For decades, business has moved further away from a hard copy driven enterprise to a more efficient and environmentally friendly digital world. Our means of communication and information sharing have changed drastically, sometimes leaving us scrambling to incorporate and integrate the latest technologies in an effective manner. Technology drives technology so that we can not only consume and store vast amounts of information, but also make use of the information available and translate it into something real and tangible.
In the transportation industry we have straddled the technological fence in many ways. We’ve relied heavily on technology such as CAD and microprocessors in our design procedures to create a finished product of paper 2D construction plans, which we hand to contractors to bid on and eventually bring a 3D creation to life. This, of course, is a very crude synopsis of what we do, but you get my drift.
Fortunately and finally, we have reached the place of technological harmony where we can not only design in a 3D environment, but also produce a 3D Build Information Model (BIM), which can be electronically signed and sealed by a professional of record. This model is used to produce input compatible with Automated Machine Guidance (AMG) construction equipment, thus allowing the digitally generated design to be translated accurately into a real-world product.
The design BIM contains a vast amount of data, which traditionally has been conveyed through paper or digital plan sets consisting of hundreds if not thousands of sheets. This increases the likelihood of redundant or conflicting information, as well as errors and omissions. With the implementation of 3D-centric plans, much of this information can be obtained and delivered through analysis of the BIM with appropriate software. All geometric information is contained in a 3D environment within the BIM. This allows for viewing of proposed elements from infinite angles and perspectives. On a roadway project, cross sections can be created and viewed instantaneously at any location without the need for inclusion in the plan set. Quantities can be calculated and manipulated in real time as design changes are made. The capabilities are essentially endless.
With such expansive data contained with the BIM, it follows that our 2D plan sets become leaner. Below is a sample Index of Roadway Plans detailing sheets, which could be eliminated with no loss of information when submitted with the corresponding BIM. In this example, the 2D plan set was reduced from 104 to 31 total plan sheets.
With the seemingly infinite amount of data available today from a multitude of resources, it seems we are constantly seeking ways to filter what we consume while retaining accuracy and precision. The ability to not only acquire, but also process is becoming increasingly critical. It seems that the transportation and construction industry at large is not only keeping pace, but setting trends with the incorporation of NexGen plans in our practice. As an engineer working primarily in the transportation sector, I look forward to learning new ways to leverage this technology to benefit our clients and communities.