Use it or lose it

Although engineering technology has advanced, it is not always put to good use.

A case in point is 3-D modeling, which has been around for years but has not been fully implemented.

"The ability to create 3-D models has been around a long time," said District 6 Staff Engineer Mike McKee. "In fact, since 2006, we've had software applications specifically designed to build 3-D models. But little comparatively has been done to employ the applications."

Mike and Product Manager Derricke Gray, of Bentley Civil Americas (McKee, pictured below left, and Gray, right), teamed up for a presentation on the benefits of 3-D modeling at the WASHTO conference in Boise. Titled, "The ROI [return on investment] of 3-D Modeling in Transportation," the presentation discussed the benefits of 3-D technology in highway design and construction.

"What we have found is that even within organizations that are building 3-D models, we are still fitting the model into traditional 2-D workflows," McKee explained. "For example, we cut sections from the model and produce average end area earthworks. And even though we have a model, our primary means of exchanging project data continues to be plan sets.

"In reality, the technologies have advanced dramatically while our civil processes and business practices have not.

"We have the technology, but generally as an industry we have not made the step to using these technologies efficiently throughout engineering and business workflows."

Whether it's a feasibility study, looking at design alternatives, analyzing traffic movements or obtaining stakeholder buy-in, visualization can be an invaluable tool for many projects, McKee explained.

Visualization converts complex technical information into easily understood images or animations and communicates a single, common vision, Gray said. It can detect and eliminate design errors prior to construction.

Using Microstation (computer-aided design [CAD] software) at District 6, McKee first modeled subsurface utilities in three dimensions,something the district had never done before. He was able to rotate and turn the computer model to better show subsurface utilities and their points of conflict.

3-D modeling gives surveyors and engineers the ability to process and analyze information more quickly and economically. It just has to be put into practice.

Published 07-24-15