Workflow Review: Autodesk Infrastructure Design Suite Improves the Rules and Model-based Approach for a Transportation Infrastructure Project
There’s an ongoing transition taking place within the CAD/GIS/BIM software space, with accelerated convergence of functionalities and greater interoperability between these different foundational tools. Similarly, roles within the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) companies are evolving to become less siloed in separate domains, with more interaction across all phases of the project lifecycle from conceptual design, planning, design, construction to maintenance. Model-based design is an impetus to this change, and software companies are focused on tools to improve efficiency and facilitate collaborative workflows.
Autodesk has packaged their software together into subscriptions that make sense for each project sector of the AEC market. The Infrastructure Design Suite  places an emphasis on the mobility of models between the various software tools in support of the typical workflows that take place on infrastructure project types and networks from water, wastewater, electric utilities as well as roadways and railways.
Given the complexity of today’s software, a software review isn’t a practical exercise. The issue is the maturity of the software where an assessment of features in one software package could fill a book, and the features across a software suite might fill an encyclopedia. The evolutionary move toward model-based design has greatly simplified the workflows, while complicating a reviewer’s ability to summarize. The evolution takes away generic drawing tools and replaces it with modeling tools that can encapsulate rules-based intelligence such as the behavior or performance of different materials, and guiding the design of components based on best practices built into the modeling tool.
Instead of a review approach, we’ve decided to take a look at a project workflow across the project lifecycle within and across the tools in Autodesk’s Infrastructure Design Suite, pointing out key functions. We’ll also discuss Autodesk’s workflow approach and their vision to improve project efficiency using model-based design. To simplify this exercise, we’ve chosen a transportation sector workflow as the focus. The workflow review was informed by Autodesk product managers and customers in order to gain an understanding of what the software was intended to do as well as how the tools are being implemented.
Capturing existing conditions, which includes real-world objects at the project site has come a long way, and is advancing rapidly thanks to new sensing and measuring technology and visualization environments.
Autodesk AutoCAD Map3D is one of the tools used in the earliest phases of a project as it’s used to compile the GIS layers relevant to the project, such as boundaries, parcels, roadways, building footprints and other details along with satellite or aerial imagery. This tool provides the opportunity to visualize zoning or the hydrology of a flood plain, as well as offering a means to conduct some spatial analysis to consider such socio-economic factors as neighborhood demographics from a recent census.
The layered nature of GIS provides a means to compile and visualize underground utilities that factor so greatly into connecting infrastructure and avoiding costly and dangerous conflicts. To date, the detailed and precise capture, modeling and measurement of underground assets is still problematic, although ground penetrating radar and sensor pods called smart pigs that fit inside pipes are making advancements in capturing a detailed view of hidden networks. Despite the lack of streamlined capture technologies, cities and large infrastructure projects are making the investment in mapping and modeling underground infrastructure because that investment has proven to pay off by avoiding accidents, disruptions in service or time-consuming workarounds due to unforeseen conflicts.
Increasingly, 3D project models are central to this data collection phase, and the recently launched Autodesk ReCap software offers a means of visualizing and manipulating the 3D data from photos and laser scans. With ReCap Studio, users can organize and visualize massive datasets captured using various methods, cleaning up the data and creating high-resolution textured models. Software to view and manipulate the large collection of points has been lagging behind our capture ability for some time, but with this new tool’s capability to visualize billions of points, the point clouds are a more practical early step to build an understanding of the existing conditions of a project site. The ability to work with both laser scans and photos provides a streamlined workflow since photos can be used to align scans or fill in gaps in the scan without a costly return trip to the field.
Autodesk has pioneered the ability to do CAD-like operations with these large point cloud models, such as selecting and moving elements, measuring distances with precision, and performing object extraction. This improved workflow to capture reality is further enhanced with the ability to put plans and designs within the context of what’s already there.
Autodesk Raster Design is another tool in this data capture workflow that allows for raster editing and raster-to-vector conversions in order to combine imagery with plans and vice versa. This software fits a needed niche by allowing for the import of aerial photos or images into the AutoCAD design space. This tool works in Autodesk AutoCAD and Autodesk AutoCAD Civil 3D for orienting and cleaning up the raster images as an input into the design space.
