3D in construction: Building a new world

3D in construction: Building a new world


Increasing urbanisation, pressure on existing infrastructure, push for productivity in construction sector and environmental concerns are driving the convergence of geospatial and 3D technologies across businesses. By Geoff Zeiss

Over half of the world’s 7 billion population lives in cities. And this proportion is expected to go up as we move toward 9 billion by 2050, a trend that is driving investments in new and refurbished buildings and infrastructure. The world’s construction industry, including buildings, electric power, water and wastewater, roads, rail, and sea ports and airports, contributes about $7 trillion annually, or 10%, to the world GDP. According to McKinsey, about $3.6 trillion of this is for narrow infrastructure — transportation, utilities, and public and social infrastructure. The remaining $3.4 trillion is real estate, residential, commercial, and industrial. It is estimated that an investment of $57 trillion in infrastructure (roads and highways, rail, ports and seaports, electric power, water and wastewater and communications) will be required between now and 2030 (or $3.2 trillion per year) just to support the projected growth in the world economy.

Environmental concerns are also impacting the construction industry. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has estimated that we will spend $45 trillion adapting to and mit- igating the effects of climate change over the next 40 years. That is about $1 trillion a year. According to Global Insight, about 6% of current construction qualifies as ‘green’. But by 2020 because of the regulations, owner and investor demands, resource cost, security concerns, and third party standards, 75% of construction could be ‘green’. This is a dramatic change that has serious repercussions on not only how buildings and infrastructure are designed and built, but also about how they are operated and maintained.

“When one designs a building, typically one never designs specific to the actual location where it would be built. There’s a virtual reference point and everything in the design is relative to that reference point,” points out Bhupinder Singh, Senior Vice President, Bentley Systems. It is only now there has been the need to fix this piece of infrastructure to a ‘location’ on the planet as people want to perform drainage analysis, seismic analysis, solar analysis etc.

Structures can no longer be designed in isolation; sustainability requires that buildings and other structures be designed in the context of their geolocation, which includes prevailing weather patterns, nearby structures and vegetation, zoning regulations and environmental regulations. This is driving the convergence of geospatial and 3D technologies. ”.

3D in design & construction

» Improving design efficiency:
The UK government has set itself the goal of reducing the cost of government construction projects by 20%. To achieve this goal, UK has undertaken several initiatives, one of which is a commitment to mandate Level 2 3D BIM for government projects beginning in 2016. 3D BIM is seen as a value creating collaboration through the entire life-cycle of an asset, supported by the creation and exchange of shared 3D models and the intelligent, structured data attached to them.

According to Paul Morrell, Former Chief Construction Adviser, UK, an encouraging sign in the UK is many private sector clients are also engaging with the BIM agenda, and are seeking to do so in a way that is aligned with the principles established by the government.

At present, 3D BIM is used for 3.9% of all construction projects in the UK, representing £3.8 billion ($6.34 billion), but its penetration is expected to increase to 50.8% of projects worth £55.1 billion ($91.72 billion) by 2016 and the total BIM-influenced construction market is estimated to be £27 billion ($44.94 billion).

At SPAR International Conference 2013, Kevin Gilson, Director of Visualisation, Parsons Brinckerhoff (part of Balfour Beatty), explained how the global engineering and design major manages large 3D+ datasets in support of design and construction for large infrastructure projects such as the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, the I-95 New Haven Harbour Crossing/Q-Bridge reconstruction, and the Alaskan Way viaduct project. By integrating different datasets such as geospatial, LiDAR, design and construction planning data together in large integrated 3D datasets, the project team is able to concurrently support visualisation, stakeholder communication, design, construction planning and site logistics.

