Is the Extra Work Worth it? Quantifying BIM for Infrastructure ROI

by: Karen Weiss | 07/21/2015
Estimated Reading time: 3 - 5 minutes

In the world of civil engineering, infrastructure owners, private consulting firms and contractors typically want to know how they will benefit before adopting new technologies and changing the way in which they work. Will less time be wasted, money be saved, or safety improved?

Anyone familiar with BIM will tell you that moving to an intelligent 3D-modeling workflow requires an investment. But how do you know if you’re getting a return on your investment?

Success measurements in business has traditionally been improved project quality, more efficient execution, less time to market, less waste generation, lower cost and ultimately the best Return on Investment (ROI). So what is the best BIM for Infrastructure ROI?

The 2012 McGraw-Hill Construction SmartMarket Report on The Business Value of BIM for Infrastructure reported that BIM use on Infrastructure projects is being adopted at faster rates than when BIM was first introduced for building projects. Along with this adoption comes the desire to assign values to BIM for Infrastructure benefits, or even better, coming up with a repeatable way to calculate the real ROI of using BIM on infrastructure projects.

While no definitive, agreed upon approach has been established, we are beginning to see early adopters who are reporting quantifiable results.

BIM for Infrastructure ROI Results

One example of an early adopter is the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) whose story was featured recently in a TechBrief published by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. The TechBrief reported that the WisDOT is recognizing that by adopting BIM workflows in planning and design, substantial savings can be realized in construction. Beyond the quantifiable paybacks they are experiencing, there are also anecdotal benefits such as improved productivity of operations, an enhanced bidding process and improved worker safety through increased construction awareness from easy review of complex details or processes on site.

According to the TechBrief, to determine quantifiable savings WisDOT completed an effort to develop an BIM for Infrastructure ROI estimating methodology for the use of 3D engineered models on their roadway projects. The methodology was established using data from a large interchange project as it neared completion. The interchange project was originally designed using traditional 2D plans, but the department decided to generate 3D models at the completion of the project to investigate potential cost savings that could be realized as the result of a change in process. WisDOT focused on specific opportunities for ROI within design issue notices (DIN) categories. DINs, sometimes referred to as engineering change notices (ECN), are changes to the design that become necessary due to an potential problem identified during construction.

What they found was that approximately $9.5 million, almost 50% of the costs resulting from contract change orders, could have been saved if an intelligent 3D-model based approach had been used on the project. The DIN categories with the largest opportunities for ROI were general structures, roadway drainage, wet utilities drainage, bridges and noise walls. The conclusion was that both the number of issues and the average cost per issue could be reduced if 3D engineered models were used during construction.

Cost Savings Found in Unexpected Places

The large opportunity for cost reductions in the noise wall category came as a bit of a surprise to me. Who would think that DINs related to noise walls would be so significant? In follow-up discussions with the DOT, I learned that the 3D modeling of noise walls is now considered as important as modeling something like earthworks. The amount of time it takes to model noise walls is small in comparison to the amount of time and money that can be saved as a result of a decrease in DINs.

Transitioning from 2D workflows to BIM doesn’t happen overnight. Costs to adopt BIM for Infrastructure include training costs, software and hardware costs, as well as costs related to standards and methods development. However, infrastructure owners like WisDOT are proving that the initial costs pale in comparison to the long-term cost savings and benefits.

If you are interested in learning more about the WisDOT BIM for Infrastructure ROI effort, you can read the full FHWA TechBrief here.

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