By Ed Beadenkopf, P.E., CFM and Matt Walker, BSc, MSc, CEng, MICE

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is the proverbial glue that holds building projects together. Accurate digital modeling of a project from start to finish enables firms to design and build quality projects efficiently, saving time and money during the construction phase while enhancing operations & maintenance (O&M) and facility management applications, ensuring a project is not only well-built but also sustainable for the long term. But while BIM has been a staple in vertical construction for well over a decade, the industry has been slower to adopt BIM more broadly to infrastructure projects.

The advantages of BIM for infrastructure are as numerous as they are multifaceted. With accurate data and intelligent modeling of infrastructure, we can begin automating simple design tasks. And by aligning BIM with advanced technology like aerial drones and augmented reality, engineers can explore a variety of solutions to infrastructure design problems that would have been inconceivable just a few years ago.

Atkins’ engineers and designers have been on the forefront of this technological revolution in the horizontal design space. We are committed to performing all design digitally, helping clients upgrade their own and build new infrastructure quickly and cost effectively using BIM.

Digital design can protect lives and property

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is responsible for over 3,000 operational water-dependent civil works projects across the country, including 600 dams and locks and thousands of miles of levees. Most USACE projects are multifaceted and complex, requiring an integrated water management approach and a focus on lifecycle management. Complicating the USACE’s efforts is that existing water infrastructure is aging and in dire need of modernization.

The USACE understands the importance of digital modeling in the design and maintenance of water infrastructure and has recently mandated that all its civil works projects use BIM by 2024. With a changing climate bringing more intense storms and longer droughts, the benefits of using BIM to protect lives and property from flooding and other natural hazards cannot be overstated.

A frequently cited benefit is time savings, with a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study (https://www.cdbb.cam.ac.uk/BIMLevels/BBM) estimating use of BIM to save up to 64 percent of time to complete cost and quantity estimation processes and 70 percent of time taken to find and share asset information. But there are other applications that are more direct. For example, by using point cloud survey and photogrammetry to build detailed models of existing assets, we can monitor conditions of flood levees and embankments, including using remote monitoring equipment to raise alarm if conditions could lead to failure. BIM can also be aligned with new technologies such as aerial drones to map and survey hard-to-reach places, while it can also enable safe construction and operation through digital “dress rehearsals” that go through sequencing and other aspects of construction before actual work commences.

BIM also has multiple facility and asset management applications, including for energy analysis, embedding models into O&M manuals or creating prefabricated solutions for unique architectural and structural elements.

Case study: Using BIM for flood prevention

The town of Ipswich on England’s eastern side has a long history of flooding, both from high fluvial flows and surge tide effects from the North Sea. To bolster the town’s flood defenses, we were contracted by the United Kingdom’s Environment Agency to manage the design of a new tidal barrier across the mouth of the New Cut on the River Orwell. Planners envisioned a single 200-ton, 20-meter-wide rising sector gate, along with new flood defense walls, new scour protection and a control building to operate the barrier and other flood gates. In theory, the barrier would hold back the North Sea during periods of extreme high tide, protecting the town’s 2,000+ homes and businesses, as well as critical infrastructure such as the local fire station and council buildings.

The project is one of the first applications of BIM for water-dependent civil works, with 3D design used throughout. The team used Navisworks software to bring together modeling supplied by 13 different suppliers. By checking for clashes between models, the team could ensure the different elements would work with one another when the time came to put the installation together.

The 3D model became the heart of decision making, and has been used for construction planning, to assess spatial coordination of the staff who will operate the structure, as well as for health and safety briefings.

A testament to the team’s success was the 200-ton gate, the centerpiece of the barrier, which was designed in Germany, fabricated in the Netherlands, and constructed in the U.K. Normally, such a massive and complicated endeavor would encounter problems during installation, with components either not fitting properly or project phasing becoming misaligned, causing delays and redesigns. However, because of the team’s use of BIM, the gate was installed properly the first time, with minimal adjustments during post installation, saving the UK taxpayer thousands of pounds and weeks of delays.

For an excellent overview of the Ipswich tidal barrier project using 3D models, check out this video:

Far from conjuring a pretty 3D image of a building or a bridge, BIM has tangible benefits that fit neatly with the USACE mission of protecting lives and property through its network of civil works projects. With smart planning and design, we can maintain existing assets for longer and more cost effectively, while also constructing new bridges, dams, roadways, levees and other infrastructure that can stand the test of time.


Edward G. (Ed) Beadenkopf, P.E., CFM, is a vice president and senior project director supporting Atkins’ Federal business unit. He has over 40 years of consulting engineering experience specializing in water resources program development and project management for various firms including AECOM, AMEC (now part of Wood Group), and Dewberry. Prior to joining Atkins, Beadenkopf served as a subject matter expert for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in support of dam and levee safety programs. In addition to FEMA, he has provided expert services to other federal agencies including the National Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Matt Walker, BSc, MSc, CEng, MICE, is a senior engineer with Atkins’ Infrastructure practice in the United Kingdom. He is a Chartered Engineer and has worked on a variety of projects, mostly for the Environment Agency, but also some international work, undertaking outline design, through detailed design and construction supervision for works to replace or refurbish hydraulic structures. He received his Masters in Civil Engineering from the University of Southampton.

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