In the building design and construction world Building Information Modelling, or BIM, has become a way for engineers to provide value to an Owner or Owner-Operator of a building throughout its entire lifecycle. But what about infrastructure? Are your Civil Designers giving you an advantage over your peers?

In the realm of civil design, engineers and designers are using products with ever-increasing feature sets that not only improve design accuracy and speed, but also increase the robustness of data available for clients. AutoDesk Civil3d and the Bentley OpenRoads Suite are two of the prevalent products in this space pushing innovation for both the designers and the end-user.

What is BIM?

Building Information Modeling got its start in CAD over ten years ago as drafting tools began to evolve beyond simply producing drawings and basic design calculations to becoming an active modeling system. At this point, CAD had thoroughly expanded into 3-D modeling of structures and design elements, but BIM began to capitalize this data to create functional data beyond what was to be plotted to the plan set.

With BIM, every design professional’s data is incorporated into a single model. True BIM packages such as AutoDesk Revit, Bentley AECOsim Building Designer, and GraphiSoft ArchiCAD can integrate several disciplines worth of design data. This gives the Developer and Owner-Operator two or three more dimensions of design data for the building over the entire course of its lifecycle — from schematic to demolition.

In 4-D/5-D, BIM can enable:

  • Construction Managers to visualize the phases of development in the construction and even cost material/labor takeoff at each point.
  • Owner-Operators to determine the capital improvement and maintenance of specific elements of the building during its use and accurately design future expansion.
  • Engineers to utilize this model to eventually reconstruct or fell the structure, if necessary.

It’s a pretty powerful tool that may front-load some of the design time and cost to the schematic phase, but pays for itself many times over in lifecycle cost savings.

Infrastructure Lifecycle

Planning and Preliminary Schematics
Since infrastructure is inherently cumulative, the design process is an ongoing process that often starts and ends with municipal capital planning or private venture development.

This phase is where engineers can have a large impact on the scope of the project. Using digital information modeling from survey (total station, GPS, LiDAR, etc.) as-built data, and the proposed project parameters, a designer can very quickly develop several options for the client to assess.

A design firm can spend a little more time up front during planning and proposal development to produce cost-effective solutions that save both the client and the designers time and money later on in the process.

Design Development and Construction Documents
When the model is established early on, engineers can easily transition into the detailed design of a selected schematic, building on what was developed previously rather than discarding rough designs and starting fresh.

The benefit of digital modeling within the program quickly demonstrates its strength as construction documents can rapidly be drawn up and modified as the project evolves.

This phase is also instrumental in a project’s coordination with other design entities (structural, architect, MEP, etc) and compliance with local agencies. If Civil is not the only or prime designer on the project, data sharing enables integration with other discipline’s software packages and models.

As for compliance: municipalities are beginning to adopt new digital infrastructure modeling standards, and design firms will have to step up the robustness of their finished product. Often, municipalities require submissions of designs at the 30% and 100% construction document milestones.

Construction & As-Built Data
Following design, the bidding of a project is simplified with a model that automatically generates material quantity takeoff data and construction phase flows. High confidence estimates can be made from this data, as well.

After construction is complete, as-built data from surveyors can be again plugged back into the model to ensure the design was substantially completed. This is additional check from software that might have otherwise missed a quality department’s eyes.

This as-built data can then be converted into a portable digital model that is recorded in municipal asset databases. Many municipalities and other agencies are already adopting Geographic Information System (GIS) record systems to give both city planners and engineers the data they need to make accurate decisions.

Both City of Houston and Harris County public works teams have transitioned to digital plan review systems and it will only be a matter of time until they will require full GIS assets of as-built data for all infrastructure projects within their jurisdictions.

Embracing Change

Moore’s law is an electrical engineering theory that has accurately asserted that computer processors will double in speed every two years since the 70’s. With the increase in power comes an increase of software capability and a host of new abilities and challenges. Clearly society and civilization is changing at an exponential rate due to technology — why shouldn’t the engineering discipline as old as civilization itself change with it?

Civil Engineers must be expected to do their due diligence on new modeling solutions not only to extend savings to the client, but to also promote the lifecycle of the infrastructure they design.

If you need guidance, I or one of our consultants at LJA Engineering would love to walk you through your current property and development. I encourage you to call me at 713-580-4149 or email me at

Be sure to keep an eye for additional posts from me about emerging technologies in this space. Have you had a positive or negative experience with digital information modeling in your land development or infrastructure projects? Leave a comment below.