The architecture, engineering and construction (A/E/C) industry is witnessing a sea change as technology advances, making it easier than ever to enhance the quality and value of our deliverables for clients and contractors alike.
What was once created as a 2D graphic on paper or mylar has been transformed through LiDAR scanning for reality capture of the existing environment as the foundation for informing a smarter 3D model. It’s only a matter of time before a model is the contractual deliverable.
Model-based deliverables and design criteria
3D modeling is not a new concept. To date, models have been largely utilized by the vertical construction industry in the design and construction of buildings and facilities. However, the industry is transitioning to leverage models on the infrastructure side more and more. While not all projects require a fully built and robust model, instead, think about the opportunities where having a 3D visual view of elements would resolve issues in construction such as utility conflicts, complex site grading, and multi-discipline project coordination.
This is where “levels of development” (LOD) come into play. LOD establish criteria for the amount of detail and to what extent geometric elements should be modeled. First introduced by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 2008, the LOD guidelines cover six levels of development and design complexity from LOD 100 to LOD 500 (100, 200, 300, 350, 400, and 500). The higher the number, the more detailed the design geometrics and embedded information.
How does a 3D model bring value to your project?
A 3D model is the vehicle by which the insights of a finished product are embedded. The models are a tool for communicating to stakeholders, elected officials, the general public, design team members, and contractors all the information about a project.
Models change the way architectural and engineering professionals design, rehabilitate and maintain community infrastructure. They do so by collecting information about the existing environment using a variety of data-driven tools and technologies. Then, utilizing modeling software, alternative solutions are developed. Early buy-in and decision making from the public and project stakeholders is a key differentiator of having a model in the early stages of design. From the model, a designer can refine project inputs and parameters to finalize the design — including making aesthetic modifications to the facility’s materials, adjusting wall or floor thicknesses, refining roadway alignments and bridge spans, or viewing pipe locations for conflicts with other utilities, to name a few — until the model is completed to the desired level of development and contains all the design information for the contractor to take the facility to the next stage of construction.
Presenting contractors with a 3D model of a project design gives them an advantage when beginning construction. Construction equipment has the technology to leverage the data from the model for construction. A model helps remove discrepancies that are left up for interpretation in a 2D design deliverable. As designers, we understand that we are just one part of the process, and in order for a project to be successful, the information must be communicated clearly and accurately. 3D models can help shorten the construction timeline, save on rework, materials and costs — all leading to more positive returns on investments.
Asset management for operations and maintenance
The benefits of 3D modeling do not cease after construction. In fact, models play a key role in the asset management of a project, from capital planning and budgeting all the way through performance monitoring, repairs, scenario planning, and replacement.
Most infrastructure projects consist of multiple sets of sub-assets that a facility owner must maintain. Manholes, utilities, building mechanicals, pipes, pavement surfaces, and natural resources are all examples of assets— a complex network of inter-working elements. 3D models can drastically streamline the way owners and operators track and manage those elements. Paired with additional technologies including GIS, the capabilities of models are amplified, providing the owner with access to a powerful warehouse of real-time data.
The future state for these model design deliverables is a digital twin. This is a digital representation of a physical object in the built environment that behaves and looks like its real-world counterpart. A digital twin is integral to the asset lifecycle of a facility. It is the biproduct of a model-based delivery process, the basis for digital asset management and planning, and the starting point for any future projects to the asset. The purpose of the digital twin is to model, simulate, test, monitor and maintain a variety of project elements in order to collect data and predict how they will perform. Digital twins may also be used in real time. In this case, the physical object has been constructed and is outfitted with sensors that generate data about various aspects of that object’s performance, which is synchronized with the digital twin. The virtual model can, in response, run simulations, analyze performance issues or generate feasible improvements, which can then be applied to the physical version.
The benefits of models and digital twins for the project lifecycle are clear. They enable more effective research and design of a project, with data that informs likely performance. While not every project warrants a robust digital twin, each facility is unique and with its own set of challenges. Oftentimes, a digital twin may simply be a representation of one or two systems or assets and evolve over time as additional information gets added into the digital twin.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution
The advancement in technology is being referred to as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” in terms of its impact on the way we live, work, and relate to each other. It is fundamentally changing the way we work and perform daily tasks, and this is just one example of that in the architectural and engineering industry. It’s an exciting time to embrace the technology for all the advantages and value it brings and leave the negatives behind.
We’d love to walk you through the transition.
Jaime Kurten Chmielewski, PE
Design Digital & Construction Information Manager, Team Leader