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7 Ways Civil Engineers and Contractors Can Now Use BIM

  • It is sometimes assumed that Building Information Modeling (BIM) is only useful in the vertical construction space. But the ‘building’ in BIM is misleading.
  • Civil engineering and construction firms are increasingly adopting BIM processes and tools to improve efficiency, eliminate waste, and improve the outcomes of all kinds of infrastructure projects. 
  • Keep reading to learn how civil construction professionals are now using BIM to deliver projects digitally.

7 Ways Civil Engineers and Contractors Can Now Use BIM

1. Reduce data prep time

Easily sharing design information with field teams and fleets has been a game-changer for Duna Aszfalt Zrt, one of Hungary’s biggest local civil contractors. “Because we have a 3D picture from 83 site designs of everything in the project, we can produce the machine control data in a very efficient way. I assume we spare about 75% of the time compared to earlier when it comes to producing machine control data,” reports Beatrix Szabo, BIM Manager. 

Because infrastructure projects are usually lengthier than building projects, and often require data from many different sources, civil BIM design software supports easier extraction of data than the traditional project delivery method of using piles of drawings or having to create a digital model from those drawings by hand.

2. Track and clarify project progress

Using BIM sets a project up for a controlled, direct data flow between office and field, and design and construction. For example, survey engineers at PORR use WorksManager (Trimble’s design management and model versioning tool) to provide machine operators any updates to the model in real-time. As the machines move around the site, they create data of the surfaces they produce — which can be used in Quadri (Trimble’s civil BIM collaboration software). This provides PORR with the ability to know exactly what has been done, where it has been done, and by whom every day. It is easy for their BIM coordinator to produce volume calculations and get a good picture of how any changes will affect the project.

3. Organize and align project data

One of the most important elements of working in BIM processes is using a common shared model. This serves as the single source of truth for all stakeholders on a project: Agencies, engineers, contractors, surveyors, machines, owners and other technologists all work off of one model. This helps teams eliminate data duplication across systems, catch issues before they stop production, enforce modeling and work standards, and simplifies planning.

“When we are building a road foundation, where drainage is coming, we can combine design models with ground survey data in the same view, and quickly find out whether quarrying will be required or not,” says Heikki Lehkonen, BIM specialist at Skanska Infra. “I believe the shared database is an essential way to improve overall productivity and efficiency,” he concludes.

4. Get more accurate quantity takeoffs — faster

Making quantity takeoffs digital through the use of BIM technology eliminates the need to scale information off drawings and photographs, or from a site that has not been prepped or clearly marked by surveyors. 

The traditional quantity take off process involves manually selecting individual elements from 2D drawings, using software to automatically determine the dimensions for take-off, and then inputting the quantities into the quantity take off list. For estimators working in infrastructure, that often involves scaling information off drawings and photographs, or trying to collect information from a site that has not been prepped or clearly marked by surveyors.

But BIM tools like Trimble Business Center eliminate the need for such manual work. They use advanced data and calculations to keep quantity estimating and processing highly accurate and to create integrated models that provide GNSS data. 

With rising construction costs, it is crucial for engineering and construction firms to make the most accurate cost estimates possible. Which all starts with precise, digital quantity takeoffs.

5. Save time during design revisions 

Ingi Gudmundsson, BIM engineer for Spotland, was looking to improve modeling capabilities on a complex development project that included the establishment of a wetland signalized junction, roundabouts, bridges, path connections, connections to a climate and environment center as well as recycling and treatment plans, conversion of an existing bike path, developing sewerage and drainage, and the planting and digging of ponds and streams.

Gudmundsson explains that previously intersection modeling was a major challenge. “Where you have a cross-section on the main road, and then you have a different cross-section on the secondary road, it’s often problematic to make the models meet and fit with each other.” The surveyor and designer did their best to roughly line up the models but it was often left to the operator to freestyle intersections. 

Now, Gudmundsson is able to use functionality within Trimble Business Center (a takeoff and site modeling tool) that allows him to select various properties for each road leg of an intersection and apply those directly to the model. Each connection can be adjusted manually or loaded from a template. He can also change the lane width and slope, as well as shoulder width and shoulder slopes. Once one road leg is set, Gudmundsson can copy the properties and place them into each other leg. He can also change the incoming and outgoing radii and quickly add turn lanes, curb heights, and walking paths. 

Gudmundsson estimates he saves at least 4 hours for every design revision on a medium-sized project site with five to 10 machines.

6. Coordinate utilities on complex projects

The ability to track and share accurate onsite information across the team means less work for everyone involved. With reduced manual data management and eliminated redundancies, project coordination can run smoothly. 

Recently, Norconsult used BIM to improve efficiencies on a large collaboration project. Norconsult was responsible for the entire infrastructure in the area — not only streets, roads, water and sewer, landscape and stormwater handling, but also the coordination of the garbage vacuum system, district heating, fibers and lighting. Even the technical coordination for all existing utility lines that lie in the ground was part of their mission.

“We design the roads and water and sewer with Novapoint [Trimble’s civil BIM design software], and then coordinate and present all the discipline data in Quadri [Trimble’s civil BIM collaboration solution]. In addition, we do a lot of utility coordination between different utility networks and existing infrastructure, where we get good use of the collision control capability in Quadri, says Alexander Svensson, BIM project manager for Norconsult.

7. Fix problems in the office instead of in the field

Changes on an infrastructure project are inevitable. But avoidable errors and mistakes that impact deadlines and budget can feel especially painful. Many civil firms use BIM technologies to minimize ‘working blind’ and uncover challenges before construction even begins.

As Martin Karlsson, road engineer for Norconsultant, explains about using Civil 3D and Quadri for modeling and collaboration, “We now see exactly what we are doing and get a far better possibility to design what we are aiming for. We get continuous quality control of the design. We see immediately if our design collides with something else, if a manhole is placed wrong, or if a lighting post is strangely positioned. In addition, you can retrieve all possible data from the model, completely free.”

Noroconsultant even brings BIM models into client meetings for easier coordination. They have been able to minimize mistakes and design conflicts, as well as reduce construction costs by doing this. 

“You are always confident that you are working with up-to-date data. This minimizes the risk of using incorrect data and ensures that everything becomes as accurate as possible,” summarizes Alexander Svensson, road engineer at Norconsult.

Even though the United States lags in BIM adoption compared to other countries, many industry associations, federal agencies, and state DOTs are adopting digital delivery processes. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), along with 17 state DOTs, are working to standardize BIM for bridges and structures, with the Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) scheduled for release in 2021.

As more agencies see the value of BIM models, digital as-builts and other digital building techniques, and infrastructure projects become more complex and regulated, savvy civil engineers and contractors are getting in front of these shifts by proactively working to improve collaboration and constructability using BIM.

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