Incorporating real-world objects in the design process is a big change to prior project work. In the past, a site survey would collect boundary points and elevations, and the process might also include an aerial image for reference. But, with today’s capture technology, projects start with a detailed 3D model of the site with millions of points for reference. Efficiency is greatly improved with this new era of easy reality capture, because regular capture of conditions provides a visual communication of progress and priorities.
With just six months of availability, Autodesk InfraWorks 2014 (formerly Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler) has been rapidly adopted to fill a gap in the initial phases of design. InfraWorks facilitates the visualization of all elements of a site, acting as a data integration and reality capture hub for proposal authoring, visualization and communication.
InfraWorks provides a centralized point where stakeholders identify project needs, analyze the existing infrastructure using a data-rich model, and put together a preliminary design quickly to test different options and analyze alternatives. To aid the realism in InfraWorks, there are easy-to-use tools to model weather details such as wind direction and speed, sun position, as well as moving clouds, water surfaces and sunsets.
InfraWorks 360 provides a number of simulation and collaboration tools to extend desktop functionality with the aid of cloud services. For example, using the infinite computing power of the cloud, you can run optimization services in order to arrive at a design that performs well. The recently announced Autodesk InfraWorks 360 Pro extends the combined desktop functionality and cloud computing environment as a subscription service that is paid on a per-quarter basis, making it ideal for project work.
A transportation example for this preliminary design phase might involve the redesign of an intersection that has high accident rates. Placing all elements within the 3D environment of InfraWorks allows for analysis to better understand the reasons behind the poor safety, considering lights, signs and signals, turning lanes, vegetation and other factors.
While AutoCAD Civil 3D has been a good tool for preliminary design work, workflows are streamlined in InfraWorks. Additionally, larger models can be more easily accommodated for projects of greater scale. The ability to visualize potential impacts is more intuitive in InfraWorks, and the 3D data-rich view is more detailed and immersive there. By using the .IMX format, there’s a seamless model data exchange across both platforms so that there’s no loss of intelligence in the model between the two software packages. The cloud-based InfraWorks 360 environment also provides the advantage of large-scale modeling with enormous data sets and large geography without the need for further hardware investment.
Planning and Public Input
At the planning stage, where project scope and budget are determined, there are a number of tools that come into play.
InfraWorks has proved influential in helping to figure out and find the project outliers through modeling, making certain that the scope of the project is inclusive of all of the factors at hand. Here, such exercises as importing the underground layers, such as pipes and cables, help greatly in factoring constraints as the project moves to the design phase.
Autodesk Roadway Design for InfraWorks 360 Pro is a newly released product that extends the InfraWorks 360 Pro functionality with the ability to engineer preliminary roadway design. Given the ease of use, corridor selection and geometry layout will start in InfraWorks, where the initial alignment and road model can be authored and edited within the context of the existing infrastructure. This tool combines many different data inputs to create the realistic model that can then be modified through engineering tasks. The design of intersections or roadway geometry layouts, along with rule-based parameters such as maximum turning radius or speed-based design rules, improves the design while providing details on the design’s performance. There’s even a tool to optimize the vertical profile of the roadway, taking into account the amount of earth that needs to be moved associated with construction costs. These tools provide the means to collaboratively arrive at consensus, as well as the ability to save and share different scenarios that are developed along the way that may favor different design constraints. The ability to visualize different scenarios within the context of both place and cost provides valuable material for public outreach.
At this early design stage, much can be done with the road profile and model, with project buy-in accomplished before it gets a detailed treatment in AutoCAD Civil 3D at the design stage. The planning and early design stages are also a time where the public is first engaged, and there are several advantages to using 3D models to visualize project alternatives when presenting designs and intent to the public.
