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October 5th, 2015
Is there increasing convergence between geospatial technologies and engineering applications?

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Geospatial technologies have long been a critical input into built infrastructure design, construction and maintenance. While the tools to design (CAD and BIM) are still decidedly different than the software to map and manage assets (GIS), there are many inroads being made for more seamless data and workflow sharing and their functionalities complement one another well.

The ability to measure and capture conditions has become increasingly automated and more precise, allowing for more ready movement between data capture and model-based design. In addition, new levels of monitoring are adding new insights into how our built environment performs. This combination of improved modeling and ongoing monitoring will have profound impacts for how we design, coordinate construction and perform ongoing upkeep for our built infrastructure.

Planning and Designing

Understanding the implications of what exists is a very key input to design that has profound impact on project cost and design execution. Today’s advanced survey tools, such as LiDAR, can capture a detailed 3D representation that gets direct input into models in order to accurately record reality and to build upon that with designs that match. With this detailed input, there is a reduction in costly change orders.

In addition to a well-captured reality, GIS also brings spatial analysis capabilities to discover spatial patterns for enhanced insight into site characteristics. GIS is a key input to environmental impact mitigation, but it also has a role to play in economic analysis, transportation modeling, and other considerations. GIS can tie together inputs for detailed site analysis such as utility routing or optimizing buildings for energy efficiency. GIS also allows for visualization and what-if scenarios, including cost/benefit analysis for value engineering.

Connected and Coordinated

Today’s construction management tools are beginning to add a whole new level of connectivity for more streamlined construction. The use of GNSS trackers on machinery and people, alongside RFID tracking of materials, lends far greater insight into the dance of the project schedule. All of these inputs can be stored, visualized and analyzed in a GIS to gain a far better understanding of project execution. With this added insight, schedules can be fine tuned, the logistics of material delivery can adopt lean practices, and traffic around the site can be better managed. 

In addition to the tracking of moving things, tracking of project progress can also be more readily achieved. Many engineering companies are taking to capturing terrestrial or mobile LiDAR for the duration of the project at set intervals. This record helps project managers gauge progress and also creates a very valuable document for future work on the project. There’s also growing use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for regular site updates. Both inputs can be readily imported into a GIS for improved understanding of the changes and implications for these changes. the analysis tools within the system allow for quick calculation of stockpile quantities, insight into earth movement volumes and calculations for materials such as paving. The GIS is also an empowering tool for field crews to understand their role and tasks as well as to communicate rapidly with a whole project team.

Inspection and Detection

There are many exciting implications for the burgeoning unmanned aircraft system (UAS) for ongoing monitoring of our built environment. These platforms can fly a variety of sensors to add inputs that are important for ongoing maintenance. Some examples include the use of thermal cameras to understand where buildings are losing their heat so that they can be better insulated or very high-resolution cameras to detect and access cracks in concrete. These inputs make their way into the GIS for the insights mentioned above, and also for further classification and prioritization of maintenance and repair work, quantifying cost and cost savings.

The ongoing monitoring of our infrastructure lends greater insight over time. With a central relational GIS database many different inputs can be combined, stored and analyzed for increasing insights. One area of continuing importance in that regard is critical infrastructure protection, where GIS helps organize information in case of emergency. Not only is this then a tool for preparedness planning, it also serves as an invaluable resource during real emergencies to assess such things as flood impacts, seismic safety and other hazards.

Geospatial tools and workflows are an important and growing input to project and asset management. A GIS used early, often and ongoing for engineering projects ensures that you’re providing an accurate and clear picture of the infrastructure so that you can reduce problems, improve performance, and mitigate costs and environmental impacts.

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