Into the third dimension

Connected Society 10 May 2016 Poul Hededal

Contractors worldwide are starting to demand the implementation of 3D technology, and with good reason - they simply gain much higher returns on their investments.

8 mins

Since 1781, the world’s oldest iron bridge has crossed the River Severn in Shropshire, UK. But the technology that will save the construction from cracking is the newest around. By combining two technologies, a Ramboll consultancy team obtained a comprehensive understanding of the bridge’s structural vulnerabilities in about half the time of conventional methods:

“Linking 3D laser scanning to a solid finite element analysis enabled us to save a great deal of time while also improving the strength predictions,” explains Carl Brookes, Technical Director of Ramboll’s Advanced Engineering Team.

Time and money are also being saved in Copenhagen, Denmark, where the new Carlsberg City District provides the framework for a socalled building information modelling (BIM) clash detection. Covering 100,000 m2, the process is being used on a scale rarely seen in Denmark. 3D BIM clash detection helps prevent installations from colliding and ensures that the separation distances between electrical installations meet minimum requirements. By incorporating clash detection from the very beginning, Ramboll raised the quality and assured fewer building errors on site. It provided savings of some 5-10% – of a total building sum of EUR 135 million.

Implementing 3D technology can yield huge gains. Sheryl Staub-French, Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia, who has spent more than 15 years studying BIM implementation, explains:

“The projects from Copenhagen and Shropshire demonstrate the power of an innovative and collaborative use of 3D technology. Ultimately, project owners have the most to gain, including a more efficient construction process, more accurate building information and a higher value for their infrastructure investments,” she says.

Contractors are demanding BIM

Considering the benefits, it is hardly surprising that consultants worldwide are implementing 3D technologies. In fact, even contractors are starting to demand the implementation of BIM, and the UK Government has decided that by 2016 all centrally produced government construction projects, whatever their size, must be delivered using BIM.

The programme is part of a strategy to reduce capital costs and the carbon burden of constructing and operating the built environment by 20%. According to Sheryl Staub-French the potential benefits of BIM simply outweigh the costs.

“It involves a cultural change that in the longer run will affect lots of actors. It will capitalise on the opportunities offered by the digital economy and will provide the foundation for delivering smart and sustainable cities,” she says.

Fully implementing BIM is one thing, realizing the full potential of its implementation is another. According to Sheryl Staub-French, this is likely to require expertise, profound changes in working habits and a great deal of agility. At Ramboll, the latter is crucial to the newly developed BIM strategy.

If you cannot manage and tailor your strategy to take advantage of the potential that software advances bring, you will miss out on brilliant opportunities.

What will the near future bring? 

Smart software with an in-built intelligence that can suggest designs on its own. We will also see a lot more virtual reality-based modelling, since computer power is strong enough to make taking a virtual walk in a building model extremely realistic.