VizworX Inc.

2019 Winner: Outstanding Achievement In Applied Technology sponsored By SAIT

Finding design problems with buildings before they’re built using visualization technology

In the construction industry, rework due to errors in the design process can cost significant time and money on the physical job site. VizworX’s Panoptica technology uses real-time visualization to enable users to walk through any CAD or design model in full 1:1 scale. By interacting with 3D models as if they were physically in the room, before being built, teams build a project right virtually before building it wrong physically.  We spoke with CEO Jeff LaFrenz.

What problem or opportunity did you identify and seek to address?

Gartner estimates that around 30 per cent of the costs of a typical construction project is rework. When you look globally, that’s somewhere in the neighbourhood of $1 trillion spent on rework just in the industrial, commercial and governmental space. A large percentage of rework is due to issues in the design that are not noticed until you’re in the middle of construction or worse yet, not noticed until you’re done construction, at which point it becomes an operational, efficiency or safety issue for the rest of the life of the building.

We explored why these issues are coming into the construction process when we have this extremely structured process around model reviews that precedes construction? What we realized is that the current process for engaging three-dimensional information in the review process is by looking at 3D models on a 2D screen. Designers understand it, but for the maintenance, operations or the safety people brought in for their expertise in running a facility it is much more difficult. In essence you’re putting a cognitive load on their brain by tasking them to interpret these 3D models and add scale, and then when their brains are fully loaded we ask them to find problems with the design. We realized there’s a fundamental flaw in that process and it’s inherently going to create design errors.

By rethinking the model review process and using technologies like augmented reality, we provide people with the insights and perspectives they get during a physical site walkthrough, pre- or post-construction. However, we give them that insight during the design process, prior to construction even starting, which allows them to catch and resolve errors before they become a cost issue.  This is the product we call Panoptica.

What has been the impact?

We did an evaluation project with Worley and Imperial Oil recently. On the first day, they did a classic design model review, using a large team looking at the 3D models on a 2D screen. On the second day, they reviewed the same facility, with the same people, but using our tools. As we expected they found insights in the model review that they typically don’t get until they actually do a site visit. From those insights, they found a number of changes they could make to significantly reduce their costs.

The group also noted that not only can Panoptica find cost savings for construction, but it can also determine important operational and safety issues. Simple little things can actually make a massive difference in the operations and safety of facility. If you can catch those in the design phase, then you don’t have to address them later on.  

How has being in Alberta helped you find success?

The real benefit of being in Alberta is that we are co-located with a massive industrial environment. The customers for this technology are the companies who are making these significant investments into new facilities, pipelines, and various infrastructures.  

It allows us to go after a much more robust global marketplace because we have those roots and those connections within this environment.  We have proven case studies showing the value of the technology to international customers.

Within the last five years there has been an increasing emphasis in Alberta on innovation and entrepreneurial activities around small to medium sized businesses. We’re seeing increased support and increased community around building the new economy.

There’s the old saying that a rising tide floats all boats and that’s really the case in the innovation ecosystem. We’re all contributing to it, to growing it, and as a result we’re all going to be better.

Who have been your major supporters?

The ultimate supporters are our customers. The products we build are based upon engaging with customers who define the business problems that we then solve.

We’ve received support from several different government agencies. Alberta Innovates and the Industrial Research Assistance Program from the National Research Council and TECTERRA have all been very beneficial in helping us move forward.

More broadly speaking, it’s recognition from groups like ASTech and the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. We’ve also recently won the Most Disruptive Technology award from TECTERRA. These organizations recognize the impact and this recognition is tremendously beneficial as we move forward.

What are the plans for the future?

We are in discussions right now with some of the existing companies we work with about rolling Panoptica out across western Canada, into the US, and globally. We’ve also been getting a lot of interest and traction from a number of companies in the Middle East.

VizworX as a whole, which encompasses a broader range of human engagement solutions, is evolving into a number of other industries.  We do some governmental work with groups like the National Energy Board and more recently we started to work in the defense and aerospace industries.

How does it feel to be an ASTech Finalist?

It’s wonderful! The beneficial part of the ASTech Awards process in particular, is it really recognizes companies and individuals that are doing these amazing things within Alberta and puts it on a global stage. It’s an honour to be recognized as a Finalist and we really look forward to connecting with the other Finalists, because it’s an elite group of amazing individuals and companies who are involved in the Alberta technology ecosystem.