3D model of one of the campuses of the Los Angeles Community College District

Geolocating Underground Infrastructure in Las Vegas
One of the problems that is identified repeatedly by municipal governments and utilities is hitting underground infrastructure during excavations. To address this issue, the Las Vegas city government initiated a 3D project two years ago to model one-and-half miles of Main Street in the older part of Las Vegas. The project was intended to model below and above ground facilities, including roadways, utilities and telecommunications, as well as buildings. The deliverables were a set of georeferenced 3D models of all the underground and above ground infrastructure and buildings. Engineering design and other data was combined with the city’s geoimagery, digital terrain models and other GIS data. In addition, a mobile augmented reality application was developed for the iPad that allowed the staff in the field to view underground facilities virtually under the actual roadway. Las Vegas experienced increased safety due to reduced risk of unexpectedly hitting underground utilities, especially hazardous facilities like gas mains. Other benefits include; automated clash detection to identify potential problems when planning, designing and constructing new underground infrastructure. Operating costs came down because of reduced truck rolls for cable/pipe locate operations. The city is expanding the 3D modelling project to an area six times larger than the original project.

For example, on highway projects, PB’s visualisation makes it possible to drive the highway and even the detours required during construction in a virtual environment so that the public can experience the changes and be prepared for them before they actually happen, points out Gilson.

When it came to actual construction, the industry has historically lagged from a technology implementation standpoint. But today, the availability of cheap mobile devices like the smartphones and tablets, Internet connectivity on the construction site and the automated construction machineries have all combined to serve as an inflection point, says Singh. So, companies are willingly building 3D models and putting together other information, and then utilising the technology to accelerate construction processes. An accurate 3D model is also imperative for achieving complete automation in construction of large infrastructure projects or industrial plants.

Translating the digital world and putting it into the physical world at the actual construction site is a challenge. For example, a drawing may show a plate to be laid 5-feet from the centre of a column. But the column is yet to be built. People on the construction site spend a lot of time trying to get such positions on the site. Such problems can be overcome with well-equipped and informative digital models that helps unlock all available data to design and make better decision in the context of reality. One can extract various bits of information from GIS data, CAD or satellite imagery and integrate all that into a 3D model. The recent technology developments should help the AEC industry cross the chasm towards greater productivity gains. The next five years will see a huge change in the way the construction industry works

» Enhancing energy performance of buildings:
Increasing the energy efficiency of buildings is a prime target of government initiatives around the world. According to International Energy Agency (IEA), one third of the world’s energy is consumed by buildings. In the United States, about 40% of primary energy production, 72% of electric power production, and 39% of CO2 emissions are related to buildings. In 2010, the National Academy of Sciences found that the United States could cost-effectively reduce its 2020 energy consumption by 17-20% through expanded use of energy efficiency technologies. The convergence of 3D BIM modelling, geospatial data and technology including LiDAR, and energy performance modelling is providing designers with new tools that enable them to reduce the energy footprint of existing structures as well as design new, highly energy efficient buildings.

» Modelling urban environments:
Cities around the world are beginning to realise the power that comes from the convergence of modern information technology, including 3D models, geospatial/GIS, intelligent (connected) network models for electric power, telecommunications, water and wastewater, transportation, and other infrastructure. The Las Vegas infra- structure model represents a classic example of the benefits of convergence, the integration of 3D engineering design data including BIM, geospatial data including digital terrain models, high resolution photogrammetry and point clouds derived from laser scanning, together with 3D visualisation technology.

Many new smart cities are being planned and developed across the Songdo IDB in Korea and Fujisawa in Japan. China has 36 smart cities in development and a low carbon model city in Tianjin. While Singapore plans to become a smart nation by 2015, Iskandar is Malaysia’s first smart city. King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) is a mega project announced in 2005 by the king of Saudi Arabia. Masdar City will be the latest of a small number of highly planned, specialised, research and technology-intensive municipalities that incorporate a living environment, similar to KAEC or Tsukuba Science City in Japan. Most of these projects involve developing a 3D representation of the planned city.

3D laser scanning and other reality capturing technologies are being used to create a 3D-digital library of the world’s most important heritage sites. Sites that have already been captured include Ancient Thebes, Angkor, Qal’at al-Bahrain, the cathedral of Beauvais, Chichen Itza, Mount Rushmore, Pompeii, Teotihuacan, and the Parthenon.

» Enabling holistic participatory design:
The convergence of and breaking down of barriers between geospatial and engineering design relies on big data, 3D visualisation and Web technologies. Fundamentally, it means using 3D BIM or 3D BIM for infrastructure to design new structure in situ, using a 3D city model to represent the rest of the city. The data generated in large infrastructure projects together with the city model can become huge that this requires big data technology. The concept also makes possible analytics (for example, energy and water performance analysis, line of sight analysis for traffic signs) that require information about prevailing weather patterns and neighbouring structures (for example, right to light in the UK). A project in Chandigarh, India piloted by The Energy Research Institute has developed a Web-based tool using widely available imagery and incorporating 3D analysis to calculate the solar power potential of entire urban environments.

