Through history, civil engineers have been instrumental in building our infrastructure – roads, highways, utility systems, sanitary systems, and water systems. Over the years, fundamental civil design processes have not changed significantly. What was done thousands of years ago with sheepskin and quill was eventually accomplished with paper and ink, and finally transitioned to automated drafting on workstations and now PCs.
The introduction of geographic information systems (GIS) in the 1980s started a change in thinking about the way that civil engineering projects were planned, designed, and managed. On its own, however, GIS did not drastically change the way the industry worked. Vast quantities of data were stored in disparate databases, using varying coordinate systems and accuracy levels. Engineering teams often found the data difficult to access and consequently difficult to use. Complicating things further, work related to GIS was typically managed by separate departments in government agencies and engineering firms, versus being integrated into project teams. To truly transform the industry it needed to become part of standard processes.
Taking advantage of the foundation built by GIS and computer-aided drafting and design, the release of Autodesk InfraWorks 2014 is influencing change in the way infrastructure projects are planned, designed, and managed. Data that has been collected and stored since the advent of GIS becomes more accessible, which in turn makes it more valuable through the design process and even into infrastructure management. Transformational change is enabled via workflows that can take advantage of large amounts of data. The result is greater insight and better decision-making.
Autodesk InfraWorks software is a cloud-based, highly collaborative way to work that is different than traditional GIS and CAD. It provides 3D modeling and visualization technology for desktop, web, and mobile that supports Building Information Modeling (BIM) workflows. Civil engineers and planners can help deliver projects by more efficiently managing larger-scale infrastructure models created from existing data sources. Teams can bring together all types of information in an immersive 3D environment, making it easier to understand and communicate to others. Virtually anybody can bring together existing data to create a large-scale model that can be used as the foundation for project development. Autodesk InfraWorks is a catalyst for change because it puts data access and use in the hands of the masses.
Driving the need for change is the fact that infrastructure projects are larger and more complex than ever before. Civil engineering teams are designing water diversion projects serving 200 million people and covering 1,700 miles and highway projects that must carry 300,000 vehicles per day. Since all civil engineering projects are inherently 3D, what was once a completely 2D process has evolved to require a 3D process due in part to the size of the projects being developed. Most people, even most engineers, cannot look at plan and profile views, or plan documents, and see the vision of the person designing and building a project that spans several miles or covers several acres.
With Autodesk InfraWorks technology, design teams can design in a 3D contextual model, visually inspecting the design as it progresses. Before investing vast amounts of time and money adding details to a project design, InfraWorks lets users virtually drive the road and explore facets of the project site never before imaginable because they are working in a data-rich modeling environment. In addition to manual exploration of the model, presentation options include the ability to create high-quality interactive presentations to share on the web in videos or via iPad. Using storyboards, infrastructure project teams can walk internal and external stakeholders through a proposal, or they can record a video presentation of multiple proposals that help in understanding even the most complex projects.
By taking advantage of existing 2D CAD, 3D model, GIS, and raster data, infrastructure project workflows are enhanced with the ability to communicate and interact with the project plan in new and exciting ways, no matter what the size of the project. This new way of working speeds up processes from start to finish, helping projects get to construction faster.
Taking advantage of large amounts of diverse data sources to complete bigger and more complex projects is only part of the story. More and more collaboration via the cloud is anticipated simply because of how younger generations are growing up with social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook. That same type of information exchange, only at a much bigger scale, will be expected because today’s teenagers are accustomed to collaborating on a second-by-second basis.
Infrastructure professionals can improve collaboration using InfraWorks and Autodesk InfraWorks 360 by sharing models centrally and more securely in the cloud. Ultra-realistic effects can be added to make project proposals more convincing. Sophisticated lighting effects can be used to simulate different sun and shade conditions. Animated cloud and realistic water styles can also be added to help stakeholders visualize how the project will look and perform once built.
This collaboration goes beyond just sharing proposals and project scenarios with internal team members. Using the Design Feed feature, internal and external stakeholders can comment on models and proposals from anywhere, at any time. Project team members are able to view and reply to the comments made by others. This type of far-reaching collaboration becomes a way to get feedback from a larger group of people, which ultimately could spawn better ideas and better-performing infrastructure projects in the end.
The road ahead
When Autodesk AutoCAD Civil 3D was first released nine years ago, it started to change the way that civil engineers worked by introducing geospatial data integration in design, enabling intelligent, model-based processes and leading the way with a civil design platform that provided dynamic updating of related design elements, where even documentation became a byproduct of the design. The focus shifted from drafting to design, and new time savings features were realized. The flood gates opened and engineering professionals started to reexamine traditional, time-honored workflows.
With InfraWorks, civil engineers get technological advancements that enhance the current workflows established in Civil 3D. Autodesk InfraWorks provides the platform for change that also helps demystify the work of the civil engineer. Engineering professionals are still needed to perform the work, but with InfraWorks, you don’t have to be a civil engineer to understand it.
Karen Weiss, P.E., senior industry marketing manager for Infrastructure for Autodesk, has worldwide responsibility for go-to-market strategic realization for the civil infrastructure industry sub-segments. Weiss spent 19 years working in the transportation industry, holding engineering positions in both the public and private sectors. For the last four years she has focused on developing industry-focused marketing programs for infrastructure including roads and highways, rail, land, and water.