GRAEF, AGC kick-start new virtual reality lab

Two financial gifts— one from GRAEF and Graef, Anhalt, Schloemer Foundation, one from Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee—have kick-started a new Virtual Reality Infrastructure Laboratory that will help civil engineering students at UWM’s College of Engineering & Applied Science graduate more workforce ready.

These gifts, each of which are $110,000, will be used to create the VRI Lab, which will be under the direction of Jian Zhao, associate professor, civil and environmental engineering.

Unlike 2D screens, this 3D modeling allows students to visualize structural components and design forces. “Students can see the benefits of good design and practices on 3D screens,” says Zhao. “VR is progressing in light speed outside campus. We are bringing this technology into the classroom in order to better prepare our students for the workplace of the future.

According to John Kissinger (’79 BS Civil Engineering), GRAEF CEO, civil engineering students who graduate skilled in 3D modeling will have a leg-up in their careers. “I believe 3D visualization will be the way of the future.  Students who graduate with this experience now can quickly become technical leaders in their workplace.”

Using a 3D hologram table and software, engineers can solve design problems before they show up in the shop or the field. “3D modeling should ultimately lower the cost,” he says. “Engineers can visualize the structural components, view conflicts between components, and see areas of high stress.

Michael Fabishak, John Kissinger

Michael Fabishak (’76 BA History), CEO, AGC says that the firm will work with civil engineering faculty to incorporate training on commonly used VR software into current civil engineering design courses.

The college plans to train 50 undergraduate and graduate civil engineering students in 2018-19 to use VR tools to test their designs, including failure analysis and schedule delay analysis

Faculty can use advanced BIM (Building Information Modeling) tools to develop nonlinear analytical models for typical building structures, in order to provide students with virtual crash tests of their designs. Initially, the College of Engineering & Applied Science’s VRI Lab will house one high-performance computer capable of simulating construction processes.

“This is our first step in bringing VR training to our students,” said Zhao. His next goal is to expand the lab to include laser-scanning equipment, which can help blend virtual designs with the existing world.

Zhao will also work with faculty from other departments to explore using the equipment and software for applications in other problem domains, such as advanced manufacturing and biomedical devices.