Is the Integration of Geospatial and BIM at the Tipping Point ?

Earlier this year Anne Kemp, Director of BIM Strategy and Development at Atkins Global, a large international infrastructure consultancy, organized a BIM for Infrastructure Conference as a special interest group of the UK Association for Geographical Information (AGI). Over a hundred people attended from the construction and geospatial sectors, many of whom had not talked to their counterparts from the other sector before. Kemp thinks that based on the level of dialog, recognition of common problems, and the recognition of the advantages of an integrated approach to solving them, we may be at the tipping point for accelerating the integration of these technologies.

One of the major technology trends that is set to transform the world’s construction industry is building information modeling (BIM). BIM originally was applied to buildings, hence the B, but has now been generalized to include infrastructure. BIM for infrastructure is a term used in the construction industry for the application of model-based technologies and processes to infrastructure such as dams, waste facilities, rail, transit, aviation, energy, public parks and recreation, bridges, roads and highways, and water and waste water. McGraw-Hill Construction (MHC) conducted a survey of the use of BIM processes and technologies in the construction industry and found that overall adoption of vertical BIM has increased from 17% in 2007 to 71% in 2012, representing 45% growth over the last 3 years. MHC also suggests that BIM for infrastructure is about three years behind BIM use on vertical projects but predicts that BIM adoption in the horizontal market will occur at a faster rate than the rate of adoption of BIM in the vertical market.

At SPAR International 2013 Kevin Gilson explained how Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) 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 geospatial data, LiDAR data, design data and construction planning data together in large integrated datasets the project team is able to concurrently support visualization, stakeholder communication, design, construction planning and site logistics. For example, on highway projects, PB’s visualization 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.

The PB project visualization team takes a best of breed approach in selecting software for 3D modeling and visualization. An important criterion in selecting tools is interoperability between the different technologies. Currently the software stack that PB relies on is eclectic and includes geospatial (ArcGIS, Global Mapper, Infraworks), CADD (Microstation InRoads, AutoCAD/Civil 3D, Solidworks), visualization (3ds Max, Sketchup, Realtime – UDK, Unity), and collaboration/4D (Navisworks).

PB uses a number of applications of laser scanning (LiDAR) as part of a 3D construction process. A major application of LiDAR is construction monitoring, capturing construction progress as well as being able to automate the process of checking for divergence from design when contractors for a variety of reasons don’t build what is designed. Another important Laser scanning application is accurate and reliable as-builts. Current 2D as-builts, still legally required, are generally unreliable and rarely looked at by anyone post-construction. LiDAR scans of a completed project can provide the reliability that 2D as-built sheet sets lack.

The combination of geospatial and BIM for Infrastructure is poised to turn the construction process on its head in the words of Ron Singh, Chief Surveyor at the Oregon Department of Transportation (DoT). One of the trends that is getting the attention of Departments and Ministries of transportation around the world is self-driving cars. Self-driving vehicles means intelligent highways. In Ron Singh’s view, maintaining accurate, up-to-date intelligent highway models will require a fundamental change in how highways projects are managed. It will mean that 80-90% of what is required to initiate design for a highway project will come from a geospatially-aware engineering archive database. The project will be designed using 3D geospatially-aware BIMs, and post-construction surveys using LiDAR and other technologies will ensure that what goes into the engineering data archive is accurate and up-to-date.

Companies like Trimble and Hexagon who are integrating geospatial into the construction process is further evidence that this trend is accelerating.

Cities around the world are beginning to realize the power that comes from the convergence of modern information technology including building information models (BIM), geospatial/GIS, intelligent (connected) network models for electric power, telecommunications, water and wastewater, transportation, and other infrastructure, and 3D visualization. The city government of Las Vegas initiated a project to model below and above ground facilities including roadways, utilities and telecommunications, as well as buildings. The ROI for this type of project has been estimated to be in the range $3 to $21 for every dollar invested. The Las Vegas infrastructure model represents a classic example of the benefits of convergence, the integration of engineering design data including building information models (BIM), geospatial data including digital terrain models, high resolution photogrammetry, and point clouds derived from laser scanning, together with 3D visualization technology.

In a recent interview in Geospatial World Shannon McElvaney, Global Community Development Industry Manager at ESRI makes the point that it is important to get design people who are using BIM as part of the design phase to talk to those who are doing it as part of the planning process. With BIMs it is possible to do solar energy modelling for PV panels, energy performance modelling, transit accessibility, shadow casting, and much more. The land developers needed to know proximity to stations, value of real estate, floor space, proximity to amenities, and they used this information to value the real estate and forecast their return on investment. The sustainability group needed to do the same, in order to calculate their GHG emissions, energy, water, and waste needs. BIM and GIS integration is essential to be able to do this.

Anne Kemp, Director BIM Strategy and Development, Atkins, foresees that a lot of work involving geolocation will be done by the designers and engineers rather than GIS specialists. When people use Google Maps, they dont think of that as being GIS. In the future, we are going to see engineers and architects having to learn geospatial technology whether we call it geospatial or not. The challenge is getting them to all understand that there is a common purpose that they all need to serve getting all the information into and maintaining that in a BIM so that the facility managers and operators who need reliable data can use it many times without the need for endless re-survey. The fact that there is this common thinking across engineering, survey, BIM and geospatial professional institutions is a very tangible indication of where we are headed.