Advances in BIM for civil engineering: Software
The need for different types of software for BIM methodology is hampering its wider use, and an update in the short-medium term is required
The use of BIM methodology to carry out projects is less developed in civil engineering than it is in construction. The main disadvantage comes from the programs needed to achieve such projects.
For example, if we want to carry out construction projects, the most popular program used with the most years of experience is Revit, by Autodesk. This program can handle the different fields involved in a construction project, such as architects, constructors and structural engineers. This allows coordinated teamwork and simplified workflows through a single platform.
As Revit is compatible with and can be linked to many other programs from the same publisher, it is a favourite for this working method. As an example, it can be linked with programs such as Dynamo for planning, Navisworks for management or Robot Structural Analysis for structural analyses.
“BIM methodology is expected to become essential to carry out projects in all different fields and at all different points of the life cycle”
Conversely, applying BIM methodology to a project in civil engineering with its subfields such as topography, drainage systems, structural engineering, road design, road surface markings and road signage, functional objects, levelling, etc., we have to use different programs to be able to handle all the different types of information.
For example, to improve the quality of the information obtained before the project, we can use the GIS tool, which can scrape information available on government websites, reproduce it and contextualise it to be used as a basis for projects; similarly, we can use Istram-Ispol, a tool for street design, and in future we will also be able to use Infraworks, a tool to allow suggestions or plan alternatives during the initial stages of a project. To continue, we could use Civil for the part of the project pertaining to drainage networks, which allows the BIM design to be shared with the team.
This is not to mention the program we would use to create structures or other aspects relevant to the project.
This simple example above clearly demonstrates the need to use different BIM tools to be able to properly work on a civil engineering project. Although companies in the sector are increasing their efforts and are making progress, they end up releasing applications that must be migrated, upversioned or updated constantly, while other products have to wait for an annual revision.
A further disadvantage is that working with different programs or different versions requires sharing modelling data that can be interchanged, so we have to work with a truly open system (Open BIM), which is the main objective of IFC format.
“For civil engineering projects, we need sound experience with all working tools in order to carry out an entire project using BIM methodology”
To this end, a consortium of companies was set up and launched a project, one of the objectives of which is to extend IFC to street projects. In order to automate specification checks for geometric street designs using an IFC file, the first step is to define which specifications can be automated, followed by what information must be in the ICF files and how it is to be organised, and finally, the method to use for these checks. The project includes an analysis of the criteria used in a broad sample of geometric street design guidelines from different countries. In this way, work is being done on the format of information transfer for BIM methodology in civil engineering: IFC Bridge, IFC Alignment, IFC Road and Railways, which are currently being developed.
There is also IFC 4, which defines a multitude of aspects with which we can address the uses of BIM in construction, but it does not have an innate ability to define linear projects.
“Rolling out BIM means investing in efficiency”
We can conclude from all this that, for civil engineering projects, we need sound experience with all working tools in order to carry out an entire project using BIM methodology. Hard work and solid interdisciplinary coordination efforts are therefore needed, as we cannot link up different programs easily. This indirectly implies higher costs for companies and users, as they must have licences to be able to use the different tools.
In conclusion, despite the hurdles listed above, BIM methodology is expected to become essential to carry out projects in all different fields and at all different points of the life cycle. As a result, all steps taken, whether financial or in terms of human resources, will be vital to allow the methodology to be used properly within the company. Rolling out BIM means investing in efficiency.