Whitepaper: 01.15.2015

Water Infrastructure: Reaping the Benefits of Virtual Design and Construction

by BJ Peterson, McCarthy Assistant Project Manager

Advancements in Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) are taking preconstruction and construction to the next level. Owners are experiencing the value and benefits of integrated VDC in design, estimating and meticulous planning, particularly where the entire project team is engaged and can continually improve process effectiveness, efficiency, constructability and predictability on projects. Complex facilities, such as those required for water infrastructure, present highly complex piping and mechanical systems. Due to the long-term life cycles of these types of facilities combined with the common need for upgrades or expansions, they are the ideal benefactors of today’s VDC tools.  

Building Information Modeling (BIM) and other VDC tools are facilitating successful preconstruction and construction planning efforts, providing for the identification and resolution of potential issues earlier in project life cycles and delivering concise information during construction and plant operations. Tools including electronic plan rooms; 3-D, 4-D and 5-D modeling; tablet-based BIM software; QR equipment coding; laser scanning of existing facilities; and robotic total stations are being used to virtually construct and streamline the most complex construction projects, and then provide a data-rich virtual plant to the owner for long-term operations.

“VDC in water treatment projects takes the linear construction process that includes structure, process and electrical work and integrates all three under a comprehensive 3-D model,” said Frank Scopetti, business unit leader for McCarthy’s Infrastructure Services team in the Southwest. “VDC bridges the gaps in the linear process, allowing for a better understanding of scope and providing greater opportunities for collaboration among team members.”

Available VDC Tools
There are a variety of VDC tools available for use, beginning early in the planning and design process, through construction, and later after a facility has been turned over to the owner, including Navisworks®, AutoCAD®, Google SketchUp, 3-D scanning and Bluebeam®/3-D PDFs, among others. VDC software helps the design and construction team draft, design and document building systems, creating more accurate designs from 2-D drawings with notes and annotations submitted by project engineers. BIM 360 Glue is gaining popularity as an effective tool for all team members to quickly access the live model and work collaboratively.

“The mind visually tries to create a 3-D image when looking at 2-D drawings,” Scopetti continued. “By using VDC, we’re developing a 3-D model that allows for the creation of a collaboration-based platform utilizing real-time input from team members.”

For example, Navisworks Freedom® is free software that anyone can download. It allows owners to view the 3-D models a contractor has created without having to purchase expensive software like AutoCAD. By providing logic links to owners through Navisworks, 3-D models ultimately impact plant operation and maintenance by streamlining processes and adding efficiencies.

3-D scanning is also particularly useful in water treatment plants because facilities often undergo expansion projects as capacity demands increase. 3-D scanning creates more accurate drawings of as-built construction and enables the construction team to link new construction plans with as-built models into one comprehensive 3-D model for future owner reference. In addition, the value of 3-D scanning goes well beyond simply the data provided by the technology. In addition to validating and verifying the placement of and performance of systems already present on a project, the true value comes in integrating the scanning data into construction planning and execution workflows to troubleshoot issues during construction as well as for future renovations.

Advantages of VDC
A significant advantage of VDC is early team collaboration to identify potential design and construction issues during the Design Phase and Construction Planning phase. As a result, the entire project moves forward at a more streamlined pace, translating into real-time cost savings for owners.

As an example, McCarthy was recently building a 260-foot diameter, 40-foot deep reservoir and pipe corridor connecting to another reservoir at a wastewater treatment plant in Arizona. Through modeling this phase of work, the team was able to identify a conflict with two large 54-inch Concrete Cylindrical Pipe lines having a bearing issue right on top of each other. By modeling all construction phases of Earthwork, Concrete, Mechanical and Electrical using VDC in preconstruction, the team was able to evaluate the issue and make adjustments before any shovels hit the ground, avoiding conflicts with these deep underground lines that connected the two reservoirs and reducing potential costs of construction delays.

“VDC helps us understand system constraints, what access ways look like, and how components affect each other in terms of coordination,” explained Daniel Ward, project manager at McCarthy. “The entire project team can better understand the sequence of work and what components of the mechanical or electrical system need to be in place before finishing out the structural components. You see everything underground in a simple, 3-D model versus trying to imagine it based off of separate disciplined 2-D drawings.”

How Owners Benefit
For owners, the benefit is clear: VDC ultimately impacts the bottom line. When VDC is effectively utilized, the risk of costly mistakes decreases significantly. VDC on water treatment projects typically represents only 0.5 percent of the total project value. For many owners, that fraction of a percent is well worth the investment.

For example, in a preconstruction phase for a wastewater treatment plant expansion in Arizona, the engineer originally had an idea for designing a new pipe that went all the way around the back side of the plant, representing an approximate cost of $4 million. Through the 3-D modeling process, it was determined that smaller existing pipelines could be replaced with larger ones through a six-month construction tie-in process, resulting in a cost savings of approximately $2 million for the owner.

VDC also helps owners and plant workers better understand construction phases, enabling them to help identify safety concerns and make important recommendations to improve the plant operation during critical construction tie-in efforts.

An additional benefit of VDC for owners is the creation of an electronic plan room — a platform that enables project team members to access and collaborate on all project information. In the past, this information could only be viewed in a construction trailer. Electronic plan rooms include all models, electrical schematics, spare parts, pump curves, maintenance info, construction photos and more. The 3-D models not only help during the construction process, but are turned over to owners, providing them with a new tool to train employees. When an owner’s employee can see the underground, hidden process systems of a plant in a virtual model, they gain a greater understanding of the process and how critical it may be to open or close a valve or turn off a certain piece of equipment.

“Owners also benefit from being able interact with a virtual Operations & Maintenance Manual to zoom in on equipment in a model – for example, an air-conditioning unit – and then instantly pull up the installation manual for the unit that provides maintenance info and other important information at the click of a mouse,” Ward said. “Instead of digging through a library of manuals to locate what is needed, a plant worker can pull it up in seconds, greatly enhancing productivity.”

In summary, advancements in VDC are greatly enhancing construction projects and benefiting owners, particularly in complex projects like water and wastewater treatment plants. Cost savings, increased productivity, and improved collaboration are just a few of the benefits realized through the effective use of VDC tools.

About the Author
BJ Peterson is Assistant Project Manager for McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. He is experienced in utilizing Virtual Design and Construction in the plant environment and incorporating visual collaboration platforms during preconstruction, construction and operational phases on water and wastewater projects. This experience has been instrumental for McCarthy’s water teams on projects including the Chandler Airport Water Reclamation Facility Upgrade, Phase 3 Expansion and the City of Phoenix Deer Valley Water Treatment Plant East Basin Reconstruction addition of a new 100 MGD water treatment facility. A Professional Engineer, Peterson holds a bachelor of science and master of science in civil engineering from Fulton College at Brigham Young University. He can be reached via email at JBPeterson@mccarthy.com.

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