Why Aren’t Civil Engineers Using BIM?

Despite the fact that more civil works are adopting BIM, many civil engineers aren’t always involved in overall BIM coordination efforts. Is this because of oversight or because the civil community isn’t proactively embracing BIM? It’s a question posed by John Rodriguez, BIM Manager at Fuscoe Engineering, in a post on Autodesk’s BIM on the Rocks blog.

Rodriguez puts forward several specific objections why civil engineers may be questioning BIM collaboration, such as:

• Is the technology ready for engineering primetime?

• Is the civil engineering industry prepared for BIM?

• Are the customers demanding or requiring BIM?

• Can civil engineers make the transition from CAD to BIM?

• Can CAD and BIM play nicely together?

I believe it is becoming more and more apparent that the answer to these questions is ‘yes’!” says Rodriguez.

BIM has long been ready for civil engineering primetime and is being successfully deployed by federal agencies, states, municipalities, transportation agencies, and public works. Here are some benefits and use cases of BIM at work in government civil engineering projects.

Cost Savings

BIM delivers tangible business results. And for cash-strapped agencies looking to maximize budgets, look no further than an early adopter of BIM, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT). In an effort to gauge ROI, WisDOT conducted a study during which they switched from 2D plans for the original design of large interchange project to 3D models at the completion of the project. They found that approximately $9.5 million (nearly 50 percent of the costs that resulted from contract change orders) could have been saved if they’d used a BIM model throughout the project.

Breaking Down Siloes with BIM

While it has its roots in architecture, the principles of BIM apply to everything that is built, including roads and highways. To understand why this is, consider the siloed nature of the legacy 2D drafting-centric design approach. This method starts with preliminary design, moves to detailed design, and then on to construction documentation. Each step is completed before the next begins and collaboration is limited.

Contrast this approach with one that brings BIM processes into the AEC world. Using BIM principles, coordinated, reliable design information about the project is created at the beginning. This result is in an intelligent 3D model of a roadway, bridge, or airport in which elements of the design are related to each other dynamically – not just points, surfaces and alignments, but a rich set of information and the attributes associated with it.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that more and more agencies are requiring the delivery of an as-built BIM model as part of the contract.

Project Visualization and Design Exploration

Visualizing design scenarios isn’t a new concept; however, these models used to be prohibitively expensive and were rarely used in the government. With the advent of 3D and tools like Autodesk InfraWorks360, these tools are now available and in use by numerous DOTs including New Mexico DOT, California DOT and Alaska DOT.

With BIM, visualization features are more accessible than ever. Using BIM in any type of civil infrastructure project, engineers can create visualizations for stakeholder approval, develop 3D models to identify problems before hand-off, develop design alternatives, and deliver projects on time and on budget.

Visualize and view a civil project in context in InfraWorks 360.  Image courtesy of Autodesk.


Visualize and view a civil project in context in InfraWorks 360.  Image courtesy of Autodesk.

Getting Input from the Public and Other Stakeholders

With large civil projects, public meetings and consultations often spur design changes. Most people don’t know how to read traditional 2D drawings, so a 3D drive through or fly-by of the project immediately communicates the engineer’s design intent. By showing people a realistic rendering of what the project might look like from different perspectives, consultations with the public, contractors and other government agencies can be more productive and efficient.

Using model-based visualizations is a great way of doing this. You can see an animated example of this at work on a New Mexico DOT highway interchange project.

Collaboration in the Cloud

In addition to integrated workflows between BIM software such as AutoCAD Civil 3D and InfraWorks 360, cloud-based collaboration opens up a new world of opportunity for secure, controlled collaboration with partners and stakeholders on design documents in real-time, simultaneously.

Learn More

This all just scratches the surface of what’s possible with BIM for civil engineering. For more ideas and resources, check out Autodesk’s BIM for Civil Infrastructure content hub.

Grace Bergen Autodesk Tech Writer