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The digital way to build bridges

by BDigital_Admin

Bridges connect places and people and ensure the smooth transport of goods. Their planning is complex – and urgently needs a digitalisation boost, writes Stefan Kaufmann, BIM Strategy and New Technologies product manager at ALLPLAN

The planning and construction of long-span bridges is a major feat of engineering: large components weighing several tons have to be manufactured, delivered, and precisely fitted into the existing infrastructure on time. Experienced designers and structural engineers are needed, as well as strong partnerships with construction companies and authorities. This ensure that bridges are fit for purpose and resilient.

However, the way that bridges are planned is often anything but collaborative: planning data is dispersed and unstandardised, which means that individual bridge models (geometric, static, structural and, if necessary, detailed models for the tension cables) often don’t match.

In some cases, multiple models are worked on in parallel by globally distributed teams. However, bridges are usually very complex structures. Any modification process is therefore extremely time-consuming. Nevertheless, modifications as well as time-consuming synchronisations are part of the daily business in bridge construction. Possible inconsistencies and misinformation can run through all planning phases.

This results in planning delays, costly rework and wasted time. Post-construction and reconstruction work also wastes valuable building materials and causes unnecessary carbon emissions.

To overcome these challenges, we need a digital revolution in bridge planning.

A New Way of Planning

The challenge with bridges – and with their design and construction – lies in their structure: it is geometrically complex, and the design must always be adapted to the alignment and the ground. With traditional 2D tools, planning changes had to be repeatedly updated manually in hundreds of drawings and calculations. This resulted in planning errors and inconsistencies that lead to delays and cost overruns on construction sites.

As a countermeasure, many countries made the use of BIM mandatory. However, there were initially no BIM-enabled design tools suitable for bridge construction.

It is time to usher in a new phase of bridge construction. This requires an end-to-end, model-based planning solution that does not rely on thinking in silos and two-dimensional plans, but on collaboration and 3D models.

“It is time to usher in a new phase of bridge construction”

This not only ensures quality, deadlines and cost targets are met, but can also be used to reduce material consumption and thus lower CO2 emissions.

An optimal solution is therefore based on a common, detailed, and fully parametric 4D model that not only represents the geometry of the bridge in 3D, but also supplements it with structural analysis and verification. Furthermore, it should combine all the information in such a way that changes to the planning model can also be implemented quickly, consistently, and intuitively at any time. This means that multiple models or versions do not have to be created, calculations can be derived directly from the model, and planning errors can thus be avoided.

Parametric design solutions are revolutionising bridge construction by relying on communication and collaboration instead of siloed thinking and fragmentation. This not only enables cost savings, but also a massive reduction in planning times. More projects can be completed in less time with the same number of employees. In view of the shortage of skilled workers, innovative IT solutions make an important contribution to accelerating the processing of the investment backlog in infrastructure construction.

The solution in bridge construction, not only in terms of construction methods or materials, lies in more digitalisation – in model-based, collaborative planning and in innovation. The digital transformation of bridge planning is the key to a new kind of bridge construction.

Read next: Lebanese firm unveils 3D printed bridge that can design itself

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