Convergence of 3D and geospatial also enables automating design optimisation based on defined design goals in Web-based IT environment that makes it possible to provide access for large extended virtual teams. 3D visualisation technology and simplified ways of interacting with the design enable all the stakeholders, including non-technical folks, to actively participate in the design process.

The goals are improved productivity, optimised designs, and greater predictability for large infrastructure projects, all of which are required if we are going to attract the tens of trillions of private investment dollars that it is estimated we need to invest in our infrastructure.

Glasgow Urban Model
The Glasgow Urban Model is a 3D digital representation of the City Centre and River Clyde corridor. The model was developed in response to the Scottish Executive vision for delivering city services that are fit for the 21st century. The main objectives of the project are to enhance the understanding of the built environment through the use of a 3D photorealistic representation of the city, improve the communication process, provide a highly accurate visual tool in 3D to assist in the assessment of new development proposals to the public, elected members and planning officers, showcase the regeneration of Glasgow, and to improve the quality of all new developments on the ground. Glasgow had to compete with 29 other cities to win the UK Government’s Technology Strategy Board’s ‘Future Cities Demonstrator’ that is intended to demonstrate on how new integrated services across health, transport, energy and public safety can improve the local economy and increase the quality of life of Glasgow’s citizens. For example, on the energy theme, there is an initiative focused on intelligent buildings, smart buildings that can adjust its own lighting and heating based on analytics using a variety of sensor data. One of the “motherhoods” of the initiative is that data collected by the city will be open and available through a public portal.

3D in as-built
» Modelling underground utilities in 3D:
Almost all construction projects for buildings or infrastructure contain a design constraint: existing utilities which may be strung overhead on visible structures or hidden underground. For example, in the transportation sector, the most convenient strategy for the highway designer was to ignore utilities dur- ing design and then relocate them if they conflict with the highway design. The other extreme is to design the highway to avoid utilities, but that requires reliable information about where the utilities are located, something that is rarely available. Between the two alternatives of relocating utilities and designing the highway to avoid utilities, designers try to find a workable compromise that meets the highway construction scope and mission while minimising impacts to utility facilities. If successful, this can result in substantial savings in utility relocation costs and impacts, as well as overall savings to the project budget and timeline.

A recent survey in the US found that Departments of Transportation (DoTs) would like to get utilities involved in projects as early as possible primarily to determine their location. The study found that there is a general consensus that comprehensive and accurate location data about underground utilities leads to better decisions and reduces the risk of unforeseen problems with utilities during construction.

It has been difficult to quantify the cost and benefit of improving the location and other information about underground utilities, but in the last few years research has begun to put a dollar figure on the benefits of accurate location data for underground utilities. In the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, which includes Milan, a pilot project to map all underground infrastructure, including electric power, water, sewers, gas, district heating, street lighting, and telecommunication, used ground penetrating radar (GPR) for detecting the location of underground infrastructure and discovered that the existing records of underground infrastructure was highly unreliable. An economic analysis of the pilot project in Milan estimated an RoI on investment of about €16 ($22) for every 1€ ($1.38) invested in improving geolocation information for underground infrastructure. Other important benefits that could not be quantified included improved safety for workers and the public and fewer traffic disruptions.

A US DoT-sponsored survey conducted by the Purdue University in 1999 found a total of $4.62 in avoided costs accrued for every $1.00 spent. In addition, the researchers made the case that the qualitative savings (for example, avoided impacts on nearby homes and businesses) which were not directly measurable were significant and arguably many times more valuable than the quantifiable savings. In 2010, a study by the University of Toronto took an in-depth look at nine large municipal and highway reconstruction projects that developed an enhanced depiction of buried utilities. Based on this analysis, a cost model was proposed that takes into account both tangible and intangible benefits. All projects showed a positive RoI ranging from $2.05 to $6.59 for every dollar spent on improving underground utility location data.