“It used to take five to six years from concept to completion for a new highway project, but now you’re looking at 20 years. A lot of that is because of the availability of information, and a new group of public actors that you didn’t need to work with in the past,” said Paul McRoberts, vice president of the Infrastructure Modeling Product Line Group at Autodesk. “That’s changing how we approach project development, with the need for earlier public involvement and means and methods that enable placing project alternatives in the context of the real world, with better means to convey what the future will look like to them, and address their concerns earlier to move projects ahead more rapidly.”
Visualizing a model live in a meeting is one place that InfraWorks really shines. The models can be used to create animated fly throughs of the project proposal, and if the public wants to learn more, the presenter can zoom in to provide greater detail and even use the data behind the model to explain design decisions. Not only does the presenter have the ability to display the design, but they can also respond to “what-if” requests, tweaking parameters to show alternatives based on feedback. The portability of the model also allows for commenting on a web viewer or iPad, for feedback in addition to a live meeting, where markups and questions can be fed back to improve and aid consensus and conflict resolution.
“Just two years ago, the SlopeTick maps that we could output in AutoCAD Civil 3D were thought incredible for project planning,” says Jeffrey Lyons, AEC Solutions Business Unit Leader at Cole Engineering Group. “Doing public meetings with paper on the board, and design plans with profiles was still challenging because it’s hard to communicate vertical scale. With today’s tools we can model all the complexity that exists and they can see the impact on the land.”
Design and Document
AutoCAD models and visualizations are still the go-to tools for the design phase, although that is being blurred in the age of BIM.
Autodesk 3ds Max Design is used extensively for visualization of final designs, with the ability to apply realistic materials and to animate movement such as automobile traffic. The maturity of this tool means there is a good labor pool to help visualize models, and that maturity also comes with modeling libraries of materials, vehicles, people and vegetation to improve realism and make it easier and quicker to model. There are also lighting tools to ensure a realistic visualization environment whether day or night. The 3ds Max Design software is used for a high-impact output that sells the project with its flash and realism, however it isn’t directly connected to the intelligence in the model or to the underlying data that went into building the model, because there’s no coordinate system within 3ds Max Design.
Navisworks is a key input to pre-construction planning as it provides the ability to scope the project across a timeline. At the point of costing and construction staging, the ability to visualize the phases of construction across the timeline provides an ability to detect timeline clashes, and to make certain that the phased construction process runs efficiently. The ability to seamlessly integrate 3D models from AutoCAD Civil 3D for clash detection, and to pull together existing site details, brings the design and construction disciplines together for better pre-construction planning.
Before submitting PSEs (plans, specifications and estimates) they are checked by someone with full knowledge of the discipline, and Navisworks is increasingly the place where that is done. In transportation, there’s a need to keep traffic flowing, so there’s an increased emphasis on coordinating the phases of construction for maximum efficiency and the fewest possible disruptions.
Parsons Brinkerhoff has taken Navisworks to the extreme in several projects as a collaborative environment, including the I-95 project in New Haven, CT.
“We have 2,000 activities modeled and linked and running in a 4D model that is updated every two weeks,” said Kevin Gilson, director of visualization at Parsons Brinkerhoff. “It allows us to find temporal clashes in project timelines, to track construction activities, and understand where there are issues with a lot going on at the same time.”
The intelligent model-based environment of AutoCAD Civil 3D means there’s much more in the model than in the past, with instant feedback on quantities, linear feet of curb, amount of asphalt and other details naturally coming out of the model through quick calculations. The earthworks tools within AutoCAD Civil 3D provides the means to calculate cut and fill, and to put in priorities with earthwork costs and other parameters for what’s important on the site. AutoCAD Civil 3D is also the place to complete detailed design work and generate needed documentation, including plan sets.
Revit Structure provides features to design more detailed construction elements, such as rebar and concrete design as well functionality for structural detailing. The tools in Revit Structure have intelligence built in with constraints so that rebar placement and design conforms with established standards. In addition, there are structural analysis tools within Revit Structure, including the ability to assess the performance of physical materials. This tool helps to illustrate the possibility of model-based design, with such a wealth of analytical and simulation capabilities tied to materials and configuration to aid in the design process for a better outcome.
The beauty of a BIM-oriented model-based design is that design documentation updates are just a part of the digital workflows. The model provides a complete view of the project, so there’s just one model where changes ripple through.
