Building information modeling – BIM and 3D design is fundamentally changing the way that transportation projects are delivered. Models are replacing plan sheets and some states are even exploring their use as the new legal documents used for design and construction. This creates new opportunities for accuracy and collaboration. At the same time, this shift away from plan sheets is disrupting processes that field staff use today.
Alexa Mitchell, our highways and roads BIM director, has a background in national-level research and regional implementation, helping transportation leaders across the United States to deliver projects more effectively through BIM technology. In this interview, she discusses the benefits of 3D models, explains what agencies need to know as they increase their use of BIM and addresses the challenges field staff face when adapting to 3D models.
Q. How do new 3D deliverables affect the way field staff such as contractors and construction inspectors operate?
A. This is a primary concern for many people. They are used to relying on plan sheets for information about what they’re constructing. If those sheets are no longer provided, how will they know correct measurements, dimensions, quantities and more? As I speak to field staff and others across the country my answer is similar — your job is not changing; you still must do the same things you used to do. But the tools you use are changing, and those new tools can provide additional information and benefits not previously available.
New skills will be needed to use these tools to access information that is being presented in a different medium. Specifically, instead of printed sheets, you can expect to access the designs via a tablet or computer. Usually in the field it will be a mobile device of some sort, with an app used to extract needed information from 2D and 3D models. That information could include locations and elevations, notes, dimensions and pay item quantities. Because these models are tied to GPS locations, GIS mobile apps can also be used to create customized perspectives, allowing workers to see plans from their own location on the project site when desired.
With many people of differing technological familiarity using 3D model viewers, intuitiveness and ease of use are key considerations. As contractors and agencies explore the programs available, they should consider the functions they will need and the requirements of each role that will use it.
It’s also important to note that many apps and views of models within apps are customizable. If there is a particular view that would make work easier — for example, recreating a similar look to familiar flat sheets — expressing a preference to designers ahead of time can help make that happen.
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