and run some analysis and produce visual reports that give business stakeholders a sense of progress.”
Synchro is also looking at Microsoft Azure Machine Learning for future opportunities and capabilities. “We could start feeding data across projects into machine learning and start analyzing timelines, tasks, and other variables, and see what patterns emerge that could be useful in further improving practices and making business decisions,” says Demchak.