By Donna Laquidara-Carr, Ph.D., LEED AP

Implementation of building information modeling (BIM) in the transportation sector has seen dramatic growth in the last five years, as a recent Dodge study on The Business Value of BIM for Infrastructure demonstrates. In 2015, only about one quarter (27%) of U.S. engineers and contractors who use BIM deployed it on 50% or more of their projects, but by 2017, that percentage had doubled to 55%. The study also shows that in the U.S., engineers led the charge for high BIM implementation in 2015, but by 2017, over half of contractors (53%) were implementing BIM at that high level, nearly as many as the engineers (56%).

The findings also show a trend for more even implementation of BIM between two segments within transportation, bridges and tunnels. In 2015, only 26% of those using BIM for bridge projects reported that they were doing so on 50% or more of their projects, compared with 42% of those doing tunnel projects. By 2017, those percentages were nearly even, at 51% for bridges and 50% for tunnels.

So, what has led to that dramatic growth in the use of BIM in these sectors, and what does the future hold? To get answers to these questions, Dodge spoke to Cory Dippold, Vice President and Head of Special Project Applications at Mott MacDonald.

According to Dippold, the increased use of BIM is believed to be directly related to the improved ability of the tools to handle the massive amounts of data generated by many transportation projects. That experience in using BIM helps to overcome the challenge of, as he says, “how to apply the precision that BIM can deliver into the world of infrastructure that typically operates to different tolerances and levels of precision.” The biggest challenges to wider adoption of BIM now, he notes, are related to legacy workflows and the contracting models that still dominate infrastructure delivery. Dippold points to a successful bridge project conducted by Mott MacDonald in the UK that was one of the first model-only delivery projects in that country, which involved a very accurate model of the bridge and allowed them to make better use of off-site prefabrication. In fact, he believes that the ability of BIM to support Design for Manufactured Assembly (DFMA) will be a major factor for growth in its use in the bridge and tunnel sectors, given its ability to provide more rapid construction techniques and higher quality control.

Dippold warns against a simplistic understanding of the benefits of BIM. “I would caution that we shouldn’t be using BIM as a proxy for delivering jobs faster for less money. In a lot of cases, using BIM or using digital techniques to deliver the job offers a number of different benefits that the designer, builder or owner may choose to recover [such as] better constructability, less risk, higher safety, as well as a lower cost, or faster delivery. You have a nice range of different options to unlock value in different ways over time.”

Dippold also sees that list of options increasing in the future. He cites the value of a “digital twin,” which combines additional data with a model (such as non-graphical and sensor data) to provide a digital clone of the existing asset, as a critical part of the future value of BIM for these assets – especially for owners. We are now seeing the emergence of digital integrators who can help provide “a truly accurate, 3D digital representation of a physical asset that is kept current – this would provide significant benefits. We just need a little bit more time and experience as an industry to figure out how to make that happen and where all the value really gets unlocked.” Dippold ultimately envisions smart cities where “assets understand their performance relative to other assets, and you can begin to optimize the performance of your asset in the context of the other assets that are operating around it.”

For those who have not yet started using BIM in the bridge and tunnel sectors, he encourages them to dive in. And for those who are seeking to increase their level of implementation, it is essential to “understand your information structures because the way your information gets structured on a project can be the difference between success and failure.”

Donna Laquidara-Carr, Ph.D., LEED AP, is Industry Insights research director, Dodge Data & Analytics ( Dodge Data & Analytics is North America’s leading provider of analytics and software-based workflow integration solutions for the construction industry. Building product manufacturers, architects, engineers, contractors, and service providers leverage Dodge to identify and pursue unseen growth opportunities and execute on those opportunities for enhanced business performance.