Graham implements AR training to reduce error

14 Jun 23

Combining GIRI’s Build it in Your Brain approach with AR has helped contractor Graham enhance its graduate engineering training programme and reduce common errors on projects, Michael McCusker, head of quality (civil engineering), told GIRI members.

Analysis of the most common errors reported in Graham’s business highlighted shortcomings in the understanding and experience of graduate engineers. In response, the company decided to review its training programme with a ‘back-to-basics’ approach that focused on what graduates needed to know, and guidance on how to deal with potential issues.

“As part of our involvement with GIRI, we were already thinking about the ‘build it in your brain’ mantra and how we could work on that,” McCusker said. “Then Covid and remote working made training much more difficult, so we knew we needed to develop a programme that would keep graduates engaged.”

Graham was already using AR in various ways and decided to experiment with how it could be used to enhance the training programme. Using internal IT resources, the company developed an app that allowed users to virtually construct what it had identified as potentially problematic elements.

“After reviewing our recorded errors and NCRs and talking to site managers and project managers about areas causing pain on handover, we realised one was manhole construction. This gave us a nice simple jumping off point for the app that would allow us to challenge our engineers as they attempt to build a virtual manhole in the safety of a domestic or office environment.”

Michael explained that challenges in the app development process included working out how to structure questions in a way that wasn’t too intimidating but was still challenging enough to embed a useful understanding of the task. The digital team also had to make the virtual structure look realistic and animate the build in a logical step-by-step approach.

“We wanted to include the specification and brief so they to had to refer back to it, and we wanted to ensure the questions were randomised so one person couldn’t tell others the answers. And we also wanted to break it down into steps and enable trainees to build the manhole at various stages and ask them questions about the process – some simple, some more complex. The aim is to check whether they understand what they are supposed to be doing, and if they don’t understand, that they need to check the spec again.”

The app also focused on who is responsible for what and when – from materials approval to managing suppliers – and what to do if something goes wrong. “How will you report it? What investigations need to be done? We give them the guidance so they are familiar with it. These AR sessions have now been rolled out prior to the physical sessions that are part of the training programme.”

The major benefit of the app, said Michael, is that it provides trainees with a visual, practical experience. “This was the whole point of the back-to-basics training. When we talk about something on paper, it doesn’t go in. The app gives them something they can interact with rather than a dry lecture. It also allows us to track who is completing it, and how they are doing it, which we can note on their training record. We can virtually benchmark our expectations and highlight the areas to focus on when supervising construction.”

So far, the app has been rolled out to 141 staff who have progressed through Graham’s academy, and trend analysis has identified that errors in reinforcing and encast items have halved from 2020 to 2022.

Graham has already developed an additional AR module for retaining walls, and the goal now is to expand the app further with modules to support the construction and supervision of key areas such as drain installation, steelwork, cladding and M&E.

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