Change Leader: 3D Modeling Delivers Widespread Benefits
Kevin Schlereth is a senior design application specialist at HNTB, an architecture, engineering, planning and construction services firm founded more than 100 years ago. A registered professional engineer, he works with subject-matter experts who specialize in civil engineering software and digital scenarios, providing project development, training and support services. He has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Ohio University.
HNTB is an infrastructure solutions firm serving public and private owners and contractors. The employee-owned company delivers a full range of infrastructure-related services, including award-winning planning, design, program and construction management. Through it all, building information modeling (BIM) plays an important role in the firm’s success.
“We pretty much use BIM for every project,” explains Schlereth. “Basically, it involves 3D design, and we do that with every job, not just design jobs.”
The Power of 3D
BIM provides a digital representation of a project’s physical and functional characteristics, forming a reliable basis for decision making. The technology provides HNTB with widespread benefits, from design to construction.
“In some cases, we’ve saved $20 million in utility relocation costs by just building a 3D model of what’s going on with utilities,” says Schlereth.
HNTB uses a variety of 3D modeling software, including products from Bentley Systems and Autodesk. For example, the firm uses Bentley’s OpenRoads modeling environment extensively for transportation projects. OpenRoads enables construction-driven engineering and delivers all the information needed to support operational workflows. HNTB also takes advantage of OpenRoads ConceptStation, an application that supports conceptual and preliminary design, leveraging contextual information obtained through point clouds, reality meshes, geographic information system technology and other sources.
According to Schlereth, the construction, design and engineering industries need to get away from plan deliverables and focus more on model deliverables. As a result, firms will be able to deliver better bids and decrease construction costs. Schlereth is also training his colleagues to take advantage of 3D presentation technologies to get their ideas across.
“You have third-party stakeholders and reviewers—all these different people who need to review the information,” he explains. “Some of them aren’t engineers, so giving them the plan sheet isn’t always the best way to express a design. But being able to give it to them in a 3D model that they can navigate on their own in a live cube or look at through a movie or even a virtual-reality headset is huge because it gets the point across so much easier and faster.”
Delivering Conceptual Designs
HNTB recently applied its 3D modeling prowess to deliver conceptual designs for a new I-84 and SR-8 interchange in Connecticut, just outside of Waterbury. Originally designed and constructed in the 1960s with a stacked design containing double-decker sections, the interchange now carries an estimated 150,000 vehicles a day—triple the amount it accommodated when first built. In addition, Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) is facing increasing maintenance costs to address bridge deficiencies.
ConnDOT hired HNTB to study and recommend a preferred design alternative and develop the detailed design of an upgraded interchange to current construction standards. OpenRoads ConceptStation and related software was critical to the firm’s success. OpenRoads ConceptStation provided designers with the ability to quickly and efficiently evaluate different scenarios using the required design standards. Also, the software’s visualization capabilities allowed the team to rapidly review the complete project in a rich 3D environment and communicate options to all stakeholders involved.
Schlereth is working hard to promote 3D modeling and visualization technologies to help foster such advances. By becoming a trusted advisor and resource, he relishes the role of bringing new technologies and ideas to project teams and agencies. Promoting advanced technology is as much about building relationships as the technology itself.
“It’s definitely both,” relates Schlereth. “You need to have that new technology or that new thing, but you also need to make sure that new thing or that new technology is useful and does things better, faster and cheaper. Everyone is looking for ways to do more with less.”