3-D visualization technology helps TBE streamline the review board process
Project: Starkey Road improvement, Pinellas County,Fla.
Civil engineer: TBE Group, Inc., Clearwater,Fla.
Product application: Dynamic 3-D models using Rapid Design Visualization software help review board members understand design alternatives.
In the race to win projects, civil engineering firms must be able to go the extra mile, which often includes user-friendly, advanced technology. That’s why when TBE Group, Inc., (TBE) decided to bid for the Starkey Road improvement project in Pinellas County, Fla., Peter Nikolov, vice president of Transportation and the head of TBE’s presentation team, asked CAD Engineering Consultant Brian Morse to help represent the company at the county board review committee.
"Morse had worked with us before, so we knew his expertise would be valuable for complying with the county’s electronic submittal requirements," said Nikolov. "We also knew first hand about his familiarity with applying state-of-the-art technology for dynamic, 3-D computer presentations. Competition in this business is tough. We wanted to use every advantage we could to set us apart from other contenders." TBE Group, Inc., headquartered in Clearwater, Fla., has more than 450 employees and more than 40 offices nationwide and abroad. Incorporated in 1983, the company offers a full range of engineering and planning services, including civil engineering, highway and bridge design, transportation planning, water resources, site development, surveying, utility and subsurface utility engineering, right-of-way services, environmental services, and construction management.
Morse (www.brianmorse.com) is a freelance CAD consultant who leads CAD training courses; offers live web presentations for support and training; and provides services in custom configuration, CAD standards assistance, and contract CAD work—design, drafting, data collection, and processing.
Morse is familiar with the challenges and snares that consultants encounter when making a presentation to a review board.
TBE’s team of experts representing various disciplines, including stormwater, maintenance of traffic, environmental, and transportation, faced a panel of department heads, project managers, and experts from the public sector.
"There is a good chance that someone in the audience will have difficulty envisioning the site by looking at a set of blueprints or aerial photos," said Morse, "especially when dealing with nonengineering professionals. Showing a 3-D virtual model is the next best thing to being on site." TBE and Morse decided to approach the review board with a presentation based on Rapid Design Visualization (RDV) software that presents a 3-D virtual model of an engineering plan.
RDV demonstrates exactly how the project will turn out. RDV was developed in Israel by RDV Systems (www.rdvsystems.com), a DataSafe Group subsidiary. DataSafe is the third largest privately owned information technology company in Israel. The product is available in several versions to suit various professional needs: RDV for Civil 3D, RDV for Map 3D, RDV for Land Desktop, RDV for Architectural Desktop, RDV for Building Systems, and RDV Generic AutoCAD.
The Starkey Road project comprised milling, resurfacing, and widening the road from four to six lanes, with the addition of turn lanes. "We wanted to ‘wow’ the review board with a technical presentation, using advanced computer graphics," said Morse. "So I used RDV and [Autodesk] Land Desktop for the live presentation, including a 3-D interactive flyover around a terrain model. I wanted to show the review panel how simple it is to create a model at any stage during the design process. I also wanted to emphasize the best feature—the ability to view and navigate this 3-D interactive design in a web browser. Now the client and the entire design team have access to the 3-D interactive model at any time, on the web, with no specialized CAD skills required." Online collaboration With the 3-D simulation of the project published on the web, access to information is no longer limited to the CAD staff.
Everyone can stay up-to-date with the design status and discuss particular design features without the expense of running progress prints. They can compare it to other designs and review the alternatives online, at their own convenience.
"For example," said Morse, "we can show how a left turn at a specific spot on the road would affect traffic, safety, drainage, site distance, and other essential factors, by easily setting up a dynamic, interactive visualization that can be reviewed by anyone from any computer with internet access." RDV software pulls together all of the disciplines and offers an easy tool for viewing a design plan and making informed decisions about features in the plan. With the simulation published on the internet, more people can look at the design and understand the decisions taken, such as the left turn at a specific segment of the road. Based on Active-X technology, the solution is easily integrated into standard Microsoft applications such as PowerPoint, or can even be used as a component of a custom-developed application in Visual Basic or other programming environments.
"Combined with the technical expertise of our specialists in the various divisions and our 22 years of experience in and around this area, RDV made it easy to visually show the design elements of the project," said Nikolov. "This software sets us apart from other companies that can produce static, pretty pictures, but not the interactive visualization that is not only accessible to all, but understandable even to those without engineering expertise." Following the success of the Starkey Road bid, TBE invited Morse back to help prepare for another civil engineering bid, this one in neighboring Hernando County. This project was for widening a 2-1/2-mile segment of Deltona Boulevard. It involved another rehearsal, another presentation, and another win for TBE. "I had only a weekend to work on this presentation," said Morse. "I was starting from scratch, but the main work was conceptualizing the project. Putting together the RDV design component for Deltona Boulevard took me about 20 minutes." Morse wanted to present an accurate representation of the terrain in 3-D. He emphasized the steep banks of ponds in the area so they stood out prominently in the presentation. Then Morse overlaid an aerial photo to provide recognizable features for those familiar with the area and inserted a concept of the road design. He even inserted a buried pipeline with manholes to demonstrate the value in viewing the site from above and below.
"Navigating the virtual site in the browser is very easy," said Morse. "In a few mouse clicks we were virtually flying over Deltona Boulevard." Beyond the bid Of course, winning the bid is only the first step. Firms that have adopted RDV technology have found that the product enables them to analyze project conditions at every stage of planning. This means that users can virtually see exact distances and potential problems that are almost impossible to detect without such simulation.
There are automatic controls for selecting predetermined viewpoints and animations. The lighting can be manipulated and layers can be adjusted to illustrate design alternatives from the same vantage point. The user can pan, zoom, or change the direction of the viewpoint by simple mouse manipulation. It also is possible to measure distances, as well as to generate and save screenshots on a local disk drive at any time.
Designers with AutoCAD experience can create and visualize their projects quickly, whether it’s for preliminary designs, detailed plans for construction, or any of the stages in between. With RDV, an interactive 3-D environment becomes part of the standard design workflow. Additionally, the decision-making process is shortened dramatically when the review agency can cut to the finish quickly. Costly errors also are avoided.
"TBE has only applied RDV technology at the presentation stage," said Morse. "[However,] I believe it is only a matter of time before they incorporate it into their workflow."
Reva Garmise is a freelance journalist, and can be contacted at email@example.com.