Photo courtesy of Sundt Construction
Contractors are using BIM for San Diego International Airport's $1.2-billion Green Build project.

Building information modeling is quickly expanding beyond vertical construction into infrastructure, and as project teams gain more experience with parametric modeling, they are finding ways to boost their return on investment.

Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation is a case in point. It plans to include civil 3D models as part of standard design for all new projects starting in mid-2014. At that time, WisDOT also will deliver a 3D surface model for any project involving earthwork so that contractors can import the design files into their survey and excavation equipment.

"Putting more detail into the design and delivering it is going to lead to benefits," said Bradley J. Hollister, project manager for WisDOT in Green Bay. On Oct. 9, he attended a design seminar hosted by MasterGraphics in Milwaukee, where ENR presented the results of McGraw-Hill Construction's SmartMarket Report, "The Business Value of BIM for Infrastructure," released earlier this year. ENR is a unit of McGraw-Hill Construction.

According to the study, nearly half of the North American owners, designers and contractors engaged in civil works are actively using BIM—or as some in this space call it, civil information management (CIM). Light users, who made up more than two-thirds of the user group in 2009, will shrink to about one-fifth of the mix in 2013. CIM adoption lags behind the buildings sector by two to three years, the report concludes.

Milwaukee-based futurist David Zach, who also attended the session, said parametric modeling could eventually lead to 3D printing, where users instantly fabricate a road, bridge or building using rapid-prototyping machinery placed on the jobsite. "Instead of casting a beam, imagine printing it and using materials that would make this beam vastly stronger but also flexible where it needs to be flexible," he said.