Infrastructure and utilities are terms that are often used interchangeably. The infrastructure comprises the hard assets owned by a government or private entity which are used to facilitate the comfort of its residents and the everyday operations of a geographical area. The infrastructure of a community includes the physical piping, roads, sewers, electrical grids, telecommunications wiring, water supply, bridges, etc; while homes, commercial, and industrial facilities will house their own MEP infrastructure (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing). It is this network of physical, land-based components that sustain and support the well-being of a population and the economy of a country.
Utilities are generally recognized as a public or private service which supplies the energy and natural resources that are distributed by the area’s infrastructure. The gas, water, electric, sewage, telecommunication (including broadband internet) utilities depend on a reliable infrastructure base for safe delivery or return of utility service for its customers. You may wonder, why is this distinction so important?
The reason is, in the past, the utilities and infrastructure of a community traditionally belonged to and would be serviced by the government – but the utilities are becoming less of a government monopoly and more privatized. Utility cooperatives that are owned by the citizens they serve, are steadily on the increase; and investor-owned utilities are on the rise as they operate for-profit to serve the benefit of the company’s shareholders. The market model for public and private utilities is shifting as the Harvard Business Review describes the privatisation of utility management with some interesting government sell-offs:
- New Zealand – sold more than 7 state-owned companies, including the government’s telecommunications company for a price that topped $3 billion.
- Germany – arranged the sale of more than 300 utility companies for approximately $1.3 billion.
- Britain – investors paid over $10 billion for 12 regional electricity companies
- Mexico – aggressively reduced the size its public utility sector resulting in proceeds of $2.4 billion
As a private utility owner, upgrading your utility’s facility and distribution infrastructure is crucial to maintaining a return on your investment and providing reliability and cost-effective services to your customers.
How BIM Modeling Can Serve Utility Ownership
As ownership of utilities continues to shift from the public to private sectors, many analysts are taking a critical look at how to make utility ownership a smart investment. Industry analysts identify three factors as critical to making private utility investments profitable: clear leadership and planning, an investment in revamping the utility’s infrastructure, and engineering and design which take advantage of technology, new approaches, and advanced materials for the next generation of power and natural resources generation and distribution.
State-of-the art engineering and design software like AutoCAD BIM for Utility Infrastructure is designed to take advantage of building information modeling concepts to not only accelerate project approval time but to also improve communications and decision-making between project stakeholders. This enterprise-wide 3D BIM infrastructure workflow allows for the coordinated execution of all human or mechanical processes on a single computer-supported platform.
From as-built utility documentation to resolving utility conflicts, to building a construction package from a 3D model, BIM for utility design will streamline calculations, increase facility automation, reduce material waste, and improve real-world performance. Whether the project is a brick-and-mortar facility or a utility network from supplier to end-user, BIM modeling will cut project costs, streamline the workflow, and improve profits for utility owners.
The State of Global Utility Infrastructures
As the utility market sector continues to make the shift from public to private ownership, a hard look at aging utility infrastructure demonstrates that these physical assets continue to compromise the efficient and safe supply and demand of utility products. A reliable and affordable infrastructure is critical to the success of private and public utilities, yet the cost of replacing old utility equipment and decaying transmission mediums continues to be a major concern for utility investors.
Replacing and modernizing the aging utility grid system is identified as a major challenge, especially for the electrical industry. Updating distribution transformers, increasing the distribution power levels, and automation of metering and measurements are regarded as basic requirements to take an electrical utility from rising outages and failures to increased efficiency. This problem has not gone unrecognized by private utility owners:
But the industry is moving quickly to meet the challenge, according to McMahon. Investor-owned utilities spent more than $100 billion in 2014 on infrastructure, and spending levels are expected to remain above $90 billion annually for the next few years.
Applications of BIM for Utilities Construction
Utility companies have historically been slow to accept BIM as a viable option for their design and engineering requirements. Yet, this is starting to change as a number of major utility projects have been successfully completed using BIM technology – and providing a wealth of data to increase the operational efficiency and more importantly, improving utilities and facility management. Nuclear, power, and gas clients are finding laser scanning technology and BIM reality computing to provide amazing accuracy and reduced cost with civil and landscaping design.
Consider the UK government which is requiring BIM Level 2 maturity for its projects, which must maintain both graphical and non-graphical data for the life of the project. Key benefits of BIM mandates for utilities in the UK include a lowered carbon footprint, improved utility value while reducing costs, and a significant improvement in customer benefits. Two applications of BIM design and construction are offered by AutoCAD case studies:
Water Treatment Plants – complex underground projects which require complex piping to convert waste water into renewable water resources for ground irrigation are well served by BIM technology. These projects generally require extensive concrete work and BIM technology can be used to facilitate concrete pours and sequencing plans along with the accurate measurement of each pour. AutoCAD 3D BIM also allows for faster below-grade piping and electrical duct bank installations over traditional methods.
Substation and Electrical Distribution Design – BIM solutions for electrical utility construction allows for a single database to capture the entire electrical grid in one database and with one three-dimensional model. This single source of engineering and design information reduces rework and wasted materials during construction, while saving the owner on overall construction budget costs.
Benefits of BIM for Utility Construction
Using a 3D BIM model for utilities offers many benefits to owners, AEC partners, and the end-user:
- projects can be started with reality capture and other imaging and mapping tools to provide an accurate image of the built environment.
- visualization and simulation techniques can emulate the performance of utility systems and provide and analytical model for engineering analysis
- reduction of field clashes and interference with existing utilities and infrastructure and ensuring that manufactured components fit in the field, just as they do on the model
- all construction and erection phases can be sequenced from the BIM model, reducing project time and costs.
- full integration of topographical surveys and site plans to fully coordinate physical assets
When you work with an outsourced engineering services firm, you can also expect a full range of architectural, piping, electrical, and mechanical designers and drafters that are highly skilled in construction documentation, from concept through design development. Offsite design services offer the added benefit of converting 2D or 3D CAD drawings to fully documented BIM models and presents an increasingly popular workflow for utilities BIM projects that are being retrofitted or upgraded.