Leverage the power of virtual design

January 2011 » Features » PROGRESSIVE ENGINEERING
Integrating 3D modeling to manage infrastructure and minimize risk
Arthur Spruch, P.E.

During a daily walk-through, a municipal department of public works employee notices contamination at a stormwater outfall. One of the town’s engineers visits the outfall, samples the water with a handheld gas-laser spectrometer, and identifies the illicit substances in the outfall. A query of the town’s 3D infrastructure model rapidly identifies the upstream parcels that could have contributed to the contamination.

Elsewhere, a private university is looking to expand, but its dense, urban campus location means there is no more real estate available for development without removing green space. Gathered around a 3D model of the campus, university officials use the model to display those buildings where space utilization could be shuffled to unused portions of other buildings and then cross-reference those with proximity to construction staging sites. When two sites emerge as possibilities, intersecting underground infrastructure is identified and a first pass at a scope of work for an integrated project delivery contract is assembled.

This is the future of the architectural and engineering fields: Firms implementing technology such as this within the framework of an integrated infrastructure life cycle modeling plan.

Integrated infrastructure life cycle modeling is a concept that involves construction and use of coordinated computer models to manage the basic facilities, services, and installations needed for a community’s proper functioning. A virtual representation of a city or town’s entire public works system is created, including utilities, roadways, and water resources. Every bit of infrastructure is included.

Three decades ago, the architectural and engineering fields experienced a dramatic shift when the concept of “design on paper/deliver on paper” gave way to “design virtual/deliver on paper.” Integrated infrastructure life cycle modeling ensures that what is designed virtually also is delivered virtually. This can be a valuable tool in the design, planning, and management of dense, complex environments.

What it all means
Municipalities and institutions of higher education are faced with data overload: They have mountains of information to process — everything from hard copy plans to electronic CAD files to geographic information system (GIS) data sets. There’s also the dilemma of how to access such data properly; incompatible formats and the lack of mechanisms for collaboration often make this process a difficult one.

Meanwhile, many cities and towns rely on closed-circuit television and metering to provide inspection information and data on flow rates, methods that fail to provide comprehensive data collection on overall condition and are daunting in terms of personnel and costs. Obtaining proper data on a municipality’s key assets — major interceptors, pumping stations and force mains, and elements such as siphons and river crossings — is vitally important.

Without a doubt, communities and schools spend endless amounts of money on infrastructure. For example, an estimated $100 billion is being devoted annually to maintain or improve drinking water and wastewater systems, the electric power grid, and the distribution of liquefied natural gas. In maintaining and improving such infrastructure, municipalities are naturally aiming to maximize the capital invested in this infrastructure. Of course, that isn’t always the case; in practice, much effort is expended during data collection and analysis, resulting in much money being lost along the way.

With integrated infrastructure life cycle modeling, the entire process is streamlined; information from each of the following stages of the infrastructure life cycle is fully leveraged in the next, leading to a more effective result for those municipalities and institutions of higher education:

  • The planning stage involves scanning and digitizing record documents, coordinating GPS and other surveys, mapping infrastructure elements, integrating electronic data, and converting 2D data to 3D.
  • The design and construction stage consists of integrating multi-consultant data sources and ensuring standards compliance, as well as facilitating 4D program phasing and 5D financial analysis.
  • The operations stage consists of audits and quality control of ongoing information integration; work order/service call management; and replication, backup, and recovery services.
  • The analysis stage involves financial planning and modeling, and integrating spatial analysis.

Also, by utilizing a variety of processes — from building information modeling and GIS to supervisory control and data acquisition and business process automation — integrated infrastructure life cycle modeling provides better efficiency when it comes to maintaining or improving infrastructure.

Municipalities can particularly benefit from such efficiency, especially in the way data is captured and used in the management of assets.

This is a particularly important benefit for cities and towns with older infrastructure systems. Most public works administrators know the frustration that comes with having to search for old blueprints, many of which are outdated or missing altogether. Integrated infrastructure life cycle modeling provides a precise representation of a community’s infrastructure. This helps mitigate risk since more complete knowledge will lead to better-informed decisions, the reduction of liability issues in the field, and lowered costs.

Positive impacts
Higher education institutions in particularly dense urban environments also can be impacted positively by use of integrated infrastructure life cycle modeling.

For example, an institution’s buildings can become more efficient and longer-lasting thanks to real-time data regarding how each building reacts to its environment. Does exposure to natural sunlight impact longevity or operations? Does the sun only hit one side of a building during the day, impacting the structure’s heating and cooling? Integrated infrastructure life cycle modeling provides such information, as well as how to take advantage of the challenges and opportunities presented by the natural environment.

A living, perpetual system
By placing new technologies such as integrated life cycle modeling at the center of their business operations, architectural and engineering firms can stay ahead of the curve while creating new approaches to better deliver value to clients. Meanwhile, public perception will be improved.

Integrated infrastructure life cycle modeling provides municipalities and higher education institutions with a living, perpetual system. Such a system features continuous data collection and constantly updated risk ratings, giving operators a more accurate picture of infrastructure conditions, the costs to sustain the system, and the ability to fully optimize its useful life.

Arthur Spruch, P.E., director of the higher education sector at Kleinfelder/S E A, has 35 years of experience in the planning, design, and construction of large urban infrastructure projects. He can be contacted at arthur.spruch@seacon.com. Jamie MacDonald, Kleinfelder/S E A’s director of practice technology, has 20 years of experience in civil engineering design and construction, web development, GIS, and related technologies. He can be contacted at jamie.macdonald@seacon.com.


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