Decade Old Tools, Century Old Processes

I had the pleasure this past week of venturing up to the Autodesk office in Waltham, Massachusetts to peek at the future through Autodesk’s eyes. The future that they laid out before us at the AEC Media Day looks pretty bright. Paul McRoberts (vice president, infrastructure product line group, Autodesk AEC Solutions Division) stated that “the [Civil 3D] 2012 release offers robust new functionality and enhanced tools for intelligent model-based design, documentation, and collaboration, helping civil engineers to take full advantage of the BIM process.”

I hope that some of you were able to tune into the #ADSKAEC tweets that were happening live during the day. (Are you not a Twitter user yet? There is a wealth of Civil 3D knowledge just bursting at the seams, check out the Civil 3D feed to the right for a taste of the current topics.) One of the overriding themes throughout the event was the cycle of BIM (Building Information Management): Manage –> Plan –> Design –> Build –> Manage…

image Traditionally the cycle has been running in a singular loop. As each project is built, you learn from it and utilize that gained knowledge in the next project where the cycle continues again. The problem with this is that in infrastructure, every project is unique. As Peter Campot (President of Suffolk Construction’s Northeast Healthcare and Science/Technology Division) said “every building is a prototype.” This statement might not seem that ground breaking, but he then asked “How many people would get into a plane that was a prototype?” But no one would bat an eyelash at driving over a newly constructed bridge or playing a round of golf at a one-of-a-kind course.

Through modeling we can now build things virtually before the actual construction. This transforms the design step of the traditional cycle into it’s own sub-cycle of managing, planning, designing, and building vitually. Before we would wait for a project to be constructed and then learn from the flaws in that design. Now, with software such a Civil 3D, we can analyze dozens of layouts quickly and effectively, optimizing a site for it’s individual project. 


“Better planning leads to better design” was a phrase often repeated in several presentations. I love better design (who doesn’t?). I have seen from countless projects that a solid design is born from a careful, detailed examination of the overall scope, feasibility, and alternatives as early as the first concept. This planning and developing of concept continues as more information is gathered and informed decisions are made.

Likewise, better modeling leads to better construction. Since modeling capabilities are becoming more common there has been a resulting shift from an ‘as-built drawing process’ to a ‘built-as-drawn/modeled process’. As this process has evolved, so has the approach to managing man hours in relation to the duration of project design.

In the old process, there was a slow and steady increase in man hours as time progressed building up to overtime and a mad rush at the end to get everything done. Even once the design was ‘done’ there were often numerous addendums and change orders required during construction. As we all know, things don’t always work in the field as they do on paper.

In the new process, there is an increase in man hours earlier as the model is built and possible conflicts are found but as time progressed, the design solidifies sooner and there is not only less of a rush at the end but there are also fewer issues that arise during construction since it has already been modeled virtually. Peter Campot was able to graph this changing relationship in work versus time with a recent project and I too have seen it in our office with the use of Civil 3D. While there is a learning curve with any new technology, the overall time savings is there. It costs almost nothing other than a little extra time to make changes in the design environment, but these same changes would be very expensive in the field.

As Terry Bennett (senior industry manager for civil engineering and construction, Autodesk AEC Solutions Division) summarized in his closing remarks, let’s step away from using decade old tools, and century old processes, the time for change is now. There is a way to do it better. Let’s find it!

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