“You design for a while, and at a milestone you integrate the models and resolve any issues,” said Gilson. “Ultimately, you have construction planning and drainage teams plugging in, and ideally they’re sharing an integrated model where they have versions that are published on a milestone basis.”
The revolution is in the move to model first rather than to create the model from design documentation drawings. A further revolution is to have a detailed model within the context of what’s real within InfraWorks.
Constructing and Maintaining
Designing for constructability is an important benefit of model-based design, where bringing together models from different disciplines along with civil engineering details provides insight into how they interact. The different design disciplines also come together at the pre-construction point, with the model as the means for collaboration
In transportation, like other infrastructure projects, pre-construction planning involves tight sequencing of construction phases, the staging of materials and access, and sequencing of events, with the added constraint of maintaining traffic flow in many cases. Navisworks is the tool for construction sequencing.
Navisworks inputs design models from AutoCAD Civil 3D for the modeling and timelines of different construction methods in order to help the project manager with the construction process. Some firms have used realistic visualizations and animations driven by the model and the time-oriented phasing of Navisworks to illustrate that certain procedures can be accomplished in specific timeframes. One project brought in AutoCAD Civil 3D models and animated the necessary earthwork to convince the customer and stakeholders that a bridge could be moved within a short time window.
We’ve illustrated the benefits of model-based design to improve the efficiency of project work, eliminate redundant work, and assist the designer with simulations that improve the viability and performance of their design with an eye on cost. However, a lot of paper plans are still in use, although most of the stakeholders in the process would like to move away from them.
“At this point of the evolution, construction contractors are pushing 3D visualization rather than sheet sets because they benefit the most,” said Gilson. “They are doing it, but not thinking of sharing it because nobody is asking for it. Contractors develop their own models with laser scanning to capture realistic conditions, and to evaluate construction logistics.”
In the old sheet-based workflows, construction planning just involved the completion of production drawings and the submittal of documentation. The bigger benefit is taking delivery of the model with thought of construction, where incremental tweaks of vertical alignment or other details update all downstream outputs from the model.
AutoCAD Civil 3D uses a corridor approach, where each element of the corridor is an intelligent element that, depending on conditions and criteria, update the overall model. For road bases, the model contains the details of different materials at different depths for both the application and removal of those materials. The process of road grading has been dramatically improved of late, because the models within Civi3D are machine control ready. The model drives road grading machinery equipped with precise GPS so that blade elevation are automated to deliver the correct depth and contour of surfaces corresponding to the model. The Civil 3D corridor tools allow for the extraction of strings that are made accessible to Trimble, Topcon and others to go into their machine control tools.
“Everything changes as the project progresses, and that’s really where you start to see the magic,” said Dave Simeone, AutoCAD Civil 3D product manager at Autodesk. “When your road baseline is set, you are forever tweaking your vertical alignment, and to have the roadway profiles and cross sections updated automatically saves a great deal of time.”
The further the model is integrated into all steps of the lifecycle, the more time and money can be saved.
“We are able to get things done faster, leading to cost savings,” said Lyons. “Many are reluctant to say how much the new approach improves efficiency, because they don’t want to say how bad it was before.”
Some of the next steps for improved process is the streamlining of all the separate and special analysis tools, with less software and more intuitive workflows. Autodesk’s move to a subscription model with cloud-based services has helped the adoption curve as anyone under that subscription has access to everything, ensuring that there aren’t multiple software versions or a lack of compatibility or interoperability among the team. The cloud services are also the step to streamline analysis, offering both the means to process and analyze the model as well as the computing capacity to take the burden off individual machines and return results more quickly.
“The big shift around simulation that is happening is that 4D used to be about a condensing a three-year project into a 2-minute glossy video,” said Richard Parker, Navisworks product manager. “Increasingly, model-based scheduling is at a far more granular scale, assisting the construction phase with the model on a large screen on site. It’s becoming a tool for superintendent and site management team, with the model used to resolve issues and drive construction process daily.”
