Tech solution to America’s Infrastructure Challenge


[previously in Infrastructure Week Blog 2017]

America’s infrastructure may be a crumbling artifact of the 20th century, but Autodesk technology is helping bring it into the twenty first.  The current gap between bricks and bytes in infrastructure design and construction presents an incredible opportunity for America. Technological advances can help to remake infrastructure and rebuild the country to drive economic growth and create jobs.

Building the roads, bridges, and public transportation of the future will always require human hands, concrete and steel.  But today’s infrastructure can also be built with data, the cloud and 3D software.  By combining the skill of the workforce with advanced technology, two of our greatest resources can address the infrastructure challenge that the country faces.



Building begins with data

All the complex information required to develop an infrastructure project – topographical data, existing environment information, planning documents, construction drawings, and much more – can be pulled together to build a data-rich 3D virtual model.  This “intelligent” model, or “information model”, becomes the hub around which the entire project revolves.  Digital models offer a life-like visualization enabling the public to understand and engage in the project.  Three dimensional digital models provide architects and engineers with the ability to design innovative structures and generate the detailed documentation they need.  It enables contractors and sub-contractors to submit more accurate bids, manage cost and have access to the entire set of construction drawings and visualizations on the construction site anytime and anywhere on their smart phone or tablet.  And with the model in the cloud, everyone throughout the process has access to precisely the same, always-current information and thus can collaborate seamlessly.

This process, which is called Building Information Modeling (BIM), brings together big data, cloud computing and analytics to transform the building and construction industries.  With the ability to quickly and cost-effectively capture information about the physical world and make it digital, soon it will be possible to have a true digital mirror of the physical world.

By tapping into the potential of BIM, more innovative designs for infrastructure can be developed.  Permitting and review processes are streamlined.  The public is more engaged.  Design and documentation are enhanced.  Mistakes are caught on the computer screen before they cost time and money on the construction site.  And, most importantly, every dollar goes farther and every project goes faster – resulting in savings of up to 20% on major projects.  It’s much easier to move a mouse than to move a bridge.

Positive movement forward

Already this technology is helping address infrastructure challenges, but we’ve only begun to tap the potential.

Keystone Parkway

In Indiana, data was connected throughout a project helping to optimize workflows and design output. The redesigned Keystone Parkway in Carmel, Indiana, features the state’s first teardrop roundabout interchanges. This highway exchange shows how BIM improved project efficiency and design quality as well as enabled more collaborative public engagement.  Read more.

Video courtesy of American Structurepoint, Inc.


The Portland International Airport

The airport benefitted from seamless cooperation from design teams in Colorado and Oregon. Its Terminal Balancing project is being delivered as a collaborative design partnership between Fentress Architects, headquartered in Denver, Colorado and Hennebery Eddy Architects based out of Portland, Oregon. Fentress and Hennebery Eddy worked together as one single design team, enabled by cloud-based collaboration tools, to best utilize the strengths of both firms to deliver a complex public infrastructure project for the Portland International Airport

Video courtesy of Fentress Architects and Hennebery Eddy Architects


Holden Mine Water Treatment Facility

In Washington state, a water treatment plant project in a remote mountain location – met tight deadlines and high-quality standards.  The entire project team remained connected, including those working off-site, and able to coordinate and stay informed under extremely difficult mountainous working conditions, while providing vastly enhanced project visibility to all stakeholders. BIM simplified management across the project lifecycle, helping the company to schedule construction material deliveries, cost out scheduling changes, plan concrete-pour sequences, and stage the job site for production activities ranging from mass excavation to the installation of steel superstructures. Read more.

BIM also enabled the off-site precision fabrication of building components—a big plus on projects with constricted work areas. Video courtesy of IMCO Construction.


Glen Canyon Dam

On the border of Utah and Arizona, BIM is helping the federal government transform from paper to digital with the 2nd largest US dam. Glen Canyon Dam was designed and constructed in the 1950s and 1960s.  All of the dams and power plants constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation used two-dimensional (2D) engineering drawings for design and construction activities. And 2D engineering drawings are still used in design and operation and maintenance (O&M) activities today. With recent advances in data capture, three-dimensional (3D) CAD models and building information modeling (BIM), the Bureau of Reclamation is experiencing the possibilities of unified intelligent models far beyond their past practices.

With photogrammetry, LiDAR and digital processing, a virtual model can be developed and used for operations and maintenance. Video courtesy of US Bureau of Reclamation. Read article.


Enabling technology

To realize this potential and take advantage of technological advances, BIM needs to be at the center of infrastructure development.  Public policy can encourage this either through incentives for BIM adoption or, as the United Kingdom and other countries have done, requirements that BIM be used in major projects.

Several Federal agencies, including the General Services Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers, use BIM to drive efficiency and cut waste.  The MAP-21 surface transportation re-authorization act provided incentives for projects that use advanced technologies, such as 3D modeling.  And several state DoTs are moving into the future with BIM.

As America embarks on a new infrastructure initiative, it’s time to realize the benefits of BIM.  It’s time for public policy to drive adoption of BIM to create economic growth and build a 21st century infrastructure.

We believe now is the time to embrace this change and start taking steps toward the future.  This is why we will release this white paper, Civil Infrastructure Strategic Foresight, on October 26, 2017.   


Time to build

Exploring the art of the possible

The next Chicago Model


Author: David Crane, Vice President of Government Affairs, Autodesk


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