MAVImplant, an online tool for building a 3D mockup workplace for small enterprises
P. Canetto, J. Marsot
Institut national de recherche et de sécurité (INRS), France
As part of its strategy to address micro and small and medium enterprises (SMEs), the INRS (National Research Institute for Safety and Health) has developed an online tool called “MAVImplant”, dedicated to designing mockups of workplaces. Reaching these companies relies on the idea of proposing a stand-alone tool that will be of appreciable use for small enterprises managers at a critical moment, when they must undertake the major task of investing in their future production tool. Users can access this open Web application, on which they can build a 3D mockup of their future workplace. They are guided throughout the successive workplace design steps. At each step of the project, the software supplies information and assistance relating to occupational health and safety (OHS) and “good practices” of workplace environment design. Introducing OHS issues upstream in the project facilitates taking preventive actions at source. To ensure that SMEs are addressed effectively, the tool is adapted in a variety of “trade applications” that implement the items of equipment and the actions and rules specific to each sector of activity. These elements have been defined by workgroups composed of representatives of the profession and prevention specialists. The assistance provided to the user is intended to be simple and non-constraining. Practical examples and references are provided to facilitate the autonomous use of the tool. Different mockup visualization tools based on virtual reality concepts allow the user to conceptualize the future work environment. The software is interactive: the user enters the information and inserts the 3D objects in the mockup, and these actions trigger the display of messages that help him to progress. This online tool allows the SME managers to communicate on their project with the different actors involved: the future users, the architect, and the experts concerned. Collaboration is aided by specific tools: the insertion of post-it comments in the mockup, the addition of comments on the objects, sharing of the mockup between users. Exchanges between the latter are aided by the edition of a report summarizing the project’s specifications. Prevention is taken into account by the organization and reservation of spaces, and the layout of flows and traffic, as well as attention given to the risks that can be dealt with through the design of the workplace. MAVImplant was first implemented in two pilot sectors: baking and pastry-making, and automobile maintenance and repair. After analyzing feedback from these two sectors, adaptations for other sectors will be developed.
Workplace design: a critical juncture for SMEs
The construction of a new workplace or the renovation of existing premises is a vital project for the manager of a micro, small or medium enterprise (all of them being called “SME” in this paper). It demands considerable financial investment. It represents the opportunity to design their future production tool, with an impact on future production performances in both quantitative and qualitative terms. The premises will influence the employees’ environment and work situation. The workplace of SMEs is often very close to their points of sale, thus the image of the enterprise in the eyes of its clients is at stake.
Confronted by such challenges, the SME managers lack the arms necessary to carry out their project. They are far from having the experience of a contracting authority. They often lack the requisite competences regarding construction, regulations, and even project management. Thus they rely on a prime contractor or a design and construction manager who is most frequently an architect. However, they do have competences that the architect lacks: the rules specific to their trade, and of course the needs related to their specific project. But their professional activity leaves them with little time available to group these rules and needs to together and formalize them. As for issues relating to the prevention of occupational diseases and risks, they are often poorly known and are dealt with at the end of the project.
This highlights the conjunction of a need for management (carrying out a workplace design project), prevention (integrating good practices in health and safety - OHS), and dialogue (between the SME manager and the architect). A tool capable of satisfying these three objectives would be particularly well-adapted for SMEs to facilitate integrating these elements from the design stage.
Its utility becomes fully apparent in the upstream phase of the project, from the expression of needs, the so-called “program” phase, in the workplace and the work environment design procedure. This early phase permits prior reflection to define the essential points of the project and it greatly facilitates handling OHS issues. Indeed, it will enable the implementation of prevention actions at source, since it is known that the efficiency of solutions integrated at the outset is better and less expensive than the corrective actions often applied later,.
A computer mockup tool
A study at the INRS (National Research Institute for Safety and Health) was performed to define a tool satisfying the objectives described above. A prototype was built and its usability validated. This was followed by the production of the “industrial” tool called MAVImplant (“virtual installation mockup” – in French “Maquette Virtuelle d’Implantation”).
It is a software application that can be accessed online: craftsmen and architects are familiar with using the Internet. It permits building virtual 3D mockups of the workplace and is structured to guide the user progressively through the project. It incorporates functions that assist the user to layout spaces and position machines and the operators that use them. It provides advice relating to “good practices” in workplace design and OHS. It also provides a summary report intended for the design and construction manager (Figure 1).
The target users are SME managers and all the people involved in the project from the angle of the “trade” to be practiced.
In what follows, we present the tool’s characteristics from the angle of its adaptation to the objective targeted SMEs: customization, ease of use, appropriation of the project, tool interactivity, collaboration in the approach.
Adaptation by “trade”
In order to reach SMEs, the tool must be customized in relation to the user’s situation, and especially their occupation. To do this it was decided to adapt MAVImplant by “trade” (e.g., hotels, baking-pastry making, carpentry, etc.). Deploying the tool therefore relies on adapted applications, specific to each area of the activity targeted.
The association of professional advisors in this approach is a key element of its success. Also, for each trade, collaboration is organized with representative partners. The latter attend workgroups that draw up recommendations, items of equipment and rules specific to the trade and which will be integrated in the software. They will then be responsible for disseminating the product and providing support for its use.