Reaching for Collaboration
Greater collaboration will happen, but many engineers aren’t ready to move to BIM yet. They have cultural issues passing data beyond their own silo, and are doing their own modeling now to a large degree.
Aggregated data and visualization environments, such as InfraWorks and Navisworks, are extended with Autodesk’s cloud collaboration environment. The collaborative piece, as in InfraWork 360 Pro, gives connections to drawing and model sources, some level of control on versioning, and provides an understanding of what’s happening with the evolution of the project across the whole project team.
These tools provide a means to gain trust and to push the collaborative environment between all the project players. The reality is that project managers are still getting weird data from companies that are sometimes competitors or collaborators depending on the project or the client. Receiving dumbed-down data is a turf war symptom that needs to be eliminated in order to achieve greater efficiencies.
“At this point program managers only have confidence in the models that they sign,” said Lyons. “Construction companies need to provide the BIM package with everything pulled together that can be put to use. We’re almost ready for BIM-ready branding similar to ISO quality branding, where program managers can be assured of the quality of the data as certified for BIM.”
The proliferation of mobile devices with cameras offers a new means of using the models in the field. Augmented reality is the term used to describe the ability to view the model within the context of reality, and the ability to overlay the model with a degree of transparency that takes in details from the surroundings.
“With augmented reality you can go in the field with the data and do audits of actual information, because with infrastructure everything in our world has x, y and z coordinates,” said McRoberts. “Back in the old days of arcs, lines and polygons, the information just wasn’t trustworthy. Now in the new world with an augmented reality view, you can look at a pole or a manhole in the model and get information that you were never able to get before without climbing up a pole, opening that manhole, or digging underground.”
Autodesk 360 extends processes to the cloud and comes with a variety of services. Using Autodesk 360, users save their drawings from their desktop software to the cloud for access on an iPhone, iPad or other mobile device. With handheld access, they can open drawings in the field, geolocated to their position and corresponding to a point on the model.
“The old days of marking up a drawing and sending it in are gone,” said McRoberts. “We envision this input as a photograph, a voice message, a text, or even a markup on a drawing that is captured where you are, it’s aggregated into a database along with other information to help you understand the condition of the site or the asset over time.”
The vision extends to the ability to click on an item in the model (in 2D or 3D) while in the field, and get details on that material, it’s depth and other information for field verification.
“Within the next six months to a year, we’ll be doing visualizations in meetings for day-to-day project management,” said Lyons “Pulling out a set of drawings will disappear within a few years.”
The portability of the models just may be the push that’s needed to move toward an all-digital workflow. All the pieces are in place, so it’s largely just a matter of cultural change to reap the rewards.
1 – The Standard edition of the Autodesk Infrastructure Design Suite includes: Autodesk AutoCAD 2014, Autodesk AutoCAD Map 3D 2014, Autodesk AutoCAD Raster Design 2014, Autodesk Storm and Sanitary Analysis 2014, Autodesk Navisworks Simulate 2014, Autodesk ReCap 2014, and Autodesk 360 cloud storage and collaboration services. The Premium edition includes all of the products and cloud capabilities in the Standard edition and adds: Autodesk InfraWorks 2014 (formerly Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler), Autodesk AutoCAD Civil 3D 2014, Autodesk 3ds Max Design 2014, Autodesk AutoCAD Utility Design 2014, Autodesk Revit Structure 2014 software. Autodesk Bridge Module, Autodesk Geotechnical Module and Autodesk Rail Layout Module are available with an Autodesk Subscription. Additional Autodesk 360 cloud services, including Rendering, Structural Analysis for Autodesk Revit, Autodesk Green Building Studio, Energy Analysis for Autodesk Revit and Autodesk InfraWorks 360 (formerly Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler for Web) are available to users who purchase an Autodesk Subscription. The Ultimate edition adds: Autodesk Robot Structural Analysis Pro 2014, Autodesk Revit 2014, Autodesk Navisworks Manage 2014 (instead of Autodesk Navisworks Simulate 2014), Autodesk Roads and Highways Module for InfraWorks, and Autodesk River and Flood Analysis Module (available with an Autodesk Subscription).