BIM’s Potential in Retrofitting Infrastructure Projects

Around the world, strengthening infrastructure is a never-ending task. Like a long, long bridge, by the time you get done painting it, it’s probably time to start over. In America, the much-anticipated Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) of 2021 is paving the way for a massive refurbishing and in some cases, reimagining of America’s highways, bridges and so much more. And while there will be plenty of new construction getting under way, existing structures of all kinds will be receiving much-needed repairs and retrofitting.

The challenge with these existing structures will be bringing them up to current standards. This is where building information modeling (BIM) holds promise in helping meet that challenge.


Relying on BIM’s strengths

Overhauling the country’s aging infrastructure will no doubt reveal structural safety concerns that have to be corrected and brought up to code, whether before or during any retrofitting. Plus, many of the structures earmarked for repair may have gotten to this point because it was impossible to know the future ramifications of decisions made during the original design and construction phases. Unique design considerations can present themselves in these kinds of projects, especially if there’s a risk of jeopardizing what may be an already compromised structure. Managing that risk means heading off potential planning and design errors and miscalculations that could inadvertently cause further instability.

This is what makes BIM ideal for projects of this complexity. Within its virtual 3D modeling environment, the feasibility and impact of various designs and materials can be proposed and explored. There’s an opportunity here for collaboration among construction disciplines to interact with the model, evaluating and sharing their particular perspectives so everyone can collectively arrive at the best, most viable options.

Ultimately BIM helps answer the more pressing questions for these kinds of projects, such as: Does the model show how modifying the structure in any way compromises the durability of its current materials? How will it affect existing structural integrity? Does any retrofit design introduce unintended hazards or clashes? Is there any risk of harming the surrounding area? What will the proposed resource costs be? What about ongoing maintenance, post-retrofit?

That last question about maintenance is an especially important one. Modernizing structures doesn’t end when the last nail has been hammered. Beyond the retrofitting phase, BIM helps extend their long-term structural and operational health. Among the different kinds of data linked to each element in the model, there should be information about the manufacturer, repair history, part number, and warranty, for example. This actionable data serves as a valuable reference to gauge ongoing system efficiency levels for structures retrofitted with energy-efficient equipment or to perform preventive maintenance.



Overcoming potential BIM limitations for retrofitting infrastructure projects

It’s important to remember that BIM isn’t an infrastructure panacea. Many of these structures were built well before 1980 when BIM began gaining acceptance within the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industries. Therefore, retrofitting older structures comes with hurdles that can test its capabilities.

In many cases, original 2D drawings are the only records available, if they even still exist, and may not be accurate. In addition, there may be no way to find out what repairs or updates may have been made after the original blueprints were created, or what modifications were made after the fact that aren’t recorded anywhere. Producing 3D models with these limitations may require extra technological capabilities, including laser technology to scan the actual structure.

Project intelligence is often lacking because structure, materials and cost details are decentralized, if known at all. To have an interactive BIM model with the insights it can provide requires linked data — and not just the operational variety mentioned above, but cost, material composition, dimensions, quantities, etc. It will entail meticulous research upfront to capture the right data, plus time to input it into the model, to achieve the accuracy that BIM depends on. But the resulting benefits realized from BIM’s capabilities can far outweigh this initial front-end effort for the design, construction and post-retrofit operational phases.


Using BIM as an evaluative tool for rebuilding infrastructure projects

But while some structures may be slated for retrofitting, how can anyone be sure it’s actually the best option? BIM can help here, too. Consider first that for the last several decades, it has helped answer the standard what-if questions about design, materials and costs. It can also help answer another critical question: Is it financially and environmentally better to retrofit the existing structure or to simply raze it and start over? This could be the key question as infrastructure projects are initially evaluated. With a little extra effort, BIM can be used to determine impact on costs, surrounding buildings and environment, and what materials might have to be swapped out for a retrofit, for example. With government dollars on the line, this approach can help ensure the most appropriate, cost-effective decisions are made.

While its potential in this area hasn’t yet been fully realized, the momentum to build created by the IIJA could represent an opportunity to use BIM in this exciting and yet evolving way. InEight virtual modeling can help to better plan new capital projects or assess retrofitting existing structures. Request a demo to explore how it can help in your future capital projects.

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