There has been a lot of talk about the benefits of 3-D modeling for the infrastructure industry, and anecdotal evidence of such benefits is ubiquitous. However, it’s always refreshing and encouraging to hear firsthand from professionals actually putting these models into action on real-world projects. One example is Jamie M. Bordelon and his colleagues at 3D Sitework Services, who are literally getting their hands dirty working with engineers, contractors and developers to take advantage of the benefits of GPS-guided machine control for mass earthwork operations.
I recently spoke with Bordelon, who explained that there’s a construction boom in his home state of Louisiana, partly due to the recent surge of new natural-gas interests in the region.
“The engineers are extremely busy and often don’t have the time, budget or staff required to create the models requested by contractors,” he notes. “So in addition to traditional survey-related services, we also work with engineers and contractors to create detailed digital terrain models [DTMs]. Our service bridges the gap between design and construction.”
In the early 2000s, just as the housing boom in northern Illinois (where I live) was kicking into high gear, GPS-guided machine control was a new, unfamiliar technology with a high cost of entry and a limited number of qualified people to help drive adoption. However, as soon as the real benefits of 3-D terrain models and GPS-equipped machines became apparent, the technology took off, and widespread adoption occurred in less than five years. Now it’s nearly impossible to find a machine not equipped with the hardware.
Wishing for Adoption
Unfortunately, rapid adoption of such time- and money-saving technology isn’t ubiquitous across the country.
“It’s just starting to catch on down here,” explains Bordelon. “We are positioned at the center of a triangle, with the developer, engineer and contractor each occupying a corner. We work to help the developer understand and encourage the cost savings, the engineer to develop accurate models, and the contractor to put those models to use in the field.”
Driving adoption currently is an uphill battle. “A few companies we work with see the benefits, but we’d like to see more,” he adds.
He’s not alone in wishing for wider adoption. Many firms claim they have adopted new modeling and BIM technologies, but too often this is for marketing or business-development reasons. If and when they win a job that requires these skills, they scramble to provide the required deliverables and, in the process, usually end up losing money on the project instead of saving it. This typically leads to the firm souring on the technology and shunning it, without realizing they’re missing a huge opportunity for improvements in quality and efficiency.
“We see a lot of companies that just don’t realize the value, only the perceived downsides,” notes Bordelon.
Fortunately, firms such as 3D Sitework Services and its clients see the upside. They put the time and effort into understanding the benefits of modeling tools and incrementally put them to use on projects. Typically, they start small with a “pilot project,” understanding that this is a chance to learn what works and what doesn’t. They don’t expect to save time or money on the pilot project and often are willing to break even or take a small loss in exchange for the knowledge and skills gained.
As the firm’s proficiency with modeling tech grows, so does its ability to attract clients and projects demanding time and money savings. This creates a positive feedback loop, where their increased BIM knowledge allows them to win projects, which increases their BIM knowledge, and so on.
As an industry, this is where we need to be heading. There are too many infrastructure projects, too much backlog, too few qualified professionals and too few dollars budgeted to meet our nation’s needs the “old way.” We need the improved efficiency that true implementation of modeling and BIM provides.
In the meantime, Bordelon, 3D Sitework Services and others like them will continue to push the industry forward with real-world action, one great model at a time.
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