There is currently a nationwide paradigm shift occurring in how Departments of Transportation (DOTs) are using Building Information Modeling (BIM) models. In the future, all state DOTs will be using BIM models as the model of record. Some states are already there. Eventually, these 3D deliverables will completely replace 2D plans. In light of this national trend, The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), along with several other key industry players—including a few consultants like Mead & Hunt—have formed a committee to create a national standard for these electronic models. This national standard would serve to give state DOTs guidance on processes and systems to move toward this model. The committee is working to create this standard before 3D models are fully adopted industry-wide.
As we consider this trend, it is necessary to understand how it will affect our work as engineers, architects and designers. Our team members have already worked with several state DOTs to provide 3D models for various infrastructure projects. We know firsthand the hard work that goes into creating these models upfront. The effort and time involved is not insignificant—it is therefore imperative to have a clear understanding of the benefits of this effort. We have seen these benefits firsthand as well.
For instance, 3D modeling technology can be used to improve design accuracy and design coordination. It can help find constructability issues earlier in the design process, which can avoid costly delays. In total, the average project cost savings have been identified at 4-6%, though they can be much higher—in one notable project Mead & Hunt completed in Ohio, 3D modeling reduced project construction cost by $3.2 million, and $1.5 million in utility relocation. This represented a reduction of almost 33% from the project’s preliminary design estimated construction cost of $9.8 million. In addition, 3D modeling can be used to engage, inform, and showcase project benefits for the public and project stakeholders. This can be crucial in cultivating positive relationships with the communities we serve.
In addition to understanding why this shift is occurring, we need to understand how we will adapt to it. To do this, Mead & Hunt is working on developing a formalized, standardized review process internally, so that we can provide a high level of accuracy to meet client needs. We are working to develop a training plan and procedures, so we can remain ahead of the curve. This plan will be based on the information we have access to due to our involvement with the AASHTO committee. As one of only three consultant firms on the committee, we are on the cutting edge of much of the information related to this trend.
The industry is constantly evolving in tandem with technology. The tools we use to create these models are developing rapidly. As computers become more advanced, creating these 3D digital deliverables will become increasingly simplified. This current movement toward 3D models in lieu of 2D designs can be seen as part of a larger movement toward comprehensive 3D design.
While this future is farther out, we can and must adapt to industry-wide changes. However, the importance of the knowledge and skillset we bring as engineers and designers will not lessen. The point of incorporating technology is not to rely solely on programs to do our work for us—it is necessary to understand the intent of the program and diligently check our work as well. Human intelligence is and will continue to be an extremely important component. Our team at Mead & Hunt is ready and willing to help our clients and communities adapt to the future ahead.