Mike Boisvert Member Name
Senior Civil Designer
Before even breaking ground, civil engineering projects have traditionally required multiple onsite visits from surveyors, engineers, planners, and other stakeholders. Building a 3D site model could be a time-consuming and costly undertaking, and any resulting improvements to project efficiency were hard to recognize.
The time and expense accrued from the coordination, planning, travel, and site investigations can be huge. In addition, these activities can be the source of delays, often adding weeks, months, or even years to large civil project timelines.
What if there was a better solution?
Big data, artificial intelligence, and design software are changing the way we work.
In recent years, advances in these technologies have made the planning stages of civil projects more efficient and streamlined, saving companies big money. It’s now possible to investigate, design, model, and share plans without physically visiting a site.
Site models can be generated with minimal effort. This changes the way companies conduct their day-to-day activities, as well as the way they approach new projects. The time and effort saved can instead be put towards careful targeted and detailed discussions with clients and shareholders that will allow the project to progress quicker.
How does visualization modeling work?
At Golder, we use Autodesk® Civil 3D® and Infraworks® software to design and model large-scale civil projects. These software packages are updated constantly, and their wide array of features not only allow clients to see big gains, but also reduce project planning time.
Infraworks is a user-friendly infrastructure visualization and conceptual design tool. It compiles publicly available imagery, terrain, infrastructure, and water bodies to provide a base model. To this, extra elements such as high resolution imagery and topography, custom vegetation, design elements, and utilities are added.
This type of detailed model can be created before even talking to a surveyor and allows all users to collaborate more easily. Designs can be achieved without excessive training or set-up time, and as the design progresses, all users are able to see the model updates.
This simple process can impress management and clients alike, and the workflow can reduce the number of iterations needed during the feasibility and options phases of a project.
How detailed can the model go?
The software can analyze a variety of complex data. Civil 3D design files can be linked to the modelling in Infraworks. Grading objects, corridors and profiles, and dynamic 3D civil features will automatically update design features in the model. The software can also connect the model to ArcGIS online, which can export even more detailed data.
It’s easy to make quick measurements and perform analyses using Infraworks models. Naturally, most companies need to strike the right balance of efficiency, value, and simplicity in all their processes. The ability to maintain a real-time, live model checks all these boxes.
Among the available powerful analysis tools are:
- Flood simulation
- Line of sight
- Shadow and light analysis
- Traffic simulation
As an example, the line of sight tool can show a stakeholder the visual impact a project will have on the local community. The shadow and light functionality can simulate seasons, monthly changes, and even the time of day to show of the impact of light and shadows on the project and its surroundings.
The ease of collaboration
Sharing visualizations with stakeholders is easy. Flythroughs or walkthroughs are magnificent ways to show off the detail.
The overall visual representation of the site allows:
- Cost-effective big-picture visualization
- Scaled project layout
- Simple conceptualization options
- Early identification of potential issues
- Visual impacts for public interest
- Expert witness assistance
Models can be shared with stakeholders via a web link. It allows them to look at cross sections, walk virtually through the site, take measurements, etc., even if they don’t have the software. The beauty is that stakeholders can add comments on specific measurements or objects for review, and the program will notify the appropriate designers.
Pulling the benefits together
This technology offers many benefits to everyone involved in the project. In summary, design and visualization modeling can:
- Reduce the number of design iterations during the feasibility and options phases of a project.
- Allow for quick measurements, volumes, and analyses via publicly available data, which become stronger and more detailed with supplemental survey and design elements.
- Help convey advanced engineering and scientific concepts to stakeholders dynamically and without a significant investment.
With technology and software constantly updating, the opportunities are endless. In coming years, more and more professions will become familiar with, and start embracing, the technology.
Eventually, this style of planning will be the norm, with savvy clients coming to expect it to ensure they optimize the time and money they invest on projects.