BIM for Infrastructure


Many of the challenges and opportunities that define the early years of the 21st century are most visible in cities, where a growing proportion of the world’s population now lives. The complexities of cities today mean that the demands on infrastructure change and expand constantly. City managers have a responsibility to ensure that their physical and technological attributes support the changing needs of their citizens – and they must do so under all types of pressures.

These pressures range from the strains of rapid urbanization to addressing the potential for loss of life and economic destruction from the approximately 18 major earthquakes (7.0 magnitude and above) that occur worldwide each year. The recent earthquakes in Chile, Haiti and Japan attest to the stark differences between structures that were designed or retrofitted to handle large earthquakes and those that were not. While much is reported about buildings, the infrastructure component of cities must be taken into account as well.We need new holistic perspectives on cities. In order to develop infrastructure strategically, economically, sustainably and with added seismic resiliency, the right tools are required. Ideally, these tools can help users to transition to a more integrated approach and assessment, where they can visualize, simulate and analyze infrastructure designs long before construction to meet the ever-changing demands. Some of these tools exist today.

BIM: Getting Started

To transition from an existing paper or 2D process to BIM, especially for infrastructure retrofits, it is best to start at the beginning. Most of our infrastructure today has outdated or nonexistent plans, and few have complete and up-to-date existing condition surveys. This lack of baseline information makes it difficult to predict future performance throughout the life of existing infrastructure structural assets, especially when a retrofit project involves evaluating and comparing proposals from various companies to determine which has the best chance for seismic resiliency.

Traditionally, the solution was laboriously to create drawings in 2D form and use them as the basis for an engineered seismic analysis. While these drawings include all of the needed information for submission to the local authority and are used by the contractor for installation or by the inspector for conformance review, creating as-builts by hand is not efficient given the volume of infrastructure that needs to be addressed for seismic retrofits worldwide, let alone the myriad of inputs required today for project approval.

Fortunately, new technologies make this once overwhelming prospect more manageable. Over the past few years, terrestrial and mobile laser scanning as well as aerial Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) have facilitated fast, accurate and precise data capture of existing infrastructure assets. The point clouds produced from these scans can be combined with 3D modeling software and a BIM workflow to create rich hybrid data sources, providing an as-built model of existing infrastructure that enables designers to work within the 3D environment to evaluate design alternatives.

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