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  The American Surveyor     

A Dimensional Shift Print E-mail
Written by Ron Lowry and Keith Holloway   
Monday, 22 November 2010

While it has its roots in architecture, the principles and benefits of 3D modeling can apply to all disciplines, including surveying and engineering.

The road to a successful construction project can often be blocked by disjointed lines of communication and fragmented, unreliable data. If a fluid process isn’t created from the beginning, miscues are bound to occur. Whether or not the project goes smoothly starts with the surveyor, a highly skilled technician capable of determining the terrestrial or three-dimensional position of points and the distances and angles between them. Accurate point lists, plat maps and topographical plans are essential to modern-day architects and contractors, who prefer integrative digital collaboration and a more team-oriented approach to data collection and delivery.

In recent years, advanced building modeling software has enabled project teams to use coordinated, consistent information throughout the design/build process. The ability to enhance the analysis of appearance, performance and cost has resulted in a faster, more economical and environmentally friendly delivery of projects. One key technological development driving this trend is Building Information Modeling (BIM), which allows for the three-dimensional exploration of a project’s key physical and functional characteristics digitally — before it is built.

BIM utilizes 3-D modeling concepts, information technology and software interoperability to design, construct and operate structures. The basic idea involves generating information in a format that can be viewed and/or accessed by all stakeholders during the project’s lifecycle. This means that as the information passes from surveyor to engineer, engineer to architect, architect to contractor, and contractor to owner, there should be no “re-inventing” of information.

The ultimate success of BIM lies in the ability of project members to create a solid platform for an improved, more efficient means of producing useful and reliable data critical to the building process.

Role of the Surveyor
Because it involves buildings, many people think BIM is just for architects, but it is important to surveyors and engineers as well. Traditionally, architects and contractors collected 2-D information from surveyors and used it as background information, not as functional modeling information. In recent years, the ability of surveyors to generate deliverables in 3-D and higher dimensional formats has allowed for a more fluid process, which, in turn, saves time and money.

By uploading underground utility, contour and gradient data in a digital model that can be interpreted by civil engineering software, surveyors can provide precise and trustworthy information to architects and contractors. Armed with this comprehensive 3-D model, design professionals can make better-informed decisions in the early design phase. Moving forward, the information can be used to generate consistent documentation, which can be leveraged beyond design for construction and facilities maintenance. It can also be linked to other project information and be used repeatedly for many different purposes.

Site Functionality
Providing accurate strata on a construction site is essential to avoiding problems as the site plans develop and building begins. Surveyors, therefore, play critical roles in increasing efficiency by creating a blueprint for efficacy from the start. BIM, along with modern geographical tools such as global positioning systems (GPS), arm surveyors with the tools needed to create reliable models upon which everyone on the project team can build. For example, the surveyor and civil engineer, using advanced BIM software, develop a highly accurate, digital 3-D model of a land development site. After receiving a copy of this model, the contractor loads a variant of it directly into the onboard computer of a GPS-equipped bulldozer or excavator. Using GPS and on-site laser-based positioning systems, the equipment operator compares real-time locations with the current site model and completes earthwork to unprecedented levels of accuracy.

When a surveyor puts relevant data into BIM model form, it can be leveraged by other members of the project team and used for collaboration, visualization, reporting and archiving purposes, and as the seed to grow the project. The BIM model can consume and incorporate data from many different sources, including the architect’s building; the local utility company’s infrastructure; the landscaper’s plant layout; the engineer’s drainage plan; the surveyor’s surface, boundary and easements; and the developer’s new street names.

In an environment where surveyors, civil engineers and general contractors face tight deadlines and even tighter budgets, they need to work accurately and efficiently. With the aid of BIM and other high-tech tools, they can automate much of the construction process and dramatically improve productivity, thereby completing site construction projects faster and more profitably.

About the Authors
Ron Lowry (left) is the chairman of RLF, a leading Winter Park, Fla.-based architecture, engineering and interior design firm. Keith Holloway is project manager and BIM coordinator for RLF.

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