Simple and stand-alone utilization
The software guides the user in the mockup construction approach. Successive steps are proposed: placing work areas, laying out the building, integrating the process, laying out the passages and corridors, etc. The user builds the mockup step by step, by inserting 3D objects characteristic of their trade in a “scene” (Figure 2).
Furthermore, MAVImplant provides assistance in the form of “warning” windows when relevant. Once the SME has considered that their project has been sufficiently well-defined, they edit a report comprising the views they have selected. This document is a “summary of needs” that can then be examined by an architect.
Using MAVImplant online makes the application easy to use and immediately available. Potential users can access the application in “visitor” mode to understand the logic of the approach proposed without any prior subscription.
The application is stand-alone, meaning that no preliminary training is required. Tooltips are superposed over the action buttons and the application has an integrated online help function. The functions are designed to be intuitive. The GUI (Graphical User Interface) refers to current practices of contemporary 3D Web applications (“serious games”).
Building “one’s” project
The main difficulty for SME managers is to visualize a work situation that does not yet exist, using abstract representations: these are either drawings or plans at best. That is why mockups are sometimes built using cardboard. 3D numerical representations permit “direct” views of the situation; they can be implemented very early on, and incorporate the modifications or changes proposed very quickly. They follow the project from the beginning up to its completion.
MAVImplant allows the user to make the project their own, because they can use 3D numerical visualization tools on “their” mockup (zooms, changes of angle), and 2D plan type views are also available. A “First Person” visualization mode, well-known to video game players, allows the user to “submerge” themselves in the mockup and thus in the future working environment (Figure 3).
The user is placed in a familiar universe: the 3D objects are rendered realistically. Their dimensions can be modified to correspond to the items of equipment that will be actually installed. This subjective approach is also processed from the viewpoint of the future operators: avatars are inserted in the scene. A function then allows simulating their 3D vision in the situation (standardized viewing angles that take into account eye viewing and head movements) (Figure 4).
The use of passages and corridors is taken into account by a simplified simulation of driving a vehicle in the mockup (motorized vehicles, manual lift trucks, etc.).
An interactive tool
The user’s involvement is ensured by mechanisms of interaction between their actions on the mockup and the options or guidance proposed to them.
Once the user has started to use the software, the succession of steps proposed will depend on the type of project they choose. Thus the first step of a rearrangement of the working premises will start with the layout of the building, whereas a new construction will start with the positions of the work areas.
The insertion of certain objects leads to associated messages: advice on installation, connection, etc. Some operations trigger alarms that have to be solved: overlapping of items of equipment on reserved spaces, collective protection against falls from height on roofs, and so forth.
This interaction is immediate and can be seen directly on the mockup by the user: handling objects (modification of dimensions, moving objects, etc.) has an immediate impact on the mockup, and the display of messages and alerts is done directly on the scene.
Sharing the project
Generally, the success of a workplace and premises design project, and taking into account prevention issues in particular, relies on the participatory approach taken by the actors concerned from an early stage of the project and up to its end,.
MAVImplant includes functions that facilitate this communication. The mockup proposes a “post-it” tool that allows users to follow-up comments on the project on a daily basis. After discussions, comments can be added to objects in the mockup and which will feature in the report. The project can be adapted in several versions (e.g., variants) that can be shared on the Web by selected users. The report edited permits tracking the customized needs of the project and it becomes the basic medium for exchanges between the SME manager and the design and construction manager.
Taking prevention into account
Of course, for the INRS, an essential feature of the tool is that it takes questions of prevention into account. This is also done by giving advice to the user: it does not involve any constraint on building the mockup, and satisfies a need for the SME manager who is responsible for these questions. The software proposes a specific approach to performing the project which favors the integration of prevention. For example, the insertion of a step dedicated to positioning work areas (called “sectors”) is a key element in a workplace and premises design project. However, this practice is still not sufficiently widespread
The organization of space and circulation is also an essential point in preventing risks of falls, risks linked to handling, and those linked to movement. Space management is integrated by the option of reserving volumes for access points, actions on items of equipment, handling operations and storage. Tools are proposed to visualize the organization of the space and the process in the form of links making it possible to optimize flows, movements, and the proximal space areas, or on the contrary separating “antagonist” places (e.g., separation of explosive areas).
The alarm and advice messages mentioned previously are aids directly linked to the user’s actions. They can be triggered by elements specific to the building itself (differences in level, pits, etc.) and by the layout of passages and corridors (overlapping of the areas crossed, etc.). These also concern risks linked to items of equipment when they can be dealt with by acting on the layout of the premises (noise, pollutants, etc.).
The development of specific risk assessment tools has led to the introduction of risk prevention in SMEs. Ensuring that this practice will continue to increase now requires the dissemination of more global tools.
The strategy taken by the INRS is to provide the SME manager with a tool useful to them at a critical juncture, and whose use permits the “natural” integration of positive OHS practices. When applied to the workplace and premises design software MAVImplant, it was warmly welcomed by the professional organizations contacted. Adapting it to SMEs required the integration of software specifications that reflect their culture, by combining the need for autonomy, dialogue and assistance. The first pilot trades employed to launch the software application are baking-pastry-ice-cream making and automobile repair and maintenance. Collaboration with the professional organizations representing these trades has made it possible to deploy the tool. Analysis of the feedback on its use in these sectors will enable orientating the choices to be made for other trade applications, and developing them.
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