Augmented Reality (AR) and Fabrication - How to Use it in Your Workflow

Does anybody here use AR in their building/fabrication workflows?

Specifically, do you use the models you have already made in CAD and put them into AR to see the final product in a space before working on/finishing your project?

If you have used it, great! Keep it up! Well done champ! (We like to use it in the shop) If not, that is okay…you’ve come to the right place

Confused on what AR (augmented reality) is? Fear not, for the answer is here.

You might ask “why use AR?” to which I would retort “why not?”
If you are building things to occupy spaces, then the best thing to do to see if it will work is to put it in that space. Heck, even some furniture retailers allow their customers to use AR to see how the furniture will look in their own spaces before the customer buys it.

This can be a crucial part of the design process. When you are making something, especially something that could transform the space it occupies, wouldn’t it be best to be certain that it works in that space before committing time & money to build it out? The good news is we can do that…and pretty easily at that…because we have technology.


Before you attempt to do this, make sure you have a CAD program to create & save a digital 3D model, and an iPhone or iPad to view it in AR. The iPhone or iPad must be newer and include lidar, as this maps out surfaces in front of the camera and allows AR to be possible within our physical space.

So here’s how to do it (with examples!)

Step 0
Make a model in CAD.

Step 1
Open your CAD file. The file we are using for example is the stair build we are using for the sci-fi office, since we used AR to determine the problems of the model. Just save your project as a STL file, as that will be important for the next steps. Easy! (pro tip: make sure to decimate your file to have the least amount of vertices in order to make the next steps easier…less vertices equals faster file load times! I found that files less than a megabyte in size do well.)

Step 2
Go to Vectary (this is not sponsored by them, I just happen to like how fast and easy they are to use, especially because it’s in-browser and not an app I’d have to download). When you open their in-browser software, make sure to select the STL file you wish to turn into an AR file. (If the file won’t load, it’s most likely that it’s too big and you’ll have to decimate the vertices in CAD and try again)
Once it has loaded in, orient your model so that its flat against the XY plane (the ground) and not clipping through. Then, you have the option to put a simple texture on it…say like something metallic to reflect some environmental light.
Almost there! Now you just have to save it as a USDZ file. I make sure to decimate it down to around 30% of the pixel density (and texture detail) so that it can load fast on an iPhone.

Step 3
Send yourself this USDZ file either by Airdrop, email, or cloud-based service. You’re going to want to open up this file on an iPhone or iPad, so make sure your intended device has access to whatever program you send it to.

Step 4
Then, when you access the file on your device, just tap on it to open (or save it to your “Files” application for later use) and your Apple branded product will know what to do with it- it will automatically open it in AR! If your model was scaled correctly when it was in CAD (and if the scale was not changed in Vectary), your model should display in actual size, and your device’s screen will be the gateway into the reality into which it exists.

Step 5
Observe. That’s it. If you go into this with a question or a goal, you will get more out of this. But it’s also okay just to do this for fun, too. We observed the head height with the stair model, and checked to see if it there was enough shoulder room to walk up and turn the corner.

Try it for yourself!
Here is the Hardtail Vise, just download this file on an iPhone or iPad (remember, it must have lidar) and point its camera to a surface. Now you can see how big it actually is…

Disclaimer: After scouring various blogs and subreddits to see how this is all achievable, this process is one I found to work within our workflow . If you have other ways of doing this, please share them! We are always looking to evolve the way we do things here. AR is just another one of those things.

I hope this helps, feel free to tell us (and show us) your AR experiences!

The video that this post references is now available to watch here!