Motivated by these studies, municipalities and DoTs are now beginning to look at ways of addressing the problem. Federal Highway Authority (FHWA) initiatives such as Map– 21 and Every Day Counts are also motivating organisations to adopt new technologies such as 3D model-based design that will provide a foundation for realising these benefits.

Improving substation design efficiency: A large US utility is developing 3D models for all of its 3,000 substations as part of a programme. One of the objectives is to increase the productivity of its substation designers. It is projected that 3D model-based design increases the productivity of designers by 50% and also facilitates knowledge transfer between experienced designers and recently hired young designers. In addition, 3D photorealistic renderings allow substation designs to be shared with all stakeholders. In particular it enables designers to communicate more effectively with non-technical stakeholders, including nearby home owners in the neighbourhood where the substation is to be sited.

3D in operations and maintenance
The adoption of 3D models provided quantifiable business benefits by helping improve collaboration, reduce costs, and reduce the risk of budget and schedule overruns during the design and construction phase of building projects. But many see the potential for even greater benefits of BIM to owners during the operations and maintenance phase of a building.

As Menno de Jonge, Director of Innovation, Ballast Nedam, a Netherlands-headquartered construction and real estate company, points out, “Because the construction industry is traditionally organised in a segregated way, information is lost at the handover from one phase to the next. This results in a saw-tooth like graph, which we would like to replace by a fluent flow of information throughout our processes.”

LiDAR set to Become Disruptive
LiDAR is the most rapidly growing 3D technology and has traditionally been applied to produce 3D digital elevation and terrain models, typically for forestry and civil engineering applications. It is increasingly being used during construction for monitoring design compliance and owners are demanding LiDAR scans with as-builts at the end of a project. Recent research forecasts that low-cost LiDAR systems could revolutionise the surveying industry in the next five years. Already a lightweight UAV-mounted LiDAR platform weighing less than 10kg which combines UAV, LiDAR and GNSS technology has been announced. It is estimated that the global LiDAR market was worth $218.9 million in 2012 and civil engineering was the most important application. But this trend is changing. A recent report by market research firm Markets and Markets forecasts that the global LiDAR market will grow by more than 15% annually over the next five years, reaching $551.3 million in 2018. Corridor mapping (for example, for transmission lines), which uses mobile LiDAR systems as well as airborne LiDAR, is projected to become the application with the highest annual growth rate from 2013 to 2018. Airborne LiDAR systems are projected to have the lowest compound annual growth rate among the four types of LiDAR systems. Markets and Markets projects that the revenue associated with terrestrial and mobile LiDAR systems will surpass that of airborne LiDAR systems by 2018

Owners and operators can reduce the costs associated with operation and maintenance by using the high-quality building information from the 3D model design and build process together with geospatial data during the longer, more expensive maintenance and operation phase of the building’s lifecycle (typically over 70% of the cost of a structure over its entire life-cycle is incurred during the operation and maintenance phase.) Modelling of these complex systems is no longer seen as just a geometrical problem but now it involves environmental simulation and impact analysis in the context of the owner’s ongoing financial objectives. This makes a strong case for a tighter integration of GIS and BIM in a full three-dimensional environment.

The initial focus of 3D BIM in the UK is on the design/ build part of the lifecycle, but the government has said “20% saving refers to CapEx cost savings however we know that the largest prize for BIM lies in the operational stages of the project life-cycle”. The UK government is moving aggressively to encourage workflows that leverage 3D BIM in the operation and maintenance phase of a building. The cost of maintaining and operating a building over 20 years can be up to 30 times the original construction cost. No surprises why UK sees potentially very large long term benefits from such a programme!

A 3D building model is expected to facilitate the collaborative working of the design and construction and facilities management teams throughout the building lifecycle. It enables the facilities management team to experience the buildings from the ‘operate and maintain’ perspective before it is constructed to ensure that the projected operational costs are maintained and the impact of changes on operations are assessed. The 3D model is also expected to provide a fully populated asset dataset for the computer aided facilities management (CAFM) systems and to reduce time wasted in obtaining information about assets including the cost of maintaining or replacing equipment.

