Building Information Modelling


Continual evolution of technology improves engineering production processes

In the immediate post-war years when Associated began operations, the focus of our clients was to respond to the immediate infrastructure needs of the day. Design and construction of new municipal facilities and infrastructure, dominated the scope of services we provided directly to our clients. Our work was carried out with slide rules and pencils. Our deliverables mainly consisted of manually typed reports, specifications, and operations manuals, as well as hand-drawn, two-dimensional drawings. Our production and quality processes could be readily measured against these well-defined deliverables.

In the early 1980’s, calculations began to be performed on electronic calculators and a mainframe computer was used to produce drawings. Within a decade, desktop computers revolutionized our work spaces and the production aspects of our work changed to allow us to design, analyse and draw, all from a machine that occupied an ever decreasing portion of our desks. Desktop computers began to be interconnected, improving our means to communicate and share information in real time. Email allowed for instantaneous communications within our project teams and with our clients.

Over this time, our abilities and services expanded to include controls and automation, evaluation of the social and environmental impacts of our work and value engineering. Civil engineering divided into specialist fields such as transportation, water resources, instrumentation and controls, and environmental engineering. Our deliverables and project records changed from being paper to predominantly digital, requiring different support and storage systems. As the scope and range of services has increased and the means we use to carry out the work has changed, so too has the quality processes we have established and employ to keep pace with these developments.

We have had excellent staff retention throughout these technological transitions, which has allowed us to ensure that we maintain a high level of competency and quality of our work. In fact, there are still a few among us who can recall first hand, working with slide rules and mechanical pencils!

Today, we have a plethora of sophisticated tools at our disposal and possess the abilities and skills to leverage these for the benefit of our clients. The scope of services we now offer and value we provide continues to grow. We can now use cloud-point laser surveys to map existing terrains and highly complex environments with a high degree of precision. We are able to conduct real time monitoring of fauna, traffic, streams, and pipe flows. We can create 3D digital models to allow visualization, improve communication, and identify design conflicts to minimize risk and improve the end product.

Building Information Modelling (BIM) software has allowed us to embed specifications and design decisions into these models and also to analyse them for stresses and strains, energy use, fluid dynamics, heating, cooling and ventilation. These models can also be used to create dynamic and interactive facilities management plans.

We leverage GIS tools to compile vast amounts of disparate information and communicate various scenarios in images, to inform our clients’ decisions. We can assess the impacts of disaster scenarios such as dam breaching. We are able to use asset management principles and processes to empower our clients to better manage their infrastructure. We can help them to prioritize their capital cost decisions and account for future operational and maintenance aspects within the cost framework.

We work with our clients to assess climate-related risks to infrastructure, other priorities, and desired level of service. We help to develop and prioritize action plans to mitigate infrastructure risks to make infrastructure systems more resilient. We also have processes to ensure sustainable design principles are incorporated into our designs.

In addition to these expanded services, our clients now include contractors and financiers when owners choose to build using alternative delivery contracts such as design/build and Public-private partnerships (P3). These clients require different deliverables; we pride ourselves in being able to respond to these needs.

What has not changed over time is the need to apply the appropriate level of rigor to verify our source information, the checking of our calculations, and review of our deliverables for errors or omissions prior to their release. This is becoming increasingly more challenging as we collaborate and interact with clients and stakeholders in real time. We are committed to ensuring that we provide a high level of service and improved deliverables. With our increased tools and new challenges faced by our clients, it has never been a more exciting time to be an engineer, planner, scientist, technologist, or technician!

About the author:

Steve Croxford, M.I.Struct.E, P.Eng., is the Professional Services Manager for the Associated Engineering group of companies. Steve has over 34 years of experience in the design and management of a wide range of civil, industrial and municipal projects, including bridges, water supply and treatment, wastewater treatment, and buildings.