Oversite: Visualizing the Difference
The ongoing effort to better inform our infrastructure starts with a model that can be readily analyzed with automated rules-based reporting and algorithm-driven analytics. The model can incorporate simulation to check such things as traffic flow or energy performance, with software that mimics real-world inputs for predictive insight.
The model also becomes a hub for ongoing monitoring, taking in and cataloging sensor feeds for true real-world and real-time readings for increased understanding. And models are increasingly being aided by automated design tools that inform decisions from a project’s inception with parametric tools that bring in design standards from the onset to vet and check the design.
Such vision and functionality is widely shared across technology companies that are creating and fine-tuning these new model-based design workflows. However, as noted in this month’s “Managing the Model” column (page 12), there are disconnects between what’s possible and what’s common practice.
We have come a long way in our ability to model infrastructure from the start of the design process, however, this transition is still in its infancy. The model has so many advantages over 2D plans that after the transition is made, it’s exceedingly difficult to go back, yet many aren’t yet taking the leap.
New software has entered the civil infrastructure project space that allows users to begin a project within a 3D workspace for more-intuitive and informed preliminary design. And this approach is aided by proliferating reality-capture tools and workflows. Being able to incorporate more real-world details adds a degree of efficiency in testing design assumptions as well as communicating plans.
Time savings on such an approach is one quantifiable outcome, yet the value of the model and visualization to aid communication is the biggest benefit for the design process. This enables the sharing of a model for early and regular input from stakeholders as the design progresses. It also eases the approval process from authorities and other stakeholders. Moving to a model-based design process early in infrastructure projects returns time savings that are compounded with quicker approvals and construction, yielding considerable cost savings.
The cover story for this issue beautifully illustrates the value of visual communication, as what you’re seeing in that image is a proposal rather than a built structure. The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) has seen increasing value in such visualization, and its crack team pulled out all the stops on this project.
This visualization helped turn the tide on a bridge project that will help address an ongoing traffic headache in the region (and across all of the southeast) by replacing a congested tunnel. The visualization illustrated how the bridge would look and simulated the drive-time improvements for which the region has been clamoring.
With a model in-hand, the team was able to aid public outreach by providing visualization and simulated drive-through videos as well as show each resident what the bridge would look like from their neighborhood. The response to sharing this level of detail was overwhelmingly positive, and the project is being pushed forward partly as a result of this stellar visualization. This $850-million project recently received approval from federal transportation officials to move to preliminary design, and some reports indicate that construction could begin as early as 2017.
At Informed Infrastructure, we’re committed to focusing on this change to model-based design for infrastructure projects. Several exciting software advancements are pushing what’s possible and making it far easier to make the switch. We, like our contributor Mark Scacco, are eagerly awaiting the inevitable shift away from paper plan sets to shared models.
We’re committed to advancing the process changes that will make architecture, engineering and construction practices more efficient. Watch for our “Industry Outlook” feature next month with opinions and insight from the members of our Editorial Advisory Board about trends and advancements toward these common goals. If you have an opinion or impressive project-related results to share, please let me know.