The Shanghai Municipal Engineering Design Institute (SMEDI), one of China’s top municipal engineering companies, has completed 12,000 projects including water treatment plants, as well as road, bridge, rail, urban landscape, fuel gas and geotechnical engineering projects.
Compass spoke with Lv Wei Zhang, association chief engineer in SMEDI’s IT Center, and Junwei Wu, deputy director of SMEDI’s BIM Center, about their work to develop IT solutions for civil engineering’s unique challenges.
COMPASS: What challenges are SMEDI facing in executing its work?
LV WEI ZHANG: In China, it is common for major infrastructure projects to be carried out with design and construction happening in parallel. Typically, only 50% of the project is designed when construction begins. During construction, owners are able to plan the rest of the project with greater precision. So they modify their design as the project evolves. This is one of the ways to adjust projects.
This process is close to owners but very difficult for the designers. To succeed, we must be able to clearly visualize the outcome of our design to ensure both quality and efficiency. With an advanced Building Information Modeling (BIM) platform, we can improve communication between owners, make design changes with great flexibility, manage project status with precision and efficiency and recover from project delays effectively.
Before employing the advanced BIM platform, what difficulties did you encounter in your work?
LWZ: In the past, our contractors used the in-situ casting method quite extensively, with a lot of casting work happening at the site. This had numerous drawbacks. First, it was difficult to control material waste. Second, it was hard to manage cost. Third, managing time and schedule was a big challenge. Last, casting on-site occupied much more space than prefabrication would require, so other contractors were often blocked from their work sites for prolonged periods.
How did you solve this challenge?
LWZ: First of all, we fully integrated our work into an engineering procurement construction (EPC) system that provides an overview of engineering, procurement and construction and how they relate to one another. We did off-site prefabrication as much as possible, and we launched a BIM system, which significantly enhances overall efficiency.
What are the benefits of BIM?
LWZ: On the one hand, BIM enables us to achieve collaborative 3D design. The designs, from the macro system to the micro parts, are displayed as 3D visuals, giving clarity and precision in the process of communication with all stakeholders. BIM also facilitates data communication in an industry standardized format, so that everyone sees the same information clearly.
Could you briefly describe your application of BIM?
JUNWEI WU: Starting in 2005, the civil engineering industry in China has been shifting from CAD to BIM, and we started using BIM in our design work at that time. Before that, we had to endure the shortcomings of 2D design. The modifications were not linked together. In other words, changing one drawing did not automatically trigger changes in the other drawings. With BIM, a change to one area alerts the designer to any related areas that need to change as well.
BIM was first used in our water treatment plants, but ordinary BIM does not always have adequate capability to handle roads and bridges. We worked with our supplier to develop a BIM specifically for civil engineering that is perfect for visualizing roads, bridges and tunnels. It can demonstrate our design concepts and offers precision in our presentation, even for minor features.
Could you give some examples?
JW: SMEDI is particularly strong in designing bridges. For instance, the Ganjiang River Second Bridge, in Jiangxi Province, has a “fish-like” design that merges very well with the landscape. The structure is complicated, with the steel above, concrete below, and a mixture of both in the middle. We used our specialized civil engineering BIM, enabling well-planned division of work, with different engineers deployed collaboratively for components, the skeleton and the steel structure.
With our civil engineering BIM, it has become much easier for us to accommodate changes in design, which can be frequent. In the past, making changes to the design often took even longer than the designing itself.
Now, the pain of endless modifications is significantly reduced.
Another notable example is the Yanggao South Road Tunnel project in Shanghai, a project involving many tunnels and bridges. Our BIM made design much more precise and easier to visualize.
What is your overall evaluation of the civil engineering BIM solution that your partner developed, based on your input?
JW: We have immensely benefited from this platform. Our partner has long been number one in the field of manufacturing, and we foresee that “manufacturing today is the civil works of tomorrow.”
Furthermore, the platform has saved a significant amount of our time. Before this platform, we spent about one-third of our time doing design work and two-thirds of our time doing communication.
Apart from facilitating our design work, BIM makes communication much faster and easier, and this translates into substantial cost savings.
Our BIM platform is specially designed to effectively solve civil design industry challenges. We believe this platform is simultaneously mature and innovative.