Benefits galore
The UK firm Great Portland Estates (GPE) has completed a number of private (non-government) construction projects, the most recent of which is 240 Blackfriars Road in London, that utilise BIM models. When GPE started using 3D BIM, the major operational benefit that was expected was clash detection, reducing risk by automatically detecting clashes during the design phase rather than during construction. But after using 3D BIM on a number of projects GPE found many more areas where BIM was able to improve the design and construction process. These include visualisation of the project for the client during the design phase, construction simulation and construction scheduling (4D). GPE also found that creating and maintaining a 3D BIM model adds about 0.5 % to project costs, but provides 1% reduction in risk. In other words, for every pound that 3D BIM adds to cost, two pounds of savings are realised. Some broader studies also indicate clear financial bene- fits. The McGraw-Hill SmartMarket Reports, for instance, indicate good RoI and significant benefits from BIM. There are other studies and reports too which — though difficult to say how scientific or reliable they are — indicate the trend that the main financial benefits are coming from decreasing mistakes and coordination errors which means less change orders and clear savings to the client.

A BIM model-based process can achieve 30% more efficiency either through more productive or efficient design or through better coordination and collaboration, claims Richard Humphrey, Senior Director, Infrastructure and Collaboration Products, Autodesk. One can easily detect fine errors and clash detection in the digital/virtual world. Also, one can perform simulation and analysis to predict and simulate how their project will perform. This is accomplished because errors can be addressed virtually before construction and the ability to simulate project performance and maintenance costs ensures that the optimal design is chosen early in the project life when changes are easier to make and have a greater impact.

For instance, Dr Jyrki Keinänen, CEO, A-Insinöörit, a Finland- based construction management and design firm, claims that with full use of 3D BIM technology, over 10% of overall project costs could be saved. “In the beginning, it was difficult to convince the clients. It was only after we started offering 5% concession in total project costs, we got tremendous success,” adds Keinänen, who believes integration of geospatial+ 3D BIM has a bright future in construction industry.

3D as Basis for Indoor Navigation
Indoor location is getting a lot of attention primarily because of the commercial opportunities it enables. Indoor navigation must necessarily be 3D. Beyond locating a mobile device in an indoor environment, the indoor environment presents a number of standardisation challenges, such as how navigation directions are supplied (take the elevator to the 3rd floor and turn right); semantics (my first floor is not your first floor); special zones (heating, security, Wi- Fi, etc.); and standards for modeling and encoding floor plans. The Open Geospatial Consortium has released a draft standard IndoorGML for indoor geolocation and navigation.

The Future
Over the next two decades, construction of buildings and infrastructure (electric power, water/wastewater, roads and highways, and ports and airports) will see a massive infusion of investment, motivated by environmental concerns and the need to accelerate economic development.

“The AEC industry is fast changing from traditional construction methods as modern ICT/BIM/GIS/3D is fast ushering in shorter production cycles, safer and healthier working environment, higher and constant product quality, focus on customer experience and flexibility, and sustainable products and processes,” adds de Jonge.

As governments are discovering that they have less and less money for capital infrastructure projects, a greater proportion of the investment in infrastructure will come from the private sector, which will drive increasing productivity to improve returns on investment. As with other industries facing a productivity challenge, this translates into an investment in technology. The accelerating adoption of 3D technologies includes 3D visualisation, 3D building information modelling (BIM), 3D GIS, 3D CAD, 3D reality capture such as laser scanning (LiDAR) and ground penetrating radar (GPR), 3D photogrammetry from satellites, aircraft and UAVs, and technologies that enable 3D measurement such as oblique imagery is transforming the construction industry in important areas.

But as Morrel says, “real industry reform depends upon a more integrated offer to users — with those responsible for concept and design connecting to those who manage construction, who in turn connect to those who make the products and actually execute the work, with all of the above then connecting to the ultimate user. And it is in the operation and use of the asset that real value lies.”

3D data and technologies integrated with geospatial and other technologies are being applied to model buildings, infrastructure, and entire urban environments ranging from individual buildings to neighbourhoods to cities. This is feasible using today’s technology and that it is already transforming the construction industry. It is not hard to imagine many other areas where 3D digital models will play a transformative role in the future.

(With inputs from Anand Kashyap, Research Fellow, Geospatial